The privilege of my Asian-American identity

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I recognize my privilege everyday when I look out the window of my white-dominant suburban neighborhood and am reminded that I’m guarded by a paranoid neighborhood watch. I recognize my privilege when I can sit and back read about other people’s histories and experiences without being triggered. I recognize my privilege when I can navigate safely into a white space without someone else feeling threatened. I recognize my privilege when I can fade into a crowd as quiet and law-abiding.

However, I don’t know what it’s like to be a member of the majority in a demographic, neither here nor in a motherland across the sea. I don’t know what it’s like to truly belong in one’s country; in fact, I’m not really sure what that really means as a person of color and daughter of refugee immigrants. And I don’t know what it’s like to casually exist in a space, including my own home, without a care in the world. For all of the times I’ve been questioned about where I come from, where I live, if I speak English and how I learned it, and why I exist in this particular space here and now, how could I ever sit comfortably in a place where I have to justify my existence by educating other people of my history and actively change my behavior in order to blend in, in an environment where I’m constantly reminded that my status is up for debate despite the hard facts — which apparently can be alternative at any moment.

Since the coronavirus took over the world in 2020, the legitimacy and fault of Asian-Americans have been in question since the then-president strategically and regularly referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus.” Somehow, in this “woke” society that exists simultaneously with an abundance of information, those words actually turned emotions into conversations that germinated the seed of Asian hate.

As a cynic, I understand that every action has its own explanation. But how do we justify the recent string of events as single, outlying behaviors derived from the perpetrators’ own demons: when a Chinese-American stranger is stabbed on the street, when a killing spree targeting Asian-owned businesses alleviates a “bad day,” when the District Attorney minimizes the murder of a Thai-American grandfather as a “tantrum,” when Trump’s language is enough to stab a Chinese-American family unit, and when Asian-American elders are consistently targeted. The obvious answer is that the perpetrators feel that their communities compel them to become saviors by attacking those who, in deduced illogical reason, are to blame for the culmination of loss that was 2020. So, in this case, it would be anyone resembling a stereotypical Chinese look?

Asian-targeted hate crimes have been on the rise in the recent past, and are still ongoing. Of those incidents reported, 68 per cent are against women which only adds another layer of fear, in addition to the countless incidents not reported. As I reflect, I know with a certainty that any one of my friends, family members, and even myself, could have been and could be a victim. Unfortunately, we will continue to be victims unless we take back the narrative, speak out and are heard.

As I navigate this world with my dark hair, tan-olive skin and almond eyes, I am aware that despite my privilege, I am not casually safe until this conversation turns into real palpable change — a change that includes people of every color, shape, and size. The Asian-American community and I are not perpetual foreigners and should not be treated as such. I refuse to accept the idea that we are of the model minority. I have to take up space, and I will.