An Asian American Account

A story by Zabrina from 2020

During COVID-19 there has been lots of ignorance, misinformation, and anti-Asian sentiment. It’s not new. However, COVID-19 has exposed the ugly beliefs some people have across the world. From hashtags, signs, and leaders of countries that are reinforcing the idea that COVID-19 is a “Chinese Virus” or the “Kung Flu”. I hope this drawing helps explain what I’m feeling right now as an Asian American. Scared and anxious. We cannot let this slip past us, we cannot let our politicians and leaders remain silent while Asian Americans are being beaten, maced, and verbally assaulted. We must talk about what Asian Americans are experiencing. And we must educate ourselves. If we do not talk about the violence Asians are experiencing worldwide, we may see this happen again.

My name is Zabrina and I am currently a junior documenting my experience during COVID-19. And I proudly identify as Chinese-American. In the beginning, I was a little hesitant to share my story. Who would want to listen to a 17-year-old Asian American girl? However, because of this, I have chosen to share my story, thoughts, and opinions because I’m scared that my experience and other Asian American’s experiences won’t be heard from in the media. I feel that the Asian American experience will be ignored. That the number of hate crimes, anti-Asian sentiment, and history of exclusion and discrimination will be overlooked, invalidated, and briefly mentioned in textbooks and lectures about the time during COVID-19. I hope that my thoughts, opinions, and feelings won’t be dismissed by the media, other people of color, and white Americans.

- Poetry -

Over the past few weeks, I have been writing poems that reflect some of my thoughts, opinions, and experiences. Topics ranging from my feelings towards other Asian American and Pacific Islander youth that are dealing with other people’s ignorance, yellow fever, and embracing my Chinese heritage. COVID-19 has truly shown the racism and anti-Asian sentiment that Asians/Asian Americans have experienced in America.

~ I Am Sorry ~

I am sorry to the little Chinese girl that doesn’t know why people are telling her to go back to her country
I am sorry to the little Chinese boy that is being told that his people eat dogs
I am sorry to all the Asian American young children that are being blamed for a virus that is out of their control
I am sorry that you are scared of being verbally/physically attacked
I am sorry that they are putting their anxiety, ignorance, and frustrations upon something you didn’t do
I feel for all Asian Americans, but especially the young ones that have been made fun of in school for being Asian
And the way it feels to hate yourself because of your ethnic background
This pandemic is NOT your fault
Know that our culture is BEAUTIFUL and should be respected
Know that you are NOT alone
It is time for our politicians to recognize the anti-Chinese and anti-Asian sentiment and try to help support Asian communities across the world
It is time for our allies to stand alongside us
It is time for us to connect together as the human race and fight this virus together

~ I Knew ~

I knew when my mom told me I wasn’t allowed to go to Hannafords it was serious
I had heard of the hate other Asian Americans have experienced
H*ll I’ve experienced some of it growing up
“Get out of my country g**k”
The dirty looks
“Ch*nk”
The slanted eyes
“Do you eat dogs?”
The jokes
I look like I don’t belong here, a foreigner, the forever foreigner when society casts Asian Americans as scapegoats, but the “Model Minority” when trying to uphold a white supremacy society
1,497
1,497 reported hate crimes
Kicked
Harassed
Dragged
Beaten
Punched
That’s why I’m not allowed to go to Hannafords
Scared that I may turn into one of those numbers
Another statistic
Another hate crime

~ I Will Not Be Your Fetish ~

Yellow fever
No not the viral infection that is commonly spread through mosquitoes
The “preference” for people of East Asian descent, specifically East Asian women
Most commonly referenced when white men exclusively date Asian women
Some say it’s a fetish
Some say it’s a preference
I call it bullsh*t
The problem is that it’s objectifying women
But specifically East Asian women that have continually been sexualized
The problem is that these absurd fetishes hold an ugly history
The first encounter of East Asian women and the West was for sex
Not our ambitions
Our Strength
Our Intellect
Purely for a man’s sexual pleasure
“Enticing white boys to a life full of sin”
Used as sex slaves for Japanese and American soldiers during and after WWII
The sexualized stereotype of East Asian women consistently being perpetuated in
Legislation
Propaganda
Media
We see this with current media with Sven Stoffels’ depictions
And his perceptions of COVID-19 and Asian women
I’m fed up and I won’t fit into the colonizer’s expectations
I will not be quiet
I will not be submissive
My ancestors’ have suffered enough at your hands

~ Elementary School ~

You’re in elementary school
Living in a white town
Go to a white school
Have a white family
But then there’s you
The only person of color
The little Asian girl
You’re okay with being different
You’re taught by children’s books that it’s better to be different
But is that true all the time?
You soon find that’s not the case growing up in the second whitest state
Your peers start to notice and make comments
Harmless comments
But weird
You only stay quiet
Your peers take notice of your silence and continue
They start with ignorant questions like
“Do you eat everything with chopsticks?”
“Why are your eyes so different?”
“Where are you REALLY from?”
“Are you an Inuit? Are you a Native American?”
But then peers of yours start asking you questions that make you feel
Uncomfortable
Ashamed
Inferior
“Hey, I look like you now”
Your white peers slant their eyes to get
“Asian eyes”
Questions like
“Do you eat dogs?”
They ask you more and more questions
They point out the differences between you and them
They make you feel ugly
Gross
Ashamed
They make you feel like whiteness is the definition of beauty
You realize you don’t fit that fragile model of beauty
Elegance
And class
You’re just Asian
You’re different
And that’s not good when you’re growing up the only person of color in town
The feeling stays with you
No
It haunts you
It stays with you when you’re in high school and taking pictures
Don’t smile too much
Or you’ll get “Asian eyes”
Don’t speak in your native language
Or they will begin to make fun of you and your Chinese name
They’ll begin to make jokes of what your language sounds like
“Ching chang chong”
“Me speak no English”
“Ching chang chong”
“Ching chang chong”
Over
And over
They belittle your Asian identity
They repeatedly shame
Question
And joke about your race
Your ethnicity
Your identity
So instead of being mad
You go along
Because you’re too tired of hearing
“Jeez it’s just a joke, lighten up”
You stay quiet
Or you laugh along
You tell a loved one what’s happening
But they tell you to stay quiet
“It can’t be that bad”
But deep down you’re hurting
Ashamed
You no longer are proud of your race
You strip yourself of that identity
The process of self-hatred begins
You want to be white
No
You need to be white
You NEED to be white
In order to be considered normal and pretty
F*ck the chopsticks
F*ck the Asian food
F*ck the language
You hate yourself
You hate your “Asianness”
Why can’t I be white?
You dream of being old enough to get plastic surgery
You start thinking about what you can change
Your eyes are your first priority
And your nose is the second
You just want to be beautiful
But most of all
You don’t want to be made fun of
You’re tired of hearing the racist jokes
You just want the feeling of ashamed to stop

~ Middle School ~

You’re in Middle School
Still in the same town
Same school system
Still Asian
You have begun to convince yourself your white
I have pale skin
Less ch*nky eyes
I don’t speak my native tongue
I don’t eat Asian food for lunch at school
Instead you eat the bland food you’re white peers enjoy eating
You assimilate
You assimilate to stop the jokes
You assimilate because you want to be considered white
But something changes
It’s little in the beginning
But something different is happening
You begin to actually take your Mandarin class seriously
You look forward to being quizzed
You want to be the best
You enjoy the snacks your teacher feeds you during class
Ciabatta and chili oil
Fresh steam bun with tofu sitting in chili oil
Or the leftovers of homemade dumplings
You begin to discover your identity
You enjoy your people’s food
D*mn!
Asian food is so much better than Karen’s bland food
You ask your mom for more Asian food
“Can we get dumplings at Hong Kong Market?”
“Can we get steamed buns with pork?”
“Can we go to Hong Kong Market more often?”
You start bringing your food
And you’re proud
You look at your peer’s food
Prepackaged peanut butter and jelly that was probably made months and bought by the school cafeteria
When the kids that bullied you in the past begin to make jokes you just give them an eye roll
H*ll you mock those jokes
You take those jokes back and make your white peers and teachers uncomfortable
While your white teachers didn’t do anything then
They don’t do anything now
You relish in their discomfort
You heal through comedy
You watch movies with roles starring Asians
You watch Asian stand up comedians
You realize Asian people are attractive
Have you seen Henry Golding, Kevin Kreider, Gemma Chan, Jamie Chung, Constance Wu?
Our strong cheekbones
Our sculpted facial structure
Our eyes
Our dark hair
Our diverse range of skin tones
You used to think white was beautiful
But you realize that beauty standard was wrong
F*ck the white beauty standard
You begin to realize you may be more attractive than you thought
But the most important thing is that you embrace yourself
Your identity
And you’re finally proud
Proud of your brothers and sisters that paved the way for other Asian Americans
Proud of your heritage
Proud of your food
I am finally proud to say I’m Asian American
Proud to say I’m Chinese American
I’m finally proud

~ We ~

We
We have been colonized by European control
We have been forced to migrate
Forced to leave our homes
Forced to experience imperialism
Forced to journey to the “New World”
“Discovered” by the white savior
Forced into internment
Incarceration
Boarding schools
We have been murdered
Lynched
Massacred
Experienced genocide
Experienced mass rape
Separated from our families
Our bodies have experienced the brutality of exploitation
Our bodies have helped create the United States
Our bodies lay in American soil
Lynched bodies scattered
How many bodies?
How many lives?
How many people have been murdered for fighting for justice?
For going out for a run
For having the face of the “enemy”
For being targeted by the police
We fight equality
We fight for your equality
But you just stay back
Complicit
You take our culture
Appropriate
And popularize it
While we get shamed
For our traditional clothing
Our cooking
Our appearances
For our culture
While you get praised
We are the resilient
We are beautiful
We are strong
We are people of color

- Journal Entries -

Over the weeks, I’ve been writing about my day during COVID-19. Many of the journal entries have turned out to be more of a rant, beliefs, opinions on certain topics. Some ranging from my longing to see other people that look like me, especially when we’re all isolated, my fears of COVID-19 in relation to identifying as Asian American, to the long journey of embracing my Chinese heritage, the difference between feminism and intersectional feminism, to Chinese beauty standards.

5/18/20

This weekend I went to Hong Kong Market in Portland. My mom and I were originally planning to go to Tran’s Market which is closer to us. But they weren’t open yet, during the pandemic I haven’t been outside of the house much. It sucks, but I’d rather stay safe and keep others safe. Whenever we go outside of the house we are very cautious. I’m very tense and there’s always a feeling of anxiety, and I don’t feel safe. But when I go to an Asian owned business I feel safe. It’s the only place where I truly feel safe to be proud of my ethnic background. Before the hate crimes began to start being reported, I had already had nightmares of being attacked because I’m Chinese. When I leave the house I have my mask, gloves, and hand sanitizer. But I still feel unsettled. I have told my mom to take a video if I do get harassed, I say this because I want to have physical evidence that there is still ignorance and hate that is being directed towards Asians/Asian Americans, or those that “look Asian”.

5/22/20

Today I worked on a piece of art, I’m still trying to figure out the title. I’m also not sure if I’m completely done. It’s basically my perception of being an Asian American and some of my fears. Whenever I’m out of my house I’m always sort of on edge, because it’s a way I react to protect myself. To be honest, I’m lucky I’m not younger with this pandemic. Growing up I wasn’t proud of my racial identity. To the point where I wanted to be white, and sort of convinced myself I was like the rest of my peers and family. I feel bad for younger Asian Americans that haven’t been able to embrace themselves, on top of that, now people are telling them to go back to their country. The majority of Asian Americans today were actually American born, and not born out of the country. There’s also a hope to see other Asian Americans, to reassure yourself you’re not the only one. The pandemic itself makes lots of people anxious, lonely, and scared, but it feels like it doubles if you're Asian American.

5/26/20

Today I worked on spoken word/poetry focusing on the experience of being the only person of color growing up in a majority white town and school. I worked on two poems, one called “Elementary School'' and the other called, “Middle School”. “Elementary School'' focused on the degrading of Asian culture I received from peers of mine. While “Middle School'' focused on the embracement of my heritage. I think what was so difficult about growing up Chinese American in Maine was that I was one of the few Asians and I have a white family. Being Asian American is really confusing because you’re not sure where you are on the race spectrum. Especially when you’re young. I now understand that the Asian American experience has been heavily downplayed and our communities have experienced lots of trauma, colonization, imperialism, and exploitation. But it’s challenging for a seven-year-old to understand the past history. Especially when your white teachers never teach your history. I hope for my children they don’t have to be so confused like I was. At the very least, I’ll be able to try to help them navigate their identity. I am very fortunate to have the family I do, but unfortunately, they will never truly understand what it’s like growing up Asian America in America. One of my hopes is to be able to share my experiences with the future generation and possibly my own child(ren) to help them discover themselves and their identity. In hopes, they won’t feel the shame I have carried years with me from all the racist jokes.

5/28/20

Today I read Bringing Up Baby: Raising a “Third World” Daughter in the “First World”, a chapter in Dragon Ladies Asian American Feminists Breathe Fire. It made me think about how you would raise your daughter a feminist. In the past, I have thought about this while reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s work. In the future, I think I would like children, but it’s not a priority. My relationship with feminism can be a bit complex, to say the least. I believe in the definition of feminism: the advocacy of women's rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes. But in America, feminism has been and continues to be directed by and for white women. There seems to be a lack of women of color, the LGBTQ community, and our male allies. I do agree that men shouldn’t be at the forefront of the movement, but without men and their support how will the movement succeed in equality between the two genders? When I’ve attended meetings, marches, and speeches there’s a lack of dialogue and discussion of what marginalized peoples need. The problem with feminism, in my opinion, is the lack of voices and lack of opportunities given to other marginalized women. I define myself as an intersectional feminist, meaning I believe there should be equality between the sexes no matter what one’s race, sexuality, religion, legal status, and socioeconomic status. I feel like the only way for the feminist movement to succeed is to have women and men of different backgrounds. If the feminist movement continues to be driven by white heterosexual cisgender women it shouldn’t be considered feminist. Only equality between white cisgender heterosexual men and women.

6/1/20

This weekend I got to go to a local Asian owned market. I was so excited to go support them and get some of my favorite Asian snacks that I’ve grown to love. As well as their cheap fruit! Before going into the store, I got on my mask and disposable gloves. Whenever I’ve gone into markets or small groceries, I’ve been wearing a mask and gloves. At Trans Market, they request their customers to wear a mask and wear gloves. However, it seems that the white customers didn’t see the sign about wearing gloves, didn’t care enough, or weren't able to access them. It was comforting seeing other Asians this weekend. Especially seeing Asians that seem to be a little older, maybe they were in their 40s. Ever since I was little, Asian people, especially the men and women that are middle-aged tend to be very polite to me. Most of the time they act very warmly and smile. I’m not sure if it’s because we live in a very white state, or it’s because they see that I’m adopted by a white family and are happy to see I’m trying to stay close with my cultural heritage. Either way, I’ve always been comforted by their warm smiles, compliments, and small acts of kindness. One time at Hong Kong Market, one of the owners told me the facial features that were prized in China and pointed them out to me. She told me I was beautiful, but I didn’t believe her, but I still liked how she told me their beauty standards. Heart-shaped face, high cheekbones, a small nose, a soft dent on the chin, and a flat head. Flatheads are purposefully done in China, or at least was, I’m not sure if it is still being practiced. The practice is done so your child can have an aesthetically pleasing head. For many girls in China, you can see their flat heads when their hair is braided. For myself, I have a flat head, and I got to agree with this belief. When my hair is in braids, it looks better than on a round head. I’m not sure if I would practice this as a parent. Possibly, but obviously I would weigh the pros and cons.