Coronavirus isn’t the biggest pandemic we live in — racism is.
Like many other Asian Americans, I am so very angry, heartbroken, and scared watching our community gets attacked across the US recently. From yelling racist slurs, to sucker-punching, slashing, stabbing, and killing — hate crimes against Asians rose by ~150% in 2020, EVEN WHEN hate crimes in general dropped by 7%.
My heart is racing as I type. I don’t care where you are in the world and what color your skin is — this is a systemic issue that requires us all to fight as one. As humanity. There’s a lot to unpack here and I urge that you read ’til the end. And I’ll return your time by giving you my most honest thoughts — even ones that I’m not proud of having.
I wasn’t always proud to be Asian
I’ve never really shared these thoughts with anyone, but I’m opening up now because we need to have these conversations.
Before I start, let me explain my background: I was born in Australia and lived there until I was 3, when my parents decided to move back to Hong Kong. I went to a local school until age 15, then moved back to Sydney for high school. After that, I spent 4 college years in LA, then worked in Japan for 3 years. In September 2019, I moved to New York City and have been there ever since. I’ve always loved cultural exchange — see some of my fave photos from high school and college:
Despite getting top scores in my English reading and written tests in Hong Kong, I couldn’t pronounce many English words correctly (especially the “th” and “v” sounds 🤦🏻♀️), let alone speaking fluently. It wasn’t until I moved to Australia that I realized how crappy my English really was, and I blamed it on my parents, “Why didn’t you guys send me to an international school? I wouldn’t have so much struggle with English then!” To which they replied, “Dear, we want you to be able to speak native Chinese.”
A couple years went by and I started speaking more fluent English AND picked up a thick Aussie accent. This made lots of people at UCLA ask me where I was from… to which I’d always say “Australia.” It’s not wrong since I was born there and literally just moved from Sydney to LA, but deep down I knew I didn’t say “Hong Kong” because I didn’t want people to think that I’m one of them — the international students who only hung out among themselves and spoke Chinese.
I wasn’t proud, and I did everything I could to disassociate myself from the “fobs.”
The last shameful thought developed when I was in Japan. Being an Asian foreigner in that country isn’t easy — you’re always seen as a lesser foreigner and you don’t get as many privileges as your white counterparts. That’s when I thought to myself, “If only I were white… things would’ve been so much easier then.“
I was so wrong.
“Go back to your country!”
This is probably one of the most common racist comments heard, and I heard it for the first time in Japan. I didn’t give it much thought then because I knew Japan wasn’t where I wanted to settle.
Earlier this year, I spent a few weeks in Hong Kong and met up with lots of childhood friends. Most of them went to college in the UK/US/Australia but they’ve all returned. I am the odd one out and just couldn’t help but ask, “Why? Aren’t opportunities better overseas? Think about the freedom, the high pay, and the BIG houses you can live in!!!” To which they replied, “So what? We’ll always be second-class citizens in those white-dominated countries.”
I lost my words. Perhaps because I’ve been fortunate enough to go to schools and work at companies that value diversity, I’ve never thought about how my race may impact my quality of life.
That’s when I recall my dad saying, “The only place where you won’t be discriminated against is the place you’re from. Always remember that.”
Perhaps that’s why my parents moved back to Hong Kong in 1997. It’s better to be the majority than minority, right? … Right?
How about Asians who never returned home?
Let’s talk about that.
We can trace the first Asians in America back to the 1700s when Filipinos fled to America in fears of Spanish imprisonment, then 1840s when Chinese miners flocked to the States during the California Gold Rush. Many racist laws were in place, such as banning Chinese kids in San Francisco schools and barring entry of Chinese and “Mongolians.” Most Asian workers worked in harsh conditions and received very low pay.
But they persevered.
Last weekend, my Chinese American boyfriend invited me over to his place for dinner. I find myself at home whenever I talk to his parents because they speak Cantonese too. In fact, they’ve managed to build a family here in the US for ~25 years without speaking a word of English.
Whenever I visit, they’d spend the entire day prepping tableful of delicious food and have the biggest smiles on their faces when they see their kids happy and healthy. They left their hometowns for a brighter future for the family, even when that means settling down in a country whose language they don’t speak. No matter how low-paying jobs here are and how living conditions may be inhumane for immigrants, they still persevere. (And my eyes got blurry typing this paragraph…)
Look at the Chinatowns across the US. They bustle with street after street of restaurants, salons, supermarkets, pharmacies, schools, community centers… and attract a ton of tourists especially during the Lunar New Year festivities.
They’re the living history of hardship, perseverance, and a 5,000+ year-old culture.
When I go to the Manhattan Chinatown (and I go there a lot), I see grandpas playing chess at the park, old ladies picking up bottles or cardboard to sell for cash, restaurant workers catching brief cigarette breaks, and people picking fruits at the street vendors. All of these bring me back to my childhood, when I saw the exact same scenes in Hong Kong.
Chinatown is a home away from home for me, and seeing it become one of the bloodiest and attack-ridden places breaks my heart into a million pieces.
Imagine one day you come home and find out…
- that your 76 year-old grandma has been sucker-punched in the face…
- that your 61 year-old uncle has been slashed across the face on the subway…
- that your 36 year-old friend has been stabbed in the back with an 8-inch knife…
- that your 68 year-old dad has been brutally punched in the head…
- that six Asian women have been shot dead in an OBVIOUSLY RACIALLY MOTIVATED massacre.
And you know what makes me and many others lose our minds? Almost none of these crimes was categorized as a hate crime. Apparently, saying “I don’t like the way you look” isn’t racist; apparently, “having a bad day” justifies killing eight people.
WAKE UP, WHITE SUPREMACISTS!
These following pictures may be disturbing but I’m asking you all to LOOK AT THEM. LOOK AT THE INNOCENT BLOOD AND BRUISES. LOOK AT HOW MY PEOPLE ARE HURTING.
Not gonna lie, seeing Asians get attacked DAILY has made me really scared to go out. What if someone were to sucker-punch or stab me from behind, or pee on me on the subway (yes, you read that right)? What if I were to go out… and never make it home?
Above all, why should I even be scared? I’ve done nothing wrong and have the rights to pursue my dreams in a country that I love. But you know what’s really scary? Hatred.
If you’re thinking, “That’s none of my business. Why should I care?” Well, you should care because RACISM PLAGUES HUMANITY. Regardless of your social status, zip code, skin color, sexual orientation, disability, we’re all human beings. Sure, our facial features and cultural traditions may have little in common, but there’s something that makes us all the same: the ability to love.
Guess what? America once taught me how to love
2012 was the year my world expanded — I got to make friends with White, Asian, African and Latino Americans at UCLA, and through the Global Siblings Program I also met lifelong buddies from Japan, Korea, Sri Lanka, Spain, Mexico, Italy, France, Thailand, Turkey, Malaysia, Taiwan, India, the Philippines, Iran — to name a few.
Not only that, I was exposed to and learned from people that are different from me — in sexual orientation, socio-economic status, mental health condition, and family background.
And it was beautiful.
That is the exact same reason why I want to bring up my future kids in America (aka the Melting Pot) and not Asia. I want them to grow up being able to interact with, appreciate, and love all people. The first thing I’m gonna tell my kids when they start going to school is, “Hun, lean in. Sit at the table, and welcome everyone at your table.“
The opportunity to engage in conversations with people different from me has opened my eyes in so many ways. I got to see where they’re coming from, how they see the world, how their background impacts on their lives, and how they’ve been fighting to achieve equality.
And that’s what I’m asking you all to do.
To my white/black/hispanic/other non-Asian readers: Reach out to me or any of your Asian friends/colleagues to start a conversation. Tell us what you think about us and recent anti-Asian attacks, what you want to know, and how we can work together to make the US a more peaceful place. I won’t mind if you bring up the typical stereotypes, but I ask that you join the conversation with an open and honest mind that is willing to listen and love.
Please, look around you. They may not look it or be vocal about it, but your Asian friends/colleagues are hurting. They are angry, scared, disappointed, and likely feel helpless and unheard. And you know what makes me even angrier? That many Asian parents feel bad about carrying self-defense weapons and fighting back. The Chinese culture builds upon harmony, and they don’t want to harm anyone despite getting hurt.
To my Asian readers: This is on us. It’s time for us to talk about these painful topics with our families and friends. Whenever possible, take part in rallies and join volunteer groups to raise awareness of anti-Asian discrimination and protect other Asian Americans in the community. Oftentimes, hate comes from a lack of understanding, and we can change that.
This past weekend I got the chance to take part in an anti-Asian violence rally and never have I felt so heartbroken. Many powerful speeches were given and I couldn’t help but sob and think about how, as an Asian living in America, helpless I feel. But because of all the inclusive voices around me, I felt supported and loved. I started to believe that things can change, with acceptance and love. At last, I’m proud to be an Asian. We may only account for 6% of the US population, but together we’re an ocean. That’s also the reason why I chose a picture of me smiling — not sobbing — to feature on this blog. There is always hope.
Also, I hate to say this, but consider carrying a self-defense weapon with you when you go out.
If talking takes too much time, share this blogpost on your social network. The more people who get to read about an Asian’s personal experiences, the sooner we’ll be understood. I truly believe that love can conquer all. It’s likely going to take a long time for systemic changes to happen, but we can start making changes on the community level.
And it begins with you and me.
Please, drop me a comment or send me a message and get chatting. (IG @thecaradventures and Linkedin @ Cara Lam)
Remember, if you can love, why hate?
For a list of resources on the Asian American community, see below.
- Anti-Asian Violence Resources: https://anti-asianviolenceresources.carrd.co/
- Asian American Federation: https://linktr.ee/aafederation
- NYC Toolkit – Stop Asian Hate: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/cchr/community/stop-asian-hate.page
- Stop AAPI Hate: https://linktr.ee/stopaapihate/
- Racism is a Virus: https://linktr.ee/racismisavirus
- Asian Americans Advancing Justice: https://www.advancingjustice-aajc.org/
- AAPI Women Lead: https://www.imreadymovement.org/covid-19
- PBS documentary “Asian Americans”: https://www.pbs.org/show/asian-americans/
- Read about the history of anti-Asian American legislation: https://theconversation.com/the-long-history-of-us-racism-against-asian-americans-from-yellow-peril-to-model-minority-to-the-chinese-virus-135793
- Learn about the diversity of Asian cultures and the unique socio-economic issues within each community: https://www.pewresearch.org/topics/asian-americans/
- Stand against anti-Asian racial discrimination during COVID-19: A call for action: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0020872820970610
- Asian American news: https://nextshark.com/
- Stop AAPI Hate: https://stopaapihate.org/
- Asian Americans Advancing Justice: https://www.standagainsthatred.org/
- NYC Commission on Human Rights: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/cchr/about/report-discrimination.page
Volunteer & Take Action:
- Safe Walks NYC: http://safewalx.com/en/welcome/
- Hollaback Bystander Intervention Training: https://www.ihollaback.org/bystanderintervention/
- Support AAPI Organizations: www.gofundme.com/aapi
- 61 Ways to Donate in Support of Asian Communities (continuously updated): https://nymag.com/strategist/article/where-to-donate-to-help-asian-communities-2021.html