My Asian American Story: The Good, The Bad, & Moving Forward

Preface

The past few weeks have been a reckoning in my identity as an Asian American woman.

Dedication

I want to dedicate this post to my mom, Julie. She was my first example of how strong an Asian American woman can be and is in part why I feel compelled to write this post.

The Good

I want to start with what I see as “The Good” of my Asian American experience. Though my sentiments as an Asian American woman are darker now than ever before, there is a lot of beauty that serves as my armor of light and hope for the future. I hope you also find the good in what I share and that it nurtures your understanding and respect.

Growing Up in Los Angeles

I was fortunate to grow up in the very diverse city of Los Angeles with many well-intentioned people with open minds. My friends at school were Mexican, Russian, Black, Native American, Korean, White, Jewish, Filipino, and more. Ironically I had no Chinese friends because my brother and I were the only Chinese kids. I thought it was the norm to see different faces, hear different languages, and observe different approaches. That was life. My friendships developed out of the many similar interests my classmates and I had beyond our ethnicities — playing MASH for our crushes, sports, Lisa Frank, video games, dancing to Destiny’s Child, you name it. In this environment, I felt my brother and I were seen for everything we were inclusive of our race and that was validated by how our schools and classmates recognized us.

Traditional Values

I also see a lot of good in how Chinese families like mine uphold the traditional Chinese values of filial piety and honor. Filial piety is “a virtue of respect for one’s parents, elders, and ancestors.” Honor is also known as saving “face” and generally means to uphold character and moral standards, and avoid disgrace.

Success Stories

The good is also evident when I think of contemporary and historical Asian success stories and people. To illustrate (not an exhaustive list; feel free to contact me to add anyone I missed):

  • Healing: Chinese acupuncture, Indian yoga
  • Martial arts: Korean taekwondo, Chinese kung fu, Japanese karate
  • Written characters: Art, Tattoos

The Bad

I dreaded writing this section because it feels heavy and uncomfortable, but that also signals to me that it is even more important for me to press on. Pain is unfortunately a very effective motivator for change. I will explain the painful aspects of my Asian American experience and why I am driven to write this piece. I hope your understanding of the pain that I and my AAPI community feel improves as a result.

Current Events

There is no shortage of news depicting the uptick in violence against the AAPI community. The uptick has been attributed to Donald Trump’s rhetoric about the “Chinese virus.” His explicit association of Covid-19 with Chinese people has led people to blame Chinese and other Asian people for the pandemic and all of the turmoil it has caused. More than 2 million hate incidents have been reported since the pandemic began, crimes committed against Asian Americans are above the average across races, and these incidents are often unprovoked attacks against our most vulnerable: the elderly.

Personal Experience

During a dinner event for my first job out of college, a white coworker who I considered a friend made a racist “joke” towards me. He said: “Susanna, I can’t take you seriously right now because I can’t see the whites of your eyes.”

  1. Unless you speak up, nothing will change. You will continue to feel bad and the thing you wished could change will not even have a starting point or space for change.
  • Overhearing a patron at a landmark Hollywood restaurant comment on how out of place my family appeared to him at the restaurant
  • Getting asked where I am “really from” during a consulting recruiting dinner by a firm partner
  • A friend telling me that there “isn’t much difference across the Asian cultures”
  • Being on the receiving end of faltered smiles from strangers after they smiled kindly at my husband
  • Meeting my friend’s friend who comments after talking to me that I’m “not a fobby Asian” and nods appreciatively
  • Hearing from Asian friends about their fear when traveling to remote rural areas in the US for work
  • Knowing my marriage to my husband would have been illegal in the US only 55 years ago
  • Fielding questions about racism against Asians in the US from my cousins in the UK
  • Listening to my husband share that a group of his Asian friends couldn’t hail a cab in San Francisco until he helped
  • Only one friend checking in with me during the #StopAsianHate movement

Can you support the movement too?

I hope my post has inspired you to think of ways you can support #StopAsianHate. Here are a few ideas to get you going:

Wife, Auntie, and Soon-to-be Mom. First Gen Chinese American and College Student. Reader and Helper. Nature Fan. Experimental Cook. Dog Mom. Chief of Staff.

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