All my life I have dealt with microaggressions and racism. From the snide comments about my lunch to the mocking of my slanted eyes from my peers pulling their eyes upwards. I never really paid much attention to it though, because no one else did either. As a child, I was tricked into thinking this type of harassment is normal. Now I look back at how I was treated and how I felt, and look at my younger brother. I wonder if he is being treated like this in school and because of the normalization of racism towards Asians, thinks that this behavior is okay as I did.
The moment the false reality tore apart in front of my eyes, and was exposed for its true grotesque form, was ninth grade. I was nonchalantly scrolling through my instagram feed when I happened upon a video of a young Asian American woman. She was a food blogger and the video was a recording from a live stream she had done inside a restaurant. The woman was no more than twenty-five and all she was doing was eating her food quietly and reading comments. Suddenly, two middle-aged white men who were walking past her, shoved her frail frame into the booth she was sitting in and started yelling out a cheap imitation of mandarin while tugging at their eyes. They were laughing as this poor woman shrunk in her seat and tried to smile. She didn’t say a single word, and this, this was real funny to them. They pushed their faces closer to hers and laughed.
As I watched this video my stomach churned, I watched in horror as no one around her did a single thing. Not one person in this crowded restaurant batted an eye. I looked for articles, threads, comments about this situation and came up nearly empty handed. Only a handful of people had spoken out in outrage and no one had reported it. This was the moment I realized that no one cared.
I thought back to all of the teachers who ignored me as I was harassed on the playground. All of my peers who stayed silent as others made microaggressive comments like, “Don’t you eat dogs?” As if it mattered whether or not I did. As if, if I did, I was disgusting. As if my existence was to be regarded as lower than a dog. I thought back to the infamous question everyone seemed to ask, “So, what are you?” Saying it as if I was an object they were questioning the make and model of. And when I told them I was Vietnamese they replied with, “No you’re not, you’re Chinese.” As if they had any say in who I was.
The more I reminisced, the more fed up I became. This anger simmered over time, only growing exponentially in size as more things I had never thought about came to light. The constant discrediting of my achievements to my being Asian. It was inescapable everywhere I went. In school even, when studying for standardized tests, I discovered that Asians were given four-hundred penalty points on the SATs while other minorities got bonus points. As if America’s dark and oppressive history with Asians never happened, as if yellow peril didn’t exist. To me the whole system was just constantly twirling around ribbons saying, “We don’t care about you,” around me instead of having the balls to say it to my face.
To be quaint, I was sick of it. The erasing of POC’s history, the under representation, the whitewashing, the microaggressions, the blind eye that always seemed to be turned my way. Yet that wasn’t the end of it, nothing was ever the end of it. As the year 2020 ascended, Asian hate crimes started happening all over the world. Our old, getting killed upon the streets, pushed into the tracks of the subway. Teenagers, chasing down Asian men and beating them. A Hmong woman getting raped in the streets screaming for help and no one listened, and her dead body was found in a river the next day. Everyday I woke up and saw another article from what seemed like the only establishment reporting on these crimes, and everyday I would see nothing on the news about the murders, assaults, vandalism and crimes happening. The worst part? This had all happened before, yellow peril, Vincent Chin, yet this was all seemingly new because it had been erased from our history books.
All the while, I saw the “fox eye trend,” a trend where non-AAPI people were drawing their eyeliner and doing their makeup to specifically make their eyes look more angular, more slanted, and posing with their hands pulling up their eyes. The same pose these same people used to mock the features of Asian people. The same pose that haunted me through my life, making me feel ugly for how I look. And now, it was a trend. To say that this was upsetting is a gross understatement. Witnessing this was a slap in the face. The situation showed me that all of these people just wanted the aesthetic of having such features without the consequences of being the race. Let’s call it what it is, yellow face. And when these people were called out for their actions, one after another, they came out with apologies. Except these ‘apologies’ were just convoluted ways of saying, “I’m sorry you were offended, but I did nothing wrong. You’re just too sensitive.” Except, I wish they had just said that instead, because at least it would be the truth. Because that was what they really meant, they didn’t feel bad, and weren’t sorry. I wish people would stop trying to lie through their teeth, stop trying to say things just to say them. Because if people just said what they really meant, we would all be able to get to the root of the issue faster.
Then, the worst happened. The Atlanta shooting of three spas in March, and suddenly I had a new fear. Eight people died, six of them Asian women. Before, I felt anxiety only when I left the house, wondering if today I was going to be the next hate crime reported. Now, I was scared not only for myself, but for my parents who had to go to work in a spa. Wondering if today I was going to get a call that half my family is dead. When the police addressed the press and said the suspect had “a bad day” and it was a crime rooted in sexual addiction I was infuriated. The shooter knew what he was doing, he shot up three different spas whose workers were Asian. You know who really had a bad day? The victims and their families. It is heartbreaking that it took this tragedy for people to open their eyes to the racism towards Asians. The horrible portrayals of Asian women as meek, or as sex-driven creatures, the demasculization of Asian men, and the blatant yellow face in all forms of media was finally being addressed.
The truth is, this is an uphill battle, and when I was young, even though I knew something was wrong, I was too afraid to fight it. But never again will I stay silent. I will say what I mean with my back straight and my eyes forward. I know what I have experienced and don’t want my brother to experience it, I don’t want anyone to experience it. I will say what I mean, and I hope you will too. It is the first step to being able to understand the error of our ways and begin to understand how we can educate ourselves and move forward.
By Jacqueline Quach