Updated: Nov 21, 2020
My friends, I’ve been very aware of my silence.
Day by day, I’ve been witnessing, listening, learning, and reflecting deeply on this collective human matter. While others spoke out, I wondered where my voice stood. Privileged in one too many ways, halfway across the world, how can I make a difference to what has happened to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and countless more? I wanted to make sure that my every word - as an international female citizen who embraces America and Taiwan as both my homes - accurately conveys my heart’s sincerest intentions for a better tomorrow.
For this is beyond racism. We’re talking about basic human morality.
First, let me take you back to the year 1999. Born in New York, I moved to Taipei, Taiwan for a good decade before suddenly uprooting to Central California. I was a fresh-off-the-boat, culturally-shocked, non-religious Taipei city girl navigating her way around a predominantly-white conservative town. I quickly learned that I was one out of a handful Asian students at my new Catholic High School. Joining me were a few other BIPOC, two black students to be exact. While every person I encountered at school treated me with kindness and curiosity, I stuck out like a sore thumb while feeling invisible. Until one day, I received the shocking news that I was voted as the Freshmen Homecoming Princess. The unusual welcome felt even stranger when I found out that accompanying this "honorable" title was a Sophomore boy, an exchange student from Africa. Till this day, I can still feel the knot in my stomach on the night of Homecoming. Although I didn't want to believe it, I knew it in my heart that our votes were not based on popularity, academic achievements, talents, or beauty. While the intentions may have been sweet, the votes narrowed down to the colors of our skins. The token Asian girl and the Black African boy. That night, I awkwardly waived to a crowd of disinterested white student body and their families who barely spoke to me or knew my name the two years I was there. We didn’t have to say anything, but I knew my counterpart felt the same. We were the perfectly-crafted PR mascots on display.
This may be the worst racial story you’ve ever heard. Where’s the blatant racial slurs or violence? Only that counts for discrimination, right? Who am I to talk about discrimination when unarmed black men, women, boys, girls, children are getting killed for going about their everyday lives? But my uneventful story is one of a million examples of daily racial incidents where BIPOC are treated as “special,” different, mysterious, a hyphen, second class citizens in a place they want to call home. The Asian community definitely does not receive the same level of injustice as the Black or Latino community, could it be that we've naturally accepted our AZN, nerdy, gangster, accommodating, doctoral, tiger-parenting, bad-driving, ethnic stereoype? What can actually happen if we demand to be seen as unique capable individuals rather than living out the preconceived notion of one's race?
Today, as we witness the aftermath of George Floyd, the minorities are finally saying "NO MORE!" Alongside the Black community, I am here to acknowledge that discrimination exists full-on, deeply entrenched in behaviors that one cannot even fathom ...
While I will never condone violence, I understand anger. Anger, just like love, is a forceful energy. When the underlying sadness, fear, injustice are suppressed for centuries too long, just like the emotional and mental neurosis evoked by a pandemic lockdown, what inevitably follows is an explosion. How did we not see this coming?
Discrimination is not just an American issue, or a white/black problem, it happens to the best of us. We've all knowingly or subconsciously committed discrimination to others while being discriminated against for our innate differences. I find it disheartening when every member of a race is shamefully held accountable for the sins of their predecessors. We are all connected, but individual souls. We are capable improving and learning. If we pulled out the history books, go through each nation and their stories of wars and brutalities one by one, the evil held by each of our ancestors would be endless. While we carry transgenerational trauma, we are no longer them. Today, we can change for the better.
Discrimination derives from ignorance, which can be shifted by education. Not just through school systems, history books, and most definitely not news/social media. Drastic shifts can happen by opening our hearts. When we open our hearts, we can fully HEAR, SEE, FEEL into someone else’s experiences. This is called Empathy, and it goes beyond race.
Empathy (n.) - the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner. (Merriam-Webster)
I never felt the need to acknowledge my own experiences of discrimination until COVID struck earlier this year. I never felt the need because I always blew it off as the norm of being Asian in America. It never mattered which of the 48 UN recognized Asian countries our parents were from, for we were always just grouped together as one. I ignored reality until I witnessed it happening to my own kids. As we road-tripped through the coastline of California, I finally saw how much we stood out against the majority. As a visitor this time, I saw how unwilling waiters cared to serve us as they quickly took our orders while news on the "China Virus" played in the background. A harmless elder white lady commented how fun it was to see my boys speaking in “our native tongue.” The native tongue being Mandarin, the second highest spoken language by 1.120 billion people in the world. I saw the dirty stares at my little angels as they happily ran around the parks alongside all the other little boys. I saw the subtle looks of disgust by cashiers as I scavenged for masks at CVS. And I experienced segregation as the bellboy of an internationally-branded hotel chain escorted us down the hallway to the far corners of an empty Santa Barbara Hotel, which so happened to be right next door to another Asian family. As we disparagingly checked out of the hotel, we locked eyes with our Asian neighbor who was also leaving the premise. In silent glares, we acknowledged this shared experience before quickly driving off. All the while, my boys happily enjoyed the sunny Californian weather and upbeat Spotify playlist, oblivious to the reality and divisive world they live in.
To my children, I teach them that anger is perfectly normal. To express it is the right thing to do. Everyone is allowed to feel angry for what is hurtful, unjust, dismissed, or unresolved. When anger arises, let it come freely but not at the expense of hurting oneself, others, or our environment. If anger is properly expressed, acknowledged, respected, and resolved, what comes after can only be healing.
Already, there are loads of actions taking place effective immediately to truly make a difference to what has happened over the past few weeks - whether in the form of donations, education, protests, articles, and actionable call for political change. What I propose is a simple suggestion that every single human can achieve - to honor the George Floyd in all of us by first changing ourselves from within. If not for ourselves, do it to build a better future for our kids. One does not have to be a politician, educator, activist or parent to make an immediate difference in the world. The old ways of thinking and living are clearly not working on all fronts. We can simply start by intentionally changing our old ways of indifference/ignorance and updating ourselves with EMPATHY towards everyone who is different from us - be it in color, gender, wealth, social status, intelligence, disabilities religion, culture. Together, let us restore humanity back into its truest and purest form!
I ended my trip in Central California with an impromptu visit at my old high-school. According to the admin, a lot has changed since 1999. Now there are a lot more exchange students from China versus my days. I reminded her I was from Taiwan. As I walked through the hallways and revisited the classrooms with my family, I bumped into an old English teacher of mine. I remembered her and her classroom, for English had always been my favorite subject. I re-introduced myself. It has been two decades! In trying to remember me, she kindly asked who else was in my class, in which I listed out many names that I haven't thought about in years. She so happened to remember every one of them, except for me... that one Asian girl who stood out like a sore thumb but also felt invisible.
Dearest friends of the BIPOC communities, especially the Black community, I hear you. I see you. I feel you. I hope my stories do not take away from your unfathomable sufferage but shed extra light and relatability to a reality that needs to end immediately. To my dearest friends from all over the world, I hope you find yourself somewhere in my stories and I apologize if I've hurt anyone's feelings in advance. I'm happy to discuss more if you feel the need to ask questions, clarifications, or to share your own personal experiences. We are all students of life and each others' teachers, learning from one another.
Let us all aim to become our best human selves so that our children will never need to be, hear, or witness another horrific case of our forever remembered George Floyd.
"We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves." - Dalai Lama
(Image taken off of Instagram Account by Artist @outlines_arturo)