The past few days have been hard. I've been trying to process all that has happened in America recently regarding race and it's too much. When Covid started, it was Asians being blamed as being responsible, then the sickening killing of Ahmaud Arbery, Breona Taylor, the most recent horrific murder of George Floyd, so many more...and those are just what we've heard about. It’s been hard and disheartening for me because of my own experiences with racial discrimination and has brought to mind all the times I have felt 'less than' or 'out of place' over the years. My experiences are in NO WAY NEAR what black Americans deal with on a regular basis, and I’ve not felt the pain of injustice, but they are mine and they are stories of being yellow/brown, and not white, in America.
I was born in the Philippines and emigrated to the United States with my parents when I was two. With very little money, we first settled in downtown Detroit at an apartment complex right next to a car dealership. Both my parents worked because they literally left the Philippines with nothing and came to build a better life in America from scratch. I remember being dropped off at a childcare/preschool in Detroit and having 2 little girls tell me I couldn't play with them because I was different, I wasn't black like them. I must have only been 3 or 4 years old but some memories never leave you. When I was 9, we moved to a suburb which was pretty much all white, and that very first day of 4th grade, the little boy sitting next to me asked my other table mates, 'Do you think she speaks English?' I grew up thinking I didn't belong to white America or to black America so when I was 14 and my parents took me back to the Philippines to visit, I did not want to come back. I felt like I finally belonged someplace where I didn't have to try so hard to fit. My mom, in all her wisdom, simply told me to get involved. She said, 'Join everything, participate in everything, get involved and really get to know people, and if in a year you feel the same way, you can go back to the Philippines and stay with your grandmother.' It was a risk but living life takes risks.
I'm still here. I did what she said, opened myself up and got involved. Did I feel like I belonged? Somewhat. Did racial remarks and attitude stop in my life after 8th grade? Never. I've been called 'chink' more times than not and have been asked (still) 'what are you?' and 'where are you from?' so many times it's laughable. I was in a sorority in college (the only Asian) and people would say they probably chose me because they needed a higher GPA... ha, I was the wrong chick for that. I was chosen to be a sorority rep for the Panhellenic council (group that promotes unity and cooperation amongst fraternities and sororities at a university) and walking into my first meeting, one of the fraternity boys pointed at the door and said, 'Your group is meeting next door.' Next door was where the black Panhel council was meeting. I could go on and on. Last March I was in LA for a meeting right when Covid struck. At the crowded LA airport I sat waiting for my friend to come out of the bathroom and as I found and sat in one of the only available seats in the terminal, the couple next to me whispered between each other, got up and moved; no other seats open so they stood against the wall instead (insert eye roll here). I wasn't even coughing, which for me is always a risk since I've had cancer in my neck several times, heavy doses of radiation, and now cancer in my lungs. Which by the way, cancer does not choose a color.
How do we change? First and foremost, listen. Since George Floyd's murder, there has been so much noise. Mostly from white Americans talking; wanting to make things better, ordering books, talk, talk, talk. It's so great to have these conversations open up but it's talk I’ve heard before. How and when does it change? Today is Black Out Tuesday and maybe that's a good start. Stop talking, give space to listen; listen to stories of heartache, fear, how people live and think every single day. Second, enter into relationship. In college, I remember having a conversation with one of my closest friends. I told her of my insecurities about being Asian, some of the stereotypes involved, and how people viewed me differently. She stared back at me and said, 'What? I don't even see color, you're just Anna.' When I was engaged to my now ex-husband, we visited his dad to announce our engagement and he walked out of the room. After our first child was born he wouldn't hold him for at least the first year. It wasn't great, but he's from a small town and had no experience with other races. Slowly over the years, after getting to know me and being open to enter into relationship with me, he listened, learned, softened his heart, and loved. So much so, that when I had cancer the third time and was going in for my third surgery, he surprised me by showing up at the hospital to pray and support me; he drove 200 miles by himself to be there without me asking or knowing he would come and was already sitting in the lobby when I came to check in. What changed? He was open enough, even if just a little, to enter into relationship with me. I was just Anna.
Black lives matter. Black people have a long history of oppression and injustice . Being Asian, I don't believe that I will ever see a knee on the neck of my sons, brother, uncle, dad. I don't worry about my sons being stopped or pulled over because of their color. I don't worry that they'll be harassed or questioned walking down our street in a mostly white neighborhood. With all the worry and fear that comes with motherhood, I can't imagine the added fear of raising black sons and daughters wondering how they will be treated and what injustice they will face growing up and for the rest of their lives. I heard the easy analogy of your house being on fire and the fire department coming to fight the fire. It would be like all your neighbors saying, 'what about my house?' when their homes are not on fire. Of course the other homes are important and they do matter, but yours is the only one burning to the ground. In the Bible, Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep. The story was paraphrased this way by Manny Arteaga, 'There are 100 sheep but one goes missing. Jesus leaves the 99 to go after the one. 'But what about us? Don't we matter?' Of course the 99 matter but they're not the one in danger. The one is.' Black lives matter.
I am not part of white America or black America but have felt accepted by both. I was taught to be kind, respectful, and to love everyone, but also to work hard and stay safe and therefore be a productive, but silent part of society. There is too much injustice and discord in the world to stay silent and fear builds on fear. I also still feel on occasion, the sting of racism targeted at me so I’m tired of always having the mindset to make sure I somehow fit in. We all need to do and be better. I'm married to a white man and I always feel like I have to dress better and look good when we are in public. Why? So people don't question why he chose to marry an Asian woman, dumb but true and believe me, I've heard comments.
This is America. The reason why immigrants have flocked here is because of the freedoms and opportunities for them and their families. What makes America beautiful is that it's the 'great American melting pot' where people of all races are welcomed, but it's historical roots are steeped in anti-black actions and white privilege. I grew up hearing and reading the history about women given the right to vote, how after years of slavery, slaves were freed, how men and women fought in World Wars to maintain America's freedom, and now, here we are, still. In a recent interview, former President Obama asked the question, 'Can we see in each other a common HUMANITY, a shared DIGNITY, and recognize how our different experiences have shaped us?' It takes courage. We are one American family. Michelle Obama says, 'Race and racism is a reality that so many of us grow up to just deal with. But if we ever hope to move past it, it just can't be on people of color to deal with it. IT'S UP TO ALL OF US- BLACK, WHITE, EVERYONE-NO MATTER HOW WELL-MEANING WE THINK WE MIGHT BE, TO DO THE HONEST, UNCOMFORTABLE WORK OF ROOTING IT OUT. It starts with self examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. It ends with justice, compassion, and empathy that manifests in our lives and on our streets.
I am not black, I am not white, and all I want to be is Anna. In response to the systemic racism and social injustice in our country against black people-I see you, I hear you, I stand alongside of you. By nature I am a peacemaker, so in a time when everything is loud, I’ll still be soft. Let’s also remember to be kind and not judge each other as we go through these growing pains. Everyone processes things differently and judgement will only bring more division. Give grace. There will always be lots of words but until we enter into relationships-TRUE, HARDCORE, VULNERABLE relationships, with people of other races, religions, colors, we will never know, understand, and love them. Enough talk. Listen, empathize, educate then enter into relationship and just do. ‘Love justice, do mercy, walk humbly with our God.'~ Micah 6:8