Growing up with a fully Japanese grandmother and a half-Japanese mother, I have often seen them take hits from racists over their skin color, eye shape, face shape, and my grandmother’s accent. I have heard a cacophony of racist names thrown with precision at my family, and yes, chink thrown at me. I even, once, was called a “dumb Asian,” and I just laughed at the reverse stereotyping he had tried to pull on me.
I do not ‘look’ as Asian as my grandmother, mother, and younger sister. A question I have commonly heard asked to my mother in Food Lion, Kohl’s, walking around our local mall, and on the sidewalk is “What are you?” I have been asked that question myself fewer times than I can count on one hand, and when I was asked it at my first ever event at UVA, I was dumbfounded. I have my father’s pale complexion, and although people often ask me if I’m part Asian, my outward appearance does not define me to the extent it defines others in my family.
And I prayed and prayed and prayed in the twenty minutes she was gone that she would return home safely — and those that know me know that I am not a deeply religious person.
My mom left the house one recent afternoon, saying, “I’m just grabbing a few things at the gas station.” I responded “Be safe. If anyone says or does anything, call me.” And I prayed and prayed and prayed in the twenty minutes she was gone that she would return home safely — and those that know me know that I am not a deeply religious person.
Another day, my sister was picking up groceries and realized she had forgotten her mask. She called my dad and asked what she should do, and he, responding without thinking about the privileges that his skin color and race afford him, responded, “Go in, let them know you forgot a mask, and they’ll give you one.” I immediately shouted, “NO!,” because one of the easiest ways an Asian person can get assaulted right now is by going in a place without a mask on. Thankfully, my sister found one in the glove compartment.
Only a few months ago, as COVID-19 started to become a known name in American households and the news of its origin in China had started to spread, a few Asian students leaving the Aquatic Fitness Center at UVA had eggs thrown at them from a moving vehicle. I have read news article after news article this summer about Asian men and women being physically assaulted for “bringing the virus here” — even though many of them have never even visited an Asian country.
In Trump’s America, I am scared for my family and friends’ lives, even more so since he started calling COVID-19 the “China-Virus.” This is not a name that I ever thought I would fear. It would have been awful enough if the term had been used to reference China’s advancements in technology or for how many of our jobs are “taken” by China when we outsource for our cellphones — but it is even more disgusting in the context of a global pandemic.
The one piece of advice that I do have? Check on your Asian-American friends.
I do not fear for myself as I fear for my family, because I can control, somewhat, what happens next. I have had men come up to me while I’m gassing my car and say things that made me reach for my phone and text my location to my friends. But the fear that I feel in this moment is different. I don’t know what to do when there is an undercurrent of racism running like tap water through the homes of impressionable Americans, Americans who are looking for someone to blame. I don’t know what I can do, I have no answers, and I have no concrete guidance. I fear, every single day, for my family and friends’ lives. Trump has created that fear.
I would love to offer guidance and tell everyone to vote him out, but that is just one piece of a larger puzzle that I am not sure can ever be fully put together. The one piece of advice that I do have? Check on your Asian-American friends. Ask them what support they need, whether it’s a ride to work or help getting their groceries safely. Use your privilege to do good, not to continue oppressing.