Asians Experience Racism Too

In the middle of my “LoveYourzStory X My Small Business” series, videos and stories started to trend around the internet – Asian hate crimes. I knew that once my series was complete, this would be a topic I wanted to address right off the bat. I watched the video of 84-year-old, Vicha Ratanapakdee, getting knocked down to the ground by that loser too many times. I sat there, watching the video on loop, feeling sick to my stomach. The more I watched, the more I wanted to break down and start crying. All I could think was: WHY?! Why would anyone do something so horrible to an elderly man that was out minding his business? I tried to put myself in Vicha’s shoes, what those last moments must’ve felt like. Though the video was grainy and low quality, I could only imagine the confusion and fear that raced through his mind as he saw a young adult charge at him.

Sadly, Vicha Ratanapakdee’s story was not the last. It seemed like the elderly Asian hate crimes started to trend one after the other. It got to the point where I couldn’t watch the footage for every new story anymore. It was violence overload. Especially the fact that most of these victims were elderly. It’s upsetting and disgusting to know that there are people out there that will pick on senior citizens that can’t defend themselves. When these assaults are captured on camera, it has its pros and cons. On the bright side, it is evidence. The suspect can be identified, and it is solid proof of the crime. It also brings awareness to the issues at hand when the footage goes viral. It makes people be more aware of their surroundings and what’s going on in their area. However, these viral videos can also trigger the losers out there that feed off of the attention, and try to keep the trend going.

With the help of social media, these hate crimes against elderly Asians were caught on camera and have since went viral. The world scrolled through in horror as these videos were uploaded one after the other. For all the verbal and physical attacks that weren’t caught on video, social media is still being used as a platform to tell the stories of these instances. Though these hate crimes are very unfortunate and upsetting, at the very least, I’m relieved that it is shedding light on some deep rooted issues that need to be brought up. We are living in a time where video evidence is almost necessary, or everyone will doubt the credibility of the victim. And even then, video or photos will sometimes still have people believe that there are two sides to every story. But this isn’t anything new to the Asian community. A lot of the time, Asians have to give proof and keep tabs on racially motivated hate. It is a huge misconception that Asians do not face racism.

Asians experience racism too.

People are surprised and shocked about Asians being targeted in assaults, but sadly, this is nothing new. Especially with COVID-19 and Trump referring to the illness as the “Chinese virus,” there has been a spike in anti-Asian beliefs and crimes since the pandemic started. In the years that Trump was president, we saw this country’s rotting underbelly of racist beliefs burst out at the seams. Some thought these racist beliefs and ideals were of the past, but they quickly realized that that was not the case. Having Trump as president for so many years changed the climate of America. And racists didn’t just come out of nowhere when Trump was president, they have always been there. But suddenly, racists felt bold and empowered, no longer hiding their true feelings of people of color when the “leader” of the country was spewing the same hate. We saw the climax of racial tension in 2020 with the Black Lives Matter Movement rising back up again after the death of George Floyd. People took it to the streets all across the country – even the world – to show solidarity with the black community.

The Black Lives Matter movement brought attention to injustices that black people face from law enforcement and society. This has opened the doors for other minority groups to express their struggles and feelings on the topic of racism as well. Having a melting pot of stories from people of different backgrounds make people feel like they are not alone. And even though 2 people come from 2 different cultures and backgrounds, that doesn’t mean that 1 person experiences oppression and racism while the other doesn’t. All parties can co-exist at the same time without taking away attention from the other group. People from different cultures experience different microaggressions, discrimination, and deal with stereotypes. Having this “but my group of people deal with more than your people,” mentality is where people start to divide and stray away from the bigger picture. And this is where I think Asians get cheated.

The common misconception is that Asians don’t face racism as severely as other people of color. Asians are seen as the “model minority.” thepractice.law.harvard.edu describes model minority by saying:

…The term “model minority” has often been used to refer to a minority group perceived as particularly successful, especially in a manner that contrasts with other minority groups. The term could, by its definition and logic, be applied to any number of groups defined by any number of criteria, but it is perhaps most commonly used to frame discussions of race. In particular, the model minority designation is often applied to Asian Americans, who, as a group, are often praised for apparent success across academic, economic, and cultural domains—successes typically offered in contrast to the perceived achievements of other racial groups.

Growing up in the Bay Area, the model minority myth is very prevalent. I remember being a freshman in high school in my advanced English class. I forget the subject we were talking about, but we were working in small groups, and one of my classmates said something along the lines of, “Well, Latinos are hard workers, doing the field work that no one else would do, unlike Asians who just sit in a cubicle and type in the office.” It’s that kind of mentality that pins other races against each other because one group thinks that they have it worse than the other, and instead of realizing that each group faces different stereotypes and forms of racism, they almost turn it into a competition of, “well my people suffer more than yours, so your suffering doesn’t matter.” And that mentality is dangerous. It dismisses a whole group of people’s experiences and deems it “not worthy” or “less important.”

My classmate was not trying to be hurtful with that statement. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t see anything wrong with that statement at all. In fact, those that are not Asian may be thinking – “What is so wrong about being under the umbrella of model minority? Doesn’t that mean that you, as an Asian, have it easier?” That is not the case. Especially when we group people of color into categories like: Asian, Latino, Black, Indigenous people- it causes us to think they we are all just lumped into one group, assuming everyone in that category has the same experiences, and that is not true. In fact, there is even racism within the Asian community. When people think of “Asian,” they think of light-skinned Asians, but there are darker skinned Asians as well. Asians face racism from their own community and from outsiders. Asians are expected to be successful, excel in academics, and be the model minority group, and though that is a “positive” stereotype, it can have negative effects.

Since Asians are seen as the model minority group amongst people of color, that can sometimes have other people of color look at the Asian community with hate. Bullying, making fun of, or making racist comments towards Asians is more acceptable and not seen as a big deal. When the videos of Asian senior citizens were released, I watched in complete horror. But when I scrolled down to the comments, I was so disheartened and angry. A lot of comments were saying that these crimes are nothing compared to what black people face on a daily. It made me so upset because these comments were basically saying, “since my community is suffering, I don’t care if your community suffers.” So many Asians support the Black Lives Matter movement and other marginalized groups, and it’s just so disappointing that some people genuinely refuse to stand with us because their community goes through similar acts of violence. That should be more of a reason to stand in solidarity with the Asian community. And it’s such a shame that there are some people out there that refuse to empathize with the Asian community because of their underlying hate and resentment they have towards the group.

By default, Asians are usually excluded from talks of racism. And even when Asians speak out about the racism they face, it is swept under the rug, doesn’t get much attention, or is dismissed because “other groups have it worse.” Society tells Asians that they should just suck it up, take the abuse, and just be thankful that they don’t have it as bad as others. This puts Asians in an awkward position where we will never be “white enough” but at the same time we are denied by other people of color because we “don’t know / can’t relate” to the magnitude of racism that their particular group faces. We neither fit in nor can relate with others – not even other Asians outside of our nationality since we have totally different experiences as well. For example, what I go through as a Filipino American is completely different from an Indian American, or a Japanese American, even though we fall under the category of “Asian.” The truth is, the Asian experience is disregarded and is seen as less important compared to our allies.

Asians have always been subject to proving that they also face racism. This is nothing new. However, what is new is the media coverage on these assaults and trends – targeting elderly Asians. As horrible as these assaults have been, the first step is recognizing that Asians are being targeted, and all of these cases are not just random. Now you can find articles, news coverage on TV, and specific social media pages dedicated to the rise in Asian hate crimes that have spiked over the last year. It takes a trend like elderly Asian hate crimes to finally make it on your TV screen. However, I truly believe that times are changing. These crimes are bringing the Asian community and other minority groups together, standing in solidarity, instead of ranking who has it worse amongst the races. Over the last year, I have seen a great shift in how people of color are banding together and uniting, having each other’s back and supporting one another, realizing that racism is intersectional, and we shouldn’t focus on denying other people’s reality. One group of people’s reality can co-exist with another group’s reality without being dismissed, downplayed, or compared. You can stand in solidarity with one group without taking away from another. We are fighting the same fight.

I love that celebrities are using their platform to express the injustices that Asians face that go unnoticed. Jeremy Lin has opened up about his disgust with the recent hate crimes towards elderly Asians, and has shared that being a professional ball player doesn’t exclude him from racism either. He has shared that he has been called “Coronavirus,” by other players, but refuses to name drop. He is using his platform to inform and educate his followers.

It’s very upsetting to see all of the videos of elderly Asians being attacked. It’s disgusting to know that there are people out there that will attack senior citizens that are defenseless and don’t stand a chance. It’s scary because a lot of people are already afraid to go out in fear of COVID, but now they have to fear for their safety as well. It’s hitting too close to home – as footage from the Bay Area surfaces. It’s crazy because the Asian population is so big in the Bay Area, it’s shocking to know that even somewhere so Asian diverse could be a hot spot for Asian hate crimes. A lot of people have organized rallies, have digged deeper into the microaggressions Asians face, and have started educating themselves on racism towards Asians. The first step is starting the conversation – we’ve been quiet and passive aggressive for too long.

Love Your Choices

I snapped this photo when I was walking to the grocery store a few weeks back. Everytime I see artwork, a sign, a quote, or anything on the street that speaks to me, I take a picture of it. I always know that somehow, it’ll be used one day for one of my blog posts. This sign was no different, except this time it was very relevant to my current situation. I’ve been meaning to write about this topic for a while, but never found the words for it.

A great theme for 2020 in my personal life has been change, growth, and being “confident in my choices.” I put that in quotes because sometimes I wasn’t even close to being confident in my choices, but I had to front like I was because the slightest inclination of doubt would turn into others, or even myself, talking me out of a decision. That was probably the hardest part about deciding to move – being so doubtful and scared, but not being able to talk to certain people about my doubts because I knew they’d just try to sway me in their favor. All out of love, of course, but not really taking into mind the opportunity to grow and learn.

Growing up, I was taught that whatever I do is a reflection of my parents. How I act and what my life choices are is because of how my parents raised me. And that always annoyed me. I didn’t understand the root of its importance. “Who cares,” was my response to everything. I’ve had the rebel mindset since a young age. When I was growing up, I didn’t care what people thought, I didn’t care if I was looked at as the “bad” kid, I didn’t care that I had the mouth of a sailor. That’s probably also because as a kid, there’s not much I could fuck up and make my parents / family look bad. I mean, I got good grades, made the honor roll, and I wasn’t doing anything illegal.

It wasn’t until I reached young adulthood that this took on a whole new meaning. Who I dated, what crowd I hung around with, whether I went to college or not, if I was married or not, what I posted online, all reflected back on my family and parents. This is something that I have talked extensively with close family members and friends – how the Filipino culture really values how others see them. To an extent, I get it – the need to look like everyone in your family has it together and is successful. I mean, who doesn’t want to be seen as successful and always making the right moves? But these fears of worrying about what others will think is really detrimental to young adults who are trying to get the gears turning for their own life.

“What will your _______ (insert the name of a prominent family member / or whole family as a whole) think?!”

“What will people think of you?!”

“How does that make us look?!”

These are phrases that so many Filipinos have heard from their elders.

This is something that I still struggle with. Because at the end of the day, I don’t care what other people say about how I live my life, but I do care that my parents care. And that’s where it gets conflicting. I find myself trying to do what I want to do in my life, but do it the “right way.” I find myself trying to find loopholes and justify my actions like, “well it’s okay if I move in with my boyfriend who I’ve been with for over 5 years because eventually we’ll get married, so it’s okay. And others should understand that.” But why do others have to understand that? They don’t need to understand anything. Especially choices that don’t concern them or put anyone in harm’s way.

“What will people think and say?” It’s so generalized. Who are these people I should be concerned about? And why should I care what they think about me? It’s ironic, because I was taught to not care what people think about me, in terms of classmates and peers. Oh, you’re embarrassed that you have on Payless shoes? Who cares, you shouldn’t care what people think about your material things. Oh, you’re insecure about going out in your pajamas? Who cares, nobody’s going to see you, and if they do, so what? Oh, you want to drop out of college and pursue music? What will your aunties think?! Of course, the last is a fake scenario, but you get the jist.

And even if it is not generalized and there’s a specific family member, or family friend that your elders are trippin’ about, why does it matter? I feel like there’s such a generational gap, where our elders feel the need to uphold an image of the family, or themselves. And I get it. But at the same time I think it’s so dumb and pointless. Especially if you have to tiptoe around certain people with your life choices – life choices that aren’t even bad, but that some people don’t agree with. All the while, people should just mind their business and not really care what others are choosing to do with their lives. If you don’t agree with a choice, just don’t make that choice for yourself and move along.

Choose your love. Love your choices.

This came to me at a time where I was very conflicted and needed that reminder. Sometimes in life it feels like you have to choose between pleasing those around you or choosing yourself. And is it worth keeping the peace while you are in conflict with yourself? Sometimes you have to remind yourself that you are in control of your life. And people – whether that be family members, peers, friends – will talk regardless. So what is the point of changing the route of your life to please others? I’m glad that I have taken the road less traveled by, in terms of being traditional and abiding by standards. But sometimes it’s really hard.

I find this quote relevant to other parts in my life – like who I choose to be around, hangout with, and give access to the “real me.” And I shouldn’t be apologetic for distancing myself from people or situations that disturb my inner peace just to keep the outer peace and external noise at bay. This year has been the year in realizing that I don’t have to react to some situations anymore. I can just remove myself, keep a mental note, and keep it moving. It sounds very detached, but that’s life. Can’t stop the show for nobody, the show must go on. Especially being at the age I’m at now, I got more important things to worry about, like how I’m almost 26 and getting the boot on health insurance soon. I don’t have time for petty drama, hear say, gossip, or things that don’t concern me.

I choose me. Even if sometimes it’s hard to do. I try to front like choosing me is an easy decision, but it does stir some feelings inside of me sometimes. At the end of the day, I want to please my parents, their opinion of how I live my life matters to me, but they also understand that I have my own life and need to make decisions for myself. I don’t care about the extra noise of others who haven’t raised me. As long as my parents are content with my choices and trust me to make the right choices, that’s all that matters. Luckily, my parents know that at the end of the day, it’s my life and I have to live with the decisions I choose to make. So they’ll give their 2 cents, but will support me in what I choose. I think that’s a beautiful thing. To know that they still come from the generation that “cares” about what others may say, but still give their silent blessing for me to do as I please.

Choose your love. Love your choices.

So much easier to read than to live by. Choosing my peace is more important that upholding an image of myself for the sake of family or for family image. Being confident in my life choices and what direction I choose to take in this life is something I still need to work on. I need to love my choices and know that I chose it for a reason.

Filipino American History Month

Daly City / San Francisco born and raised. Daly City, California, is known for the huge Filipino presence. People joke around that Daly City is basically “Little Manila.” I was fortunate enough to grow up in an area that is so culturally diverse, but also, had people that had the same background and traditions as myself. I know that a few hours out of the Bay Area in either direction is a totally different story. So I didn’t realize until my early 20’s how lucky I was to grow up here. I know there are a lot of people that have stories about being some of the only Asians at their high school and feeling the need to conform to those around them, which usually meant acting more white.

Of course, when I was younger, I was unaware of how fortunate I was to live in an area where some people have the same features as me, speak the same 2nd language as me, and have similar traditions as my family. At the time, all of this was my normal reality. I went to a Catholic school that highlighted a Filipino-Chinese Saint, Lorenzo Ruiz, every year. And everytime September rolled around, we would have San Lorenzo Ruiz’s mass during school hours. I would feel such a sense of pride. Mr. Mills’ class always “hosted” that mass, and I remember since Kindergarten going to the mass every year.

One student would recite sentence by sentence Lorenzo Ruiz’s story in English, and another student would translate that sentence in Tagalog. I can still remember the script: “Lorenzo Ruiz, our first martyr.” “Lorenzo Ruiz, una naming martir…” There was a specific song we sang at the mass that was entirely in Tagalog. I couldn’t understand the whole song, but I could understand majority of it. This was my “normal” growing up. Celebrating a Filipino Saint, for example, was “normal,” but now I look back and realize it’s because we had such a big Filipino community in the Bay Area. And I took so much pride in it. I was so proud.

When I was in 5th grade I was finally in Mr. Mills’ class. I was excited because I knew that I had the chance to play a role in the mass since he hosted it every year. When Mr. Mills started to ask for volunteers, my hand was one of the first to shoot up in the air. I wanted to be a part of San Lorenzo Ruiz’s mass so bad. The mass highlighted Filipinos and our language, and I wanted to be involved. Luckily, Mr.Mills picked me to have a part in the mass. I was going to be reading the English translation of Ruiz’s story. I was so excited because it was something I had watched for years from the church pews, but now, I’d be the one presenting it.

I practiced every night with my lines. The mass was going to be in front of the whole school, definitely more than 600 people. We would practice in the church, and I would have the microphone. I was known for being a loud mouth, which is probably why I was picked to read and have the role. Mr. Mills would always tell us, “Project your voice. Enunciate!” I could probably use my regular voice and people in the church could hear me without a microphone, so I was solid. I remember the day of the mass, I started to get stage fright. I looked out into the crowd and saw all eyes on me, as Ivan and I stood infront of the whole school. We told Lorenzo Ruiz’s story in English and in Tagalog, and after, I felt such a sense of pride that I got to be a part of something that highlighted my people.

Even though I grew up in a place where there were a lot of Filipinos, I still didn’t understand why nobody on TV looked like me. I would get excited watching shows that had an Asian person, and it was even more heart eyes if I knew they were Filipino as well. It was to the point where my sisters and I would say things like, “Look, an Asian!” “Do you think they’re Filipino?” “I bet maybe they’re half,” when we would see an Asian on TV. So even though I came from an area that was very Filipino/ Asian dense, I knew from a young age that Asians were  not being represented on the TV screens. From Manny Pacquiao, to Shay Mitchell, to Apl.de.ap, to Jokoy, to Jasmine Trias on American Idol, once we caught wind of them being Filipino, we rode hard for them. On Balitang America, the Filipino news station that broadcasted American news through the Filipino lens, they would feature any Filipino making a name for us in America. From the music industry, to entertainment, to education. 

I feel like Filipinos are very proud of other Filipinos who “make it.” Even if they have a small following, just claiming their Filipino heritage will have other Filipinos rep them. I even remember going on Shay Mitchell’s Ask back in the day and asking if she was really half Filipino. She actually responded and confirmed that she was in fact half Filipina. It made me so proud that an actress that I looked up to was representing us on the screen. I even recall reading interviews where Shay talked about growing up in an area that was mostly white, and being biracial had her feeling left out. Seeing people that look like me on the screen was important growing up. I was the kind of kid that literally set a “Filipino For Lyfe” themed MySpace background. Jokoy described seeing other Filipinos on TV as motivation to go for his dreams and make it as well. 

When I got to high school the history books just touched on Filipino American history oh so briefly. I used to skim through the history books in middle school and see where Filipinos or the Philippines was ever brought up. It wouldn’t be much. High school was a weird time. Going to a high school in Daly City meant that there were gonna be a lot of Filipinos. It wasn’t always the case, but sometimes there would be snarky comments (sometimes from people I was even cool with) complaining about how the whole school is mostly Filipino / Asian. Being Asian or Filipino in Daly City didn’t make you special. You were just like everybody else. Which I saw was a good thing when I was younger. But then I hit my teen years and wanted to be different, I didn’t want to be “like everyone else.”

I wasn’t ashamed to be Filipino, but I wasn’t repping it hard like I used to. Why would I have to rep it if everyone and their mama was Filipino in Daly City anyways? Don’t get me wrong – I still would be happy when I saw a Filipino coming up. But at the same time I wouldn’t plaster “Filipino For Lyfe” as a MySpace background anymore because I thought it was cringe. At this age I was on the prowl for a boyfriend (cringe lyfe), and when people would ask if I would ever get with a Filipino guy, I’d respond in a way that made it seem like “never in a thousand years.” Which I thought was okay, since I’m Filipino too. “What if I find out they’re my cousin or something?!” I would say. Which by the way, isn’t too far fetched, my family on both sides are pretty big.

I would say it wasn’t until I got to SFSU and joined the journalism program did I start to get that sense of pride back again. Suddenly, my whole perspective shifted. I took on the role of “journalist” and was bothered over the fact that a great portion of newsrooms are ran by white people. White men to be exact. The lack of diversity in journalism is what ticked me off. And I wanted to change that. I wanted to represent my people and capture stories of people in my community, and branch out further. Suddenly, that pride was back. But that pride was matched with determination. Determined to make change and actually make a difference. I wasn’t giving people a “voice,” because everyone has a voice. I wanted to be so open and chill that anyone felt like they could open up to me and tell their stories, and describe to me their raw emotions.

Suddenly, I had a mission. I wanted to get more in touch with my culture, the good and the bad. And since being on this journey, I have learned a lot, just by talking to people casually about their own experiences. I started to embrace my Filipino culture with open arms again, like how I did when I was a kid. I didn’t care if I was 1 out of 2 billion Filipinos in the Bay Area. I didn’t care about the “Little Manila” jokes anymore. I wanted to learn more about my people’s history, their stories, their struggles. And I wanted to write it. Not some random journalist who is just trying to bang out another story. I didn’t want someone else to be writing our stories.

Especially being out of school, I have made efforts to try to educate myself on my own. I remember writing a paper in community College about how my dad’s side of the family arrived to America. Just by talking to the members of my own family, I uncovered historic events. My great grandfather was a prisoner of War and survivor of the Bataan Death March. This information I would’ve never known if I didn’t have the school assignment, and if I never asked for the story. I started becoming obsessed with other people’s stories. My whole life I’ve been the talker. And now, I’m taking on the role of listener and teacher.

October is Filipino American history month. Every month, we teach the kids at my school about a new country. This month, I chose the Philippines. Over the years I have seen the Bay Area, but San Francisco is particular, changing. And changing fast. And it’s nice to teach my 1.5 – 2 1/2 year old students about my culture and traditions. One of my students got picked up and told her mom she painted a flag for activity. Her mom asked if she remembered what country’s flag she painted. My student responded with, “Well, it’s where teacher Marinelle’s mom and dad is from.”

I had the right idea when I was in 5th grade, “Filipino For Lyfe.”