Commentary: My life as an Asian-American

Simply put: The world is a scary place. Not only has it been full of unknowns and what-ifs my whole life, but now we’re adding more and more hatred into the mix. Hatred toward Asian-Americans like me. 

For over a year now, we’ve all watched the Coronavirus wreak havoc, learned to adjust, and tried our best to maintain our mental and physical health. Now, we’re also watching the rising numbers of anti-Asian hate crimes; innocent people being beaten and shot, and sometimes killed as some people blame us for the “Chinese Virus.”

The Center for Study of Hate and Extremism published a report that looked at 16 major cities in the United States. In 2020, anti-Asian hate crimes rose by 149% over 2019. Whether it’s a mass shooting, such as the heartbreaking tragedy that occurred in Atlanta in March, or individuals being verbally or physically assaulted, discriminated in the workplace, being denied service, being spat on or shunned, it’s all on the rise. 

We’re all struggling. We are all trying to navigate in this time that someday will become a long chapter in history. We are all facing the uncharted hardship head-on, but now, instead of working together as vaccines raise our hopes against the virus, somehow people who look like me are perceived to be the enemy.
 
So let me share my story.

I graduated from the University of Tampa this past December. I’m full of passion with all of the goals I have set for myself. I’m no different from my fellow graduates. However, I know there are times when my race causes people to look at me differently.  

My mother is 100% European. My father is 100% Chinese. While my grandmother on my father’s side was born in the U.S.A., her ancestors emigrated from China and worked on the railroads in California. My grandfather immigrated from China at the age of 5, spending 30 days on a boat to get to America. Theirs was an arranged marriage. They were together for 79 years and spent their whole lives on earth surrounded with love from their huge, growing family of eight boys.

I grew up celebrating Chinese New Year with my grandparents. My whole family would get together to honor our heritage over my grandmother’s family’s favorite fried rice.

Racism toward those of Asian descent is nothing new. This is an issue that has been going on ever since Chinese immigrants began coming to the United States in the 1850s. 

We grew up learning that everyone has their own unique background that makes them who they are, and these differences should be embraced. We learned to be proud of our culture, where we came from, and who our ancestors were. We were eager to learn their stories. Our elementary school teachers assigned us projects, forcing us to dive into our genetic makeup, generating that spark of curiosity in uncovering our family’s origins. We learned early on that being different is OK, different is special, but then we grew up to learn what it really means to be different in a world confined by racism. 

I remember standing in front of my fellow classmates, so happy to be sharing this history of my family that I had learned. Not only did my parents build their lives right here in the United States, but my grandparents and their parents grew up in completely different countries and endured so much to begin their lives in America. My mom's side of the family is a mix of British, Irish, French, and German immigrants who all arrived in the late 19th century in pursuit of economic opportunity. Pointing out my family’s journey on a map to my classmates, I showed with pride how far across the world my genes take me.

We need to remember that although times are hard right now for us, and we may not be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel yet, we are all going through this. Every one of us with a beating heart is living through this struggle right now. We have to accept that COVID unfortunately is the reality at this time and there’s no one to point the finger at to blame. We have to move forward together. 

Putting time and effort into hating Asian-Americans (or anyone else who is different) isn’t going to make the virus disappear. It isn’t going to alter the people we encounter every day. 

When natural disasters happen, we all come together to rebuild what’s been broken. A hurricane’s damage is grieved, but we keep looking forward. We gather what we can and send out disaster relief care packages to anyone and everyone in need because we realize that every single person who was in the wake of the storm felt its impacts. Why can’t everyone realize now that our entire world has stumbled and been damaged in the wake of the Coronavirus? 

There was a particular news segment I saw this past summer of an Asian man’s fashion store being looted in Chicago, where I grew up. It brought tears to my eyes and I can still see the absolute despair on his face and the heartbreak in his words. He tried so hard to tell the protestors that his store was his only hope. It was how he feeds his family. He was clutching his hands together, begging them with tears to stop and to realize that he’s done nothing wrong. All he was doing was working as hard as he could to survive this pandemic and have enough money to provide for his loved ones -- just like everyone else, including many of the rioters themselves. The pain he was suffering would not eliminate the pain the looters felt.

All I can do right now is hope, hope that someday soon we will all realize that although the tough times are inevitable, we can make it through. We can fill ourselves with hatred toward others who are different and let it make us bitter, or we can look to each other and see that although it hurts right now, we’re all hurting together, that pain is a part of the human condition, and we can carry the burden together.

Unfortunately, too many are choosing to let this hard time drag us further away from the future we all want, for ourselves and for generations to come. The problems of viruses and racism won’t just go away overnight, but if we would all support each other through this, it would make life a whole lot easier for everyone.
 

Read more articles by Lauren Wong.

Lauren Wong is a graduate of the University of Tampa with a degree in journalism who is freelancing while she looks for a full-time job. Originally from the Chicago area, she enjoys travel and aspires to be a travel photojournalist. During the summer of 2019, she worked for Premier Travel Media in Chicago and as a correspondent for Input Fort Wayne, another Issue Media group online magazine based in Indiana. She loves spending time outdoors camping, kayaking, and taking pictures.
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