June 2021 Newsletter
Apologies for skipping the past 2 months, thank you for coming back for more!
Featuring work from Robin Truitt, Claire Skowron, and more!
My identity has been a continuous learning and self-discovery journey. I feel that I am stuck in this in-between world, where I am not Asian nor “American” enough. When I was younger I attended Chinese school on Saturdays with other adoptees. The funny thing was I never realized the other children were adopted because I thought it was normal for families to look like that. It was comforting to have that community and to have a best friend who was also adopted. However, during the week I attended predominantly white schools. I remember how it felt to not have rounder eyes, blonde hair, a thinner nose, and pale skin like the rest of my classmates. Back then, I thought, “this was what beauty is”. I knew that was the child my mother and father would have had. I also pictured what it would have been like to be a part of a Chinese family.
It wasn’t until middle school where I started to think about who I was and what it meant to be an adoptee. Family tree projects came up, some of my classmates would pull their eyes back, make Chinese jokes, say made-up Chinese words, and asked me if I could see okay. I laughed along not thinking about how they were making fun of me. I was embarrassed and did not know what to say. Being an adoptee was confusing because I continued to live in a world no one understood.
Entering high school, I knew I wanted to dive deeper into who I was. I wanted to explore my identity and do everything I could to understand myself. One of my friends became involved with the diversity club, and she kept encouraging me to join, so I did. To this day, there are no words to describe how thankful I am to that friend. She had given up her spot at the national diversity conference where only four of us were selected. It was at this conference where I discovered how to create a community and what it meant to be a part of one. I connected with an adoptee affinity group and felt comfortable sharing my experience. That commonality made me feel validated, heard, and less alone.
In college, I continued to explore what it meant to be Asian American and joined the Asian Students Association. People would ask me where I got my last name from and I told them I was adopted. I always felt nervous telling people this because one time someone responded to me, “you’re not really Chinese”. This shattered me because I had spent years learning about Chinese culture, studying the language, and I even traveled back to China twice. However, doing all of this still made me not Asian enough. I realized that I will always be living in this in-between world but I think it gives me a unique lens, a different story to tell, and it makes me, me.
Today, I am still discovering my adoptee identity and a lot has changed over the years. I am grateful for how far I have come and for the wonderful people who are in my life. I will never let someone tell me I am not Asian enough.
Stop Asian Hate: My Responsibility
The past two months have opened my eyes to an America that was once fictional to me.
I recall reading children's books depicting Asian characters as nerdy, and stereotypically "too feminine." TV shows that mocked Asian accents and the white-washing of many API (Asian, Pacific Islander) characters, and yet it went over my head, because, of course, "that's just how it is."
In history class, we analyzed political cartoons of the late 1800s, depicting Chinese as disease-ridden, job-stealing, poor immigrants and newspaper articles from the 1940s describing the threat of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor. Even looking at articles from as recent as 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, that seemingly encouraged a program aimed at monitoring those of South Asian and Middle Eastern decent. Yet, these pieces of history, my history, did not surprise me at the time, because, of course, "that's just how it is."
And now we're living that reality. My news feed is flooded with stories of our Asian elders, students, restaurant owners, teachers, parents, news reporters, politicians - pretty much you name it - getting harassed for their race. Beaten, taunted, and robbed in the streets for an uncontrollable factor in their lives. There are children who have to hear that their parents, aunts and uncles won't return home. And there are those, like me, who are sitting anxiously praying that they will not be the next victim. Praying that my name and face won't be plastered across my friends' story with the hashtag "#StopAsianHate." Praying that my grandparents will not have to put up a yard sign with my face in memory of me. People like me are hurting. Their lives are being infiltrated with racism, hate, violence and oppression - yet nothing is done because "that's just how it is."
My initial reaction to this spike in hate crimes was to hide as I had done before. I had no desire to say anything. It was a topic I avoided talking about with my family, friends and even with myself. As both an Asian American and adoptee, I was uncomfortable speaking up, because I was worried that maybe I was overstepping my boundaries. I was convinced that with my lived experiences, being fortunate enough to grow up in an accepting community and limited racist encounters, that I did not rack up nearly any points to meet the "oppressed-enough-to-speak-up" line.
And I felt that perhaps because I had never experienced an Asian family whose second language was English, never been ridiculed for my lunch, and never felt rejected for my race: I was not Asian enough.
But being Asian is not about that. It doesn't matter that I can barely speak Mandarin, just ate sandwiches for lunch or that I didn't enjoy Jasmine tea with my grandparents. It's in my blood, reflected in my eyes and olive skin, shown through my art and music. The world labels me as Asian, and it is a title that I must treasure. A title that I bear with honor.
While the immediate goal is to end violence against Asians, this cycle of racism and xenophobia will undoubtedly continue without major reform. Racism toward Asians
So I'm hoping that in 30 years, when my children are analyzing historical texts in high school, they will be able to acknowledge the pain we suffered, but recognize the impact of our accomplishments. We were more than just names on a page, or illustrations on someone's Instagram feed, but we fought hard. We protested, signed petitions, confronted our racist past, and pledged to pave a better path for future youth.
One day I'll tell them about this, I'm sure. As we sit at dinner or go on our evening stroll I can tell them the immense pride I have in being Asian American - despite feeling otherwise. Maybe they'll listen to my story and maybe they won't, but it will be their greater responsibility to speak up about injustice as we did. And perhaps it will not be their generation, or even the one after that, but I'm hoping that I will be able to experience a time when #StopAsianHate will not be trending: a time when I can truly say that this was a thing of the past.