My heart sank when I read the news about the killing of at least six Asian women this week in the Atlanta metro region. I immediately thought of their families, and how most likely they were hard-working immigrant mothers who came to this country to make a better life for their children. I couldn’t help but cry as I walked upstairs to give my six-year-old daughter a hug before I set her for her Zoom class.
The tears were for my mother, and every other Asian parent, who comes to this country and faces an uphill battle trying to juggle learning English, working full time, raising children, getting accustomed to a new culture and now, fears being one of the over 3,000 victims of hate violence in the past year, according to AAPI Hate. It was especially difficult for my mother because when she first married my American father in the 1970’s, they lived in a trailer on his parent’s property in Oklahoma. My grandfather refused to talk to or even acknowledge her because of her race for almost a year. Eventually, he came around and grew to love her as his own daughter. She was one of the lucky ones.
Then my mother had her own children and had to worry about the cycle starting all over again. When we lived in Korea in the 1980’s, I was made fun of because I was a “mutt” and wasn’t full Korean. When we moved to America, kids would pull their eyes back and call me names like Kristi Yamaguchi, something that even former NBA star Jeremy Lin noted he has even been a victim of. It becomes double troubling when your maiden name is Patricia Smith and someone says to your face, “But that can’t be your name, you’re Asian.” It’s like you don’t fit into any category, and you almost don’t feel human at all.
I’m not angry at my grandfather for not accepting my mother for who she was. We are products of our environment, and when you grow up in a place where there is no diversity and you know nothing different, that is just who you are. It is when you choose to not be accepting, and resort to violence, like shoving women to the ground and stabbing an innocent man, that hatred overcomes love and you cause others to live in fear. I don’t want that for my daughter.
Three years ago, my husband and I moved to a very rural county in Maryland. It was a big decision because I knew it wouldn’t be as diverse as Baltimore County or Newport News, Virginia (where I grew up), but it had a great school system and more bang for your buck as far as home properties go. We eventually decided to make the move because it was the best decision for her future. I was doing the same thing my mother did when she moved to America.
My daughter doesn’t look Asian — she has bright blue eyes and dirty blonde hair – but she’s still a quarter Korean. I’m only half Korean, but I definitely have strong Asian features, so with the surge in anti-Asian violence and hate crimes in the past year, I’m always self-aware of how others view me because I’ve been there. Every time I walk around with her I’m thinking that people can see my Asian eyes above my face mask and I wonder what they’re thinking. Do they wonder if I’m her nanny? Are they going to attack me? Can she speak English?
I then squeeze her hand and try to push the thoughts away.
I admit that so far, this town has been full of amazingingly sweet and open-minded people, from the awesome daycare teachers we met our first week here to the new Vietnamese (yes, fellow Asian!) family we literally met last week. My fear is that we will one day meet people who won’t be so understanding, but my hope is that I’m wrong.