Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Lumiscript. The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author.
Two days ago, I sat down in the midst of the quarantine monotony and watched one of my favorite movies — “Crazy Rich Asians.” As I sat and reminded myself how much the Asian community gathered together, it helped me rekindle the pride I had in my culture. For a moment, the world slowly understood another aspect of Asia that most would not normally come across. The pressures we place on ourselves and the constant gamble between passion and guaranteed success at the hands of an ambition that is not our own. Rachel Chu was a character that reminded me I was different, but she taught me that it is in my nature as an Asian American to prove to others that I can be an ambitious woman who powers through life while still enjoying that in which I find passion.
For a brief moment in 2018, the world celebrated “Crazy Rich Asians.” I remember being in a movie theater of no Asians; it was a pool of different colors and ages enjoying a genuinely funny romantic comedy that also educated others on the unspoken pressures we face within the Asian community. I was truly proud at that moment to be an Asian American. It isn’t easy to hold onto your heritage when you’re raised by two standards of life, but we made it happen.
The pride is slowly disappearing. With the wake of COVID-19, that bit of applause Asians received for this movie became a thing of the past. We’re no longer respected — we are feared. We are tainted. We’re cycling back to a time in our lives we once thought to be gone. Growing up as an Asian American, you don’t think of yourself as any different than the child sitting across from you until the day you start to talk about something as little as the food your mom cooks for dinner. You hide it because you want to be normal until you find other friends who understand that what your mom cooks is the same as what their mothers cook. The pride slowly builds and is translated into anger when someone doesn’t understand. By the time you consider yourself an adult, everything is subsided. This is who you are, and you can’t change the way you look. You’ve been shaped by your environment, a blend of the language of home and the language of your peers.
We’ve passed along for a long time as being somewhat of a show, a fetish, and in some cases an object to be envied. Non-Asians opening up Asian restaurants while remolding the very narrow limits of what we cannot allow to be changed — these were the few cases when we spoke, when we allowed for our anger to show. The dishes once deemed “disgusting” were not allowed to be taken and bastardized by people, not of our own. We only ever spoke for so little. It was time to revisit that childhood anger. We did not grow in fear of the public opinion and rise with pride only to be shot down once again by public opinion.
The shape of my eyes is more common than you know, and its shape cannot carry disease.
I watched “Crazy Rich Asians” because I missed that feeling of overwhelming pride for who I was — a proud Filipino-Chinese American. Where I could not be accepted in my own community — just like Rachel Chu — I could be accepted here.
However, I am no longer accepted.
Racism towards Asians used to make my blood boil, but I knew I, of billions, alone could not silence those who agree with the jokes and the stereotypes. My blood kept boiling for a long time until it just turned into vapor and then into nothing. I did everything to keep it all from bothering me.
It’s funny. I honestly believe that anyone who makes the “bat” joke nowadays has simply been waiting for an excuse to say something. For decades, the non-Asian public only had material like “ching chong,” “ling ling,” and “you eat dogs.” COVID-19 provided new material for them. Let it be known that these people probably never had a different view about us, and if something like a disease was what they needed to bring this fire back to life, then they were never good people to begin with. Those who see Asian women as a prize, if this was enough to keep you from seeing us as anything other than a toy, you were never deserving of us in the first place.
We are not innocent though. Asian Americans develop a sense of needing to belong because we’re halfway from being completely undesired and completely lusted after. Those of us who know better can see that the only way to maintain solidarity is not to side with the loudest voice but to understand that we are all human. Even within our own communities, no two Asian Americans have the same background, and we live our lives never needing to know that because that’s just the luck of the draw. We are both, to the very root of our cells, still human.
The journey of every “minority” is different, and we have not received the worst it can be. Remember that. Remember that while we are subject to these degrading terms, there are others who have it worse, and contributing to the degradation adds nothing but harm and taints our community. There is no growth without the recognition of the need for change.
Those of us who are smart know that a racist is a racist — and racism sees no exceptions.
Our community is not innocent. We know. We know that there is rot within our community, so, please, do not think we are turning a blind eye. I will defend as long as I can. You are not the same as the loudest of your community and neither am I.
For my peers, know you are not alone.
This kind of fear induces something that I can only describe as loneliness. It’s feeling like the world has suddenly turned on you. It feels like you’re no longer one of the people, and all the people are staring at you like you’re a villain with no redeeming qualities. The people who once knew us for golden traits only see us as the rot in the foundation of the home we helped build. No one knows how to speak for us because rarely have they ever had to speak for us in the past.
This community knows how to band together, but once it’s all over, we separate and turn away. This is how it has always been. I feel more like a burden asking for validation to be hurt and angry than I ever have in my life.
You’re allowed to feel hurt.
You’re allowed to be angry.
You’re allowed to withhold forgiveness.
But know that the stronger you are, the more you’ll come to realize that people will never change. Keep your pride in where it belongs. We are not simply Americans; we are Asian Americans. Do not let blind rage and hatred drown out the pride we’ve worked so hard to build up. We can’t ask for an apology from those who don’t know how to give it. The ability to apologize is learned, and not everyone has had the pleasure.
I can’t teach the world to apologize, so all I can do is say I’m sorry.
I’m sorry we cannot stand as a community right now. I’m sorry to those my community has hurt with ignorant actions. I’m sorry I do not have the words to provide comfort to those who have experienced this pain during COVID-19. I’m sorry we can’t tell everyone how we feel without seeming like victims in a world where everyone has it worse than us.
Just know, solidarity is not spontaneous, and we need to find a way out together.
About the Author: Native New Yorker, barista, and baseball fanatic, Lesley Ann is a graphic designer and creative writer. She is the sole writer and editor for LumiScript, a website for thought pieces about current media and the Asian community.