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My Personal Story about being an Asian American

My Personal Story about being an Asian American
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Atalanta shooting on March 16th has left me with loaded feelings.

Racism towards Asian community members has always been around but I personally started noticing more when I became fluent in English and subtle cultural cues here in the U.S. and also in Europe. Sometimes it was in the form of micro-aggression, and people often brushed it off or excused it as they were just curious. But was it a “curiosity” when an elderly white woman marched up to me out of nowhere and asked me loudly, “where did you get the blonde baby?” when my blonde hair Coco was in my baby carrier in the grocery store? I’m not so sure. It certainly did not feel like it to me. Sometimes it’s the feeling that I get that I am not safe in the space (and it can be during broad daylight). Some incidents I shared with friends and others I kept to myself. After Atlanta shooting, I had a long chat with Frido and told him about incidents I hadn’t shared with him before. One of the incidents happened in Hamburg, Germany, two summers ago while we were canoeing through the waterway. We were going under a bridge, and people above us on the bridge made racist remarks about Asian people just loud enough. I heard it, but Frido and girls didn’t seem to have picked up, so I tucked my feelings under and moved on. After all, I didn’t want to sour the lovely day we were enjoying, and I never shared it with anyone. I also never felt safe to get out of the door in Hamburg by myself after the incident. I still did, but the nagging feelings were always there. 

It made me wonder why I never talked about it and I think I understand a little more about the “why” now. Being made fun of being an Asian made me feel as if I were “less than,” and I felt talking about it would make me feel even more so. 

I know that I am NOT “less than.” Nobody is. I know how to stand tall and keep my ground in many situations, and I also know that I bring positivity to the world by being myself. But even with the awareness, racism can creep into me. 

It’s harmful. 

And it hurts. 

I share this because I want a better world for our kids. I share this because starting to talk about it is my way of breaking the common stereotype of Asian Women; quiet, submissive, and agreeable (and if you know me personally, you know that I am none of the above). 

Next time…

When someone comes up to us and shares the story that they/he/she feels treated differently because of the way they look, I hope we pause, listen, and stand with the person instead of brushing it off by saying it is because of curiosity, or the person is acting too sensitive. 

I hope we learn history from 360 degrees, not just the one narrative that our society prefers to talk about (and conveniently eliminate some uncomfortable truths). 

I hope we continue teaching our kids that we can feel many emotions, but it’s NEVER okay to harm others. 

I am aware that my perspective is limited as a small slice of Asian American experience, but at the same time, it is my truth. And my heart continues to go towards the victims of the shooting and their families.

8 comments

  • Penelope Bullock: April 11, 2021

    Hi Wakako,

    I’m saddened to hear that you have been a victim of racism and ignorance. As a nurse of 12 years in Los Angeles, racism continues to be hugely palpable. You story elevates awareness of social/racial injustices and is humbling to read. I will share this piece with my family. Thank you for boldly sharing your personal experience.

  • Caroline Donahue: April 04, 2021

    Wakako, thank you so much for speaking up and sharing your story. It is absurd that you have to put up with this behavior and I‘m so sorry people were so rude and thoughtless. The world still has a long way to go, but hopefully we can all work together so everyone feels safe, as soon as possible. That‘s the only acceptable outcome. 💖

  • Karen Yoshiko: April 04, 2021

    Thank you, Wakako, for sharing your story. I am half Asian, but look more white. I grew up in the 50s and 60s. I do remember comments from my friends, but laughed them off as jokes, because I believe they were never meant to be mean-spirited. Maybe we should think carefully about our words.

    As far as I know, Mom never felt the sting of racism in the Washington, D.C. area. Maybe she heard comments, but never spoke of it. She brought awareness of Asian cultures to the faculty and students at the junior high school where she worked and was honored for it.

    She befriended Japanese women in chance meetings at grocery stores or in the neighborhood. They found comfort in each other’s friendship. They were all so far away from their childhood homes, she being from Hawaii. There is a comfort of being with like people, but these ladies didn’t isolate themselves. They were vital members of the whole community.

    We grew up in a home where prejudice against any group, cultural, racial, or religious, was not tolerated. Thank you, Mom and Dad. I hope moms and dads raising young children these days will set good examples for their kids by their words and actions. I’m so proud of my daughters and granddaughters for their open minds.

  • Cheryse: April 06, 2021

    Hi Wakako,
    I am sorry for the way you were treated. I understand completely. I am kind of in your situation. My Koko is blonde, very fare and blue eyes until five. (now hazel-gray). I am African American. often times I was asked if I was my daughter’s Nanny. I don’t know my African history/roots because of slavery – broken family. I remember going to white castles with my friends after a party and a group of guys yelled at us, “eyes and teeth, eyes and teeth, that all I see is eyes and teeth.” and he threw is milk shake at us. This happened in 1986 and it still stings and I remember it like it was yesterday. Racism Hurts! you are so correct. I had my makeup professionally done for my prom. The lady put lipliner and lipstick on half of my lip. She told me that my lips were to big. I was so shocked. My mother stepped in and corrected the matter & also made me feel good about myself. Racism is very harmful and it hurts. I am tearing as I am writing this message. I was a teenager when both incidents happened. -Cheryse

  • Robert Dollar: April 04, 2021

    It is a shame that people’s biggoted words can make one feel bad for just being who they are. None of us have any control over being born who we are. No one should be ashamed or shamed for just being who they are.
    It’s obvious this is a world where one is judged for their appearance, that one can be judged by what they look like, and circumstantial racial characteristics can be used to discriminate against and demean others.
    To quote Rodney King, “ Why can’t we get along?”

  • Sarah: April 04, 2021

    My heart goes out to you knowing you have experienced such racism. It is my goal and desire to never let a comment of racism be said in my presence without me addressing it. In years past, I might have witnessed racist speech but not knowing what to say, said nothing. I realize this is complicit with the racist speech. I am no longer afraid to speak up. Love thy neighbor demands it. May you be blessed with kindness from those you meet. Thank you for your important story.

  • Amy S: April 04, 2021

    Thank you for sharing your experience and helping this community to understand your perspective. As women, we are expected to let those things roll off our backs. Nasty comments or mean people doing and saying mean things is just not acceptable.

    It took me 40 years to decide to stand up for myself and others no matter what the consequences. Teaching my daughters that they have a voice and it was okay to use it in a respectful, reasonable way to make positive change is important. It was then that I realized I had to do that too. We must all tell our stories to make tomorrow a better place.

    My thoughts and prayers are with the Asian community. Thank you for making this world a better place.

  • Susan Sherrer: April 04, 2021

    Wakako, I am so sorry that you had to hear those racist remarks in Hamburg or have that lady ask you that question about your precious Coco. I know I am not alone here in saying that you have made a difference in my life through your writings (and Baum-Kuchen, w/ thanks to Frido and your special team too). I want a better world, too, for our kids. Here’s to listening and empathy. Thanks for sharing. 💕

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