Growing up as young Asian Americans comes with its fair share of challenges. However, what we often forget is the difficult struggles that our parents faced as well. We asked the children of Asian immigrants living in the U.S., U.K., and Canada about the struggles and discrimination their parents had faced but never talked about.
“My mom used to work as a deli waitress in Las Vegas when she first got here in 1983. She used to have white male customers/employees harass her all the time. But these weren’t just words; they would stroke her ponytail, crowd her against walls, pull her into booths to sit, or offer money to sleep with her. Because she was an Asian woman who didn’t speak English, they thought she was a doll to be toyed with.”
“So on my mom’s body, there would be scars. My mom moved over to America around 25 years ago. Once she came over to the U.S. she found a white boyfriend. She thought that she would be with him until the end but he ended up abusing her because of her race. Around that time she also had people calling her ‘chink,’ ‘non-English speaker’ and ‘English ruiner’ because she’s Asian. After she gave birth to me, she would shower with me because I was still young. I still remember her scar down her back because of her boyfriend.”
“When my parents first moved to America, I was in elementary school and they received so many passive aggressive and racist comments from our neighbors. My mom said that when she was out and about, the neighbors had a habit of asking her if she was a nanny or if she was here babysitting someone else’s child. When they found out we were moving out of the neighborhood, they would say things like how we were moving out because we couldn’t afford the rent there. Every chance they got, they found ways to be condescending and to belittle our family. When we were moving to a new neighborhood, the moving company fully tried to take advantage of my parents because of their broken English, demanding ridiculously high prices and rolling their eyes. After the movers had lost almost half of our belongings, they told my parents that it was fine because we could afford it because we were Asian.”
“My parents both came down from Vietnam (my dad came on his own and my mom was sponsored). For my dad, it was hard for him to land jobs because of his lack of fluency in English. He would always ask me how to spell and pronounce certain words for his job interviews. It also got to the point where he would go by a made up English name because he wasn’t comfortable using his Vietnamese name.”
“When my dad first came to Canada, an old white dude was swearing at him in his car and telling him to go back to China. What really upset him the most wasn’t the fact that there was an old racist white guy. It was the fact that his own friend was a cop and Canadian-born Chinese man who decided not to do anything about it.”
“My dad is Chinese and Jamaican. He was born in Jamaica, living with his mother, while his father would be overseas working. When he came to Canada, he was in his teen years. and only spoke Cantonese and Mandarin. He is very dark skinned, despite being mixed. When he started school and learning English, he was called racially degrading things by classmates, such as the n-word. When they found out that one of his parents was Chinese, the Asian slurs began. As he grew up, he was commonly ostracized because he was ‘too black’ when hanging with Asian friends and ‘too Asian’ when making black friends. He felt like he didn’t fit in and constantly thought about going back home. He was even discriminated against when trying to get jobs, or at his workplace. But when he met my mother, and they had me, he withstood all hardships because he wanted to give me a good start in life.”
“One day, my parents told me a story of when I was really young (around 4): we were visiting IKEA (my mom and I) and we just moved back to the U.S. after spending some time in the Philippines. We were in line for the child care place so my mom could shop while I was being cared for. We were next in line but the white cashier told us to wait to the side. My mom complied, not understanding what the situation was until the cashier told another white family to go ahead of us into the child care place. My mom asked why they were let in when they were clearly behind us and was told they were full, even though it was evident that they weren’t, so she demanded to speak to the manager. When the manager came, my mom was treated with subtle racism and was told the reason for us being put to the side to ‘wait’ was because we were of darker skin color. I couldn’t believe that my family faced racism even though I knew that many other families do get discriminated against -I just never would have expected us be made into victims.”
“When my mother first arrived to the U.K. she asked a policeman for directions. He told her to f*** off and put his middle finger up and walked off. She went home and asked my dad what the middle finger meant.”
“When my mom first came from the Philippines to the U.S. in 1999 to marry my dad, who happened to be White, they lived in an apartment in Oakland, CA (where my dad was new to the Bay Area as well). She worked at a convenience store in Berkeley and some guy tried to steal a pen and called her an Asian bitch when she asked for it back. Fast forward to when I was 7, one lady from a church said out loud in front of my parents that only white people should be allowed to lead the church. One other time, my parents were denied service at a restaurant because they weren’t the same skin color as all of the workers of that restaurant.”
“My dad escaped the Vietnam War and came over on a small boat with his family when he was about 6. At the time, his family was one of the first to reach California so when he went to elementary school, he was 1 of 2 Asian kids in the class. They both were accustomed to taking off their shoes in the classroom back at home and didn’t have much time to adapt to the classroom differences in America. So when they did take off their shoes in the classroom, the whole class would laugh at them, try to throw and hide their shoes when my dad and his friend weren’t looking and make slant eyes at them every single day of the first grade. Not the worst racist story but definitely heart wrenching for a young child whose moved to a new country with absolutely no idea what is going on.”
“My family and I live in the U.K. My parents and grandparents came here from Pakistan. My father described to me being maybe 7 years old, walking back from the mosque to his home with his father. A man happened to cross their path and he started shouting abuse at them and my father had to watch his father get stabbed with a knife as this man turned violent. This was only because they were walking down a street.”
Naturally, it is a parent’s instinct to protect their child from negative things in life. For most of our lives, they’ve sheltered us from negative information while simultaneously navigated through the challenges of immigrant life with no one to turn to. No matter where they’re from or what they do for a living, they deserve to be showered with endless love and respect for everything they’ve done for us.