What Happens When the Pandemic Ends?
I was invited into a conversation to speak about racism and how it affects Asian Americans. This was the first time someone had intentionally wanted to have a formal conversation with me about it. I started to think about my experiences with racism and thought, “I’m not sure if I have many…” Sure, I’ve been called a chink as I crossed the street or have been teased about being quiet and having small eyes, but I made excuses thinking that those are such petty things. How dare I speak up about little things when others are being physically harmed and killed. I literally didn’t feel worthy of joining in on the conversation of racism. I always felt stuck in the middle where I was “close enough” to being white because I did whatever I could do to fit in, but not low enough in America’s racial hierarchy to justify speaking out against racism.
“I literally didn’t feel worthy of joining in on the conversation of racism.”
But then second-by-second articles, stories, Instagram posts, and videos started popping up everywhere about racist attacks against Asian Americans. I even had friends who were verbally or violently abused as COVID-19 made its way to America. People began to make more jokes attacking Asian Americans and I got side-eyed glares from people in lines and on the streets. Simultaneously, Asian Americans were starting to speak up about their pain, shame, anger, and experiences. It started to feel like there was space for these conversations — like racism against Asian Americans was being validated by the events taking place.
It sounds horrible to say, but I feel like this pandemic is somewhat of a blessing and a curse. Obviously the heartbreaking reality of the many facets of how the world is being affected is the curse, yet could a blessing be that finally America is seeing the pain and injustice Asian Americans have endured for centuries? Did it seriously take a global pandemic for people to start acknowledging that there is no such thing as the model minority and we are each our own individuals with stories that include discrimination, stereotypes, prejudices, and yes racism?
So I decided to join in on the conversation in front of some friends and some strangers. I expressed my struggles of identifying as Chinese American and my journey to self-awareness and realization that I have experienced racism my whole life. I got vulnerable about my feelings of shame and embarrassment because of my ethnicity and the way I look. I shared what I hoped people would take away from the conversation. I let people see me, like truly see me, after being invisible for so long. I explained that the words and assumptions society makes invokes otherness and tells Asian Americans that we don’t belong. I stressed that Asian Americans are not a monolith, rather we all have individual identities and want to be acknowledged as our own person. I encouraged people to truly listen to stories and get to know somebody for who they are, not the label that’s been forced on to them.
While it feels great to finally use my voice and speak out for others who may be experiencing the same feelings, I’m still left with a great fear. Because look, it’s one thing to feel ignored, unworthy, and invisible when you’ve never spoken up or let people in to that part of your life. BUT once you’ve told your story and the world still ignores you and leaves you stranded in the middle, invisible, and unseen, it cuts even deeper.
“I’m still left with a great fear.”
So to the people who are saying “YES!” with hands-raised emojis and posting/re-posting on social media about the injustice that is being brought to light during this pandemic, will you be there when it’s all over? Will you still be asking me how we can fight together when “Chinese Virus” is no longer trending on Twitter? Will you eat at the Chinese restaurant in Chinatown? Will you stop generalizing every Asian ethnicity and see us as individuals with our own cultures and stories? I pray that when the dust settles, the pandemic ends, and no one else is talking about this, you will remain. It hurts to go unnoticed when we gave in to those telling us to silence our voice, but it will be heartbreaking to be left unseen after it’s all out for the world to now know our story.