For My Daughter’s Future
By Beth Liu
On March 16, a gunman killed eight innocent people, including six Asian women, during a hate crime directed at three Atlanta-area spas. I am an Asian American, and the event was a breaking point for so many of us. I am hurt, fed up and tired of attempts to make us feel lesser than other people.
Growing up in the United States as a first-generation Chinese American, I thought early on that I should blend in with other Americans in public. I kept my head down, minimized certain aspects of my culture, and ignored casual racist remarks. I believed that others would one day accept me as American if I did these things.
I thought my silence in exchange for acceptance into America was a fair trade.
My parents – who emigrated from China to the United States in their 20s to attend college and find job opportunities — never explicitly told me to be this way. I could have picked it up from observing them in public, but I know this feeling goes back as far as I have memories.
For example, in the first grade I was approached by a classmate who asked, “How do you see through such tiny eyes?” and then proceeded to pull his eyes with his hands to mock my supposed altered vision.
I also remember being on a school bus hearing kids laughing and yelling out the window while pointing at my grandfather who was on a walk. “What is he doing here? Why is he in our neighborhood?” they asked, followed by hateful comments about his appearance. I did not defend him for fear of that hate and teasing getting redirected at me.
In my 20s, I reluctantly said, “Thank you,” when a stranger told me I have a “very clean voice,” and was surprised that I “don’t have any accent at all” given my appearance. And throughout my life, I’ve been asked, “Where are you from?” by people who I just met, as if my ethnicity was the only topic worth discussing.
The reality is my exchange for silence that started as a child and continued into adulthood perpetuates the very damaging “model minority myth,” which provides the narrative that Asian Americans are among other things: good at math, musical geniuses, polite, law-abiding, and quiet. These and other stereotypes when combined and applied broadly, dehumanize the entire race.
This myth provides a wedge to separate Asians from Black, Indigenous, and other people of color and deters any progress on racial justice for all races. It lumps all Asians together – ignoring the cultural and economic differences amongst Asian immigrant groups, and as a result, reducing the access or effectiveness of social programs to Asian communities. And this myth is the core reason we become hyper-sexualized, attacked, and accused of causing a pandemic we didn’t start.
There were nearly 3,800 incidents of hate, discrimination, or attacks on Asian Americans from March 2020 to February 2021, according to the advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate. Sadly, the most vulnerable populations were not spared: Asian women were victims of hate incidents 2.3 times more often than men; children younger than 17 years old comprised 12.6 percent of total incidents, and seniors age 60 years and older represented 6.2 percent of total reported incidents.
Unfortunately, no matter the number of seminars I take on how to stand up for oneself, or the demonstrations I participate in for equal rights for Asians, it is still difficult to reverse years of learned behavior. It’s challenging to speak up when staying silent is embedded in my core personality.
But I am now a mother to a beautiful biracial daughter who is Chinese and Ecuadorian. I worry about her future and whether she will encounter discrimination as young and as often as I did. She’s the driving force behind my demonstrating how to speak up if she one day encounters racism or microaggressions from others.
I faithfully believe members of the younger generation will be able to shape their identities and live up to their authentic selves thanks to this powerful social movement to stop Asian hate. And as Asian American adults, I think it is critically important to show children what it’s like to stand up against racism, support people of color, and become an anti-racist citizen.
My belief that silence in exchange for acceptance into America was misguided. Using my voice to protest racial inequality whenever I encounter it is the most American thing I can do.
For more information on how to help the Asian American community please visit:
Beth Liu is a former health reporter and currently works in health policy. She lives in Washington, D.C.