I am a first-generation Asian American, who also happens to be the first in my family to attend college. My parents came from Malaysia and of course, we Malaysians are proud of our heritage (shoutout to ya’ll who are). I spent most of my life (short one as I’m only 20 y/o lol) thinking about my ethnicity and where I belong in America. Asians only make up a little more than 5% of the U.S. population, so the lack in media representation, executive positions, and such is understandable. I live in NYC so in certain areas, the Asian population is denser, but if I were to go anywhere else, I’m an obvious minority for sure.
This article is something I thought about a lot but never dared to write. I never wanted to address such a sensitive topic. Essentially…I was afraid of what people might think or say. To say it’s not about race would be untrue because prevalent stereotypes and norms are perpetually placed upon the Asian community. Some examples that are specific to the Chinese include having small eyes, eat cats/dogs, being good at math, being either a doctor/lawyer, etc. Now I may be Malaysian but my ancestry IS Chinese and I look Chinese so hearing these things come to no surprise to me.
I know, given the times, the Black Lives Matter movement is going on and I am by no means trying to take their spotlight with this article. I’ve donated, made a podcast, and talked to people on raising awareness of the BLM movement. This article is not to say “All Lives Matter” at all, I just found it really empowering that people of color are now speaking up about things that have bothered them, including Asians.
On social media, I’ve seen different people, including my friends, talk about their story and what they had to deal with. I see Asian families robbed and fought and belittled because of their race due to the pandemic. Due to Trump’s insensitive tweet saying “Chinese Virus,” those who are racist felt the urge to make their public statement too, whether it’s inflicting physical or emotional pain. Although it seemed short-lived, the damage was done. And it became clear that all those micro-aggressions and stereotypes were the foundation of what we know as hate crimes.
Aside from the pandemic, Asian cultures are constantly mocked and disrespected. Companies have gone and sexualized Asian traditional garments. The media consistently presents indirect xenophobia, on national television, or in the daily news. The Asian community is picking up on this and they are starting to speak up more on it. Needless to say, I won’t say Asians had it worse than those in the black community. We have “nicer” stereotypes and we can walk freely with our rights in one hand, and general freedom in another. However, I will also say that there is a lot of unspoken pain in the Asian community we found no courage to voice.
Being a first-generation Asian American, I know first-hand how difficult it is to be raised with two cultures (Asian and American) forcibly merge but at the same time, seek divide. I was told to “bite my tongue” when I want to say something, listen instead of speaking, and ultimately, be respectful of everyone else before you go ahead and respect yourself. The beauty of Asian cultures (mine more specifically Chinese) is that we value collectivism. We put other people first out of respect. We don’t create noise where we shouldn’t out of respect. We put our heads down to those with authority out of respect. We don’t say things that might offend out of respect. And you know what, I love that. However, in America, a country of intense individualism, everyone is outspoken and if you’re not, you’ll find it harder and harder to “bite your tongue.” Most importantly, not speaking up means that those who are hurting, like the Black community, will continue to hurt.
The issue of conflicting cultures starts almost immediately from birth. I was raised with one set of values and attended an American school to learn a whole new set of values. Both values constantly conflict but American values take precedence with my innate will to survive and to fit in. In the past, I realized that my own culture put me off. Suddenly, I didn’t want to look Chinese. I wanted my family to be “whiter” and I wanted that “white” dream with a bigger house, fewer worries, and American privilege.
Now, I realize that wouldn’t want my life any other way. Being raised a collectivist taught me the empathy and respect American culture can sometimes lack. Meanwhile, learning to be more of an individualist gave me a sense of control and happiness over my life. Above all, being raised in America has given me boundless opportunities to live a better life and to provide for my family.
Ultimately, this doesn’t change the fact that racism is a persisting problem, or the fact that hate crimes continue to occur. It doesn’t change the fact that our culture needs to be glamorized or sexualized in order to be accepted. And it doesn’t change the fact that media’s xenophobic messages made me hate being Chinese when I was younger. Although I was raised a collectivist and I “bit my tongue” on the subject matter of racism or anything that directly hurt me, I know now it’s better to speak up about it than not. So if we’re in the conversation about racism nationally and internationally, this should be part of that conversation as well. Let’s voice them all and hopefully, put an end to it all.