I don’t know how to answer the question “how are you?” anymore. After a year of racism and violence against Asian Americans, I am tired, overwhelmed, infuriated, and depleted. I am sleepless. I am in constant worry for my elderly immigrant parents, who I’ve seen face anti-Asian racism their entire lives. My family and I have dealt with microaggressions like mispronouncing our last name, being made fun of for our accents or food, being labeled as successful model minorities, and being cursed at and banned from shops. None of this is new, but I am the angriest I have ever been. As I write, I can feel my heart pulsing like a raging fire because of the continued hate against my community.
Over the past year, I have been walking with pain, rage, and sorrow in my body as I watched the increased racism and violence against Asian people. I’ve had to debate whether or not I should wear a mask due to hate-fueled COVID-19 rhetoric, and I’ve gotten DMs on Facebook and Instagram filled with obscenities and racial slurs. I’m terrified for my parents’ safety. Social media footage of violence against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) people has surfaced and been circulated without national acknowledgement or action. My mental health has been in a state of complete disarray and chaos as I try to make sense of it all, and the past year has, frankly, made me feel numb. With every act of violence committed against the Asian American community, my heart grows heavier and more weary.
Then the attacks on Young’s Asian Massage Parlor, Aromatherapy Spa, and Gold’s Spa happened in the Atlanta, Georgia, area on Tuesday, March 16. My mind was racing with a million thoughts upon reading that eight people — including six Asian women — were shot and killed. I was frozen first by the gripping headlines that surfaced, and then the apparent cultural willingness to perpetuate misogyny and fetishizations of Asian women, wrongly conflate massage and spa work with sex work, and dismiss racial hate as a factor in the attack. I can feel my tears well up every time I read the victims’ names. I wait anxiously to learn more about them and honor their lives.
Over the past three days, I have been painstakingly reminded that this violence can happen to any one of us — any “Asian-looking” person, any Asian-identifying person, any AAPI woman. It could happen to my mom, or perhaps even me. Around the world, multiple reports show hate crimes against people of Asian descent are on the rise, and in the United States alone hate crimes against Asian Americans increased by nearly 150% from 2019 to 2020, according to a study from the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. In New York City, where I live, there was a 1,900% increase in hate crimes motivated by anti-Asian sentiment in 2020, according to NYPD data. I feel transported back to the beginning of the pandemic — frightened again for my family’s safety, and my own. I am once again left wondering: “Will racism kill my family? Will racism kill me?”
The threat of racism and violence leaves a mark. Studies from the past decade have shown the threat of exposure to racism and discrimination, including the “heightened vigilance” necessary to protect oneself from racism, is associated with negative physical and mental health effects, including cardiovascular issues, depressive symptoms, and “greater concern and threat emotions.” Experiencing racism also leads to an increase in depression and anxiety: A 2007 study of self-reported discrimination and mental disorders found that Asian Americans’ probability of experiencing a mental disorder more than doubled if they experienced discrimination “a few times a year.” As of March 2021, the advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate has received reports of nearly 3,800 incidents of racism against Asian Americans since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Women were more than twice as likely to be targeted.
I refuse to let racism hurt my community anymore. I refuse to let anti-Asian hate pervade our livelihoods. I will not be silent, and I commit every day to speaking up and standing up to advocate for, empower, and protect my loved ones and my community.
Right now, my AAPI community deserves love and the time to process. I want us all to know, each night when we go to sleep, we matter. Each day when we wake up, we matter. Everything about us and who we are matters. While our individual ways of processing, understanding, and healing from this trauma may vary, each way is valid and necessary for our own well-being.
Asian Americans are a diverse group of individual identities. Our lives are not labeled by “yellow peril” false narrative, nor the model minority myth. Our collective unity is golden.
I’ve begun repeating affirmations, reminding myself that I — that we — define our worth for ourselves. I am worthy of safety, respect, and love, I say. I matter. I am golden. I shine bright with my golden light. Self-love is powerful — affirmations can “decrease stress, increase well-being, improve academic performance, and make people more open to behavior change,” according to a 2015 study from researchers at UPenn’s Annenberg School for Communication. Focusing on the future can be particularly effective.
I want my AAPI community to celebrate and center our joy. Our communities are resilient and deserving of all the happiness we can possibly imagine for ourselves. When you are ready, know you always have the power to speak up. Share your stories and livelihoods with each other, and then beyond our Asian American communities, because we are not monolithic. We are powerful. We can celebrate ourselves together.
For those who want to help, please check in with your Asian American family members, friends, coworkers, and any other social circles without expecting a reply. “How are you?” in itself can be burdensome to answer. Instead, check in by acknowledging the horrendous anti-Asian racism and share exactly what you can offer: buying them a tea or coffee or meal; taking a task (like grocery shopping or a work project with an upcoming deadline) off their hands; or walking with them from one location to another, so they’re not alone.
To allies of the AAPI community, you can help beyond your personal circles, too: Take an online bystander training so you know what to do if you see something happening. Advocate for workplace leaders to create spaces to discuss anti-Asian racism without depending on Asian American colleagues to teach on this topic. Read and learn about Asian American history, donate to Asian Americans Advancing Justice, AAPI Women Lead, Stop AAPI Hate, Hate is a Virus, Red Canary Song, and your local non-profit Asian American organizations. Support local AAPI businesses. Learn to unpack the stereotypes of the Asian American identity as monolithic or a model minority; replace racist “yellow” language about yellow fever or yellow peril. We are none of these.
We are golden, and we call on you to stand in solidarity with us — now.
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