Somehow I managed to drag myself out of bed this morning to go to therapy and talk about my recently dead grandfather and my biracial identity, then subsequently pulled off the equally impressive feat of transitioning from the table to the couch, where I promptly wrapped myself in a blanket and online shopped for two hours.
It’s been a hard morning, for myself and many, many others.
Although my writing may suggest otherwise, I’m not a big fan of public emotional processing. Everything I write about is something I’ve already worked through. Old wounds are good stories. Fresh wounds are good stories for my therapist.
When I heard about the mass shooting/hate crime in Atlanta, my initial reaction was to drink NyQuil and fall asleep. I read the news, I scrolled through Twitter. People say not to use Twitter as a news source, but it does provide a small bubble of public opinion. I read people’s thoughts, and then I think, I’m tired of people’s thoughts, even though I’m in agreement most of the time. Nothing is not exhausting anymore.
I am biracial. Asian and white. Filipino, to be exact (and I mean exact — my 23andMe said 50% Filipino — yay! No Spanish.) Appearance-wise I’m racially ambiguous, depending on the season, the VSCO filter I use, the angle from which I take a selfie, and of course, whether or not the person I’m meeting has met Filipinos before. A person who knows Filipinos always knows I’m mixed. The majority of people think I’m off-white or white or Asian or off-Asian. This tells me more about the diversity of their bubble than the shape of my eyes, or the color of my hair (sans wig of course.)
My proximity to whiteness has granted me a certain distance from the Asian fetishization I know exists. Many men with “Asian fetishes” have told me that I’m not Asian enough for their fetish. This is obviously extremely offensive to both me and my Asian counterparts. Like, cool, I’m glad my mixed race heritage doesn’t play into your racist stereotypes of submissive, exotic schoolgirls or whatever. And also, I’m sorry that some other poor girl is going to be your next fetish.
I don’t get catcalled with “me love you long time” the way other Asian women do, but I have gotten many comments like, “it’s hot that you’re tanner than normal Asians.” Are Filipinos not normal Asians because of the shape of their eyes or the color of their skin? Or is this a comment on how my whiteness makes me more palatable, and being tan is a plus?
And of course, the “exotic” comments. I have a friend who is blonde and white, and grew up in Essex, Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and New York, and speaks Chinese, Japanese, French, and English, all with a British accent. I grew up in California and I speak English and French. I am, to my chagrin, extremely American culturally.
Nonetheless, every time we went out together, who would have guys clinging to them cooing “I love exotic girls” all night? Me. My friend wasn’t even a US citizen at the time.
“Don’t you think it’s weird that they think you’re exotic?” She asked me once. “If anything, I’m exotic.”
When I read other Asian American women’s experiences with fetishization and other forms of racism and misogyny, I feel a pang of guilt. I feel unworthy of speaking up about the recent hate crime. I’m not a journalist. I write personal essays because I’m an emotional exhibitionist and I like writing about my own life. Although being Asian American is part of my identity, I’ve never wanted to write about my race.
I guess I always assumed that I was writing about my race simply by virtue of being an Asian American woman writing. All my life’s experiences are filtered through the lens of an Asian American woman. A biracial Asian American woman.
What led me to write this essay, then, was not to prove that I have also had microaggressions hurled at me. It’s not to make some sort of statement against AAPI hate that hasn’t been said before.
Really, what led me to write this essay was something on NPR this morning. The reporter was interviewing a Black activist to prove the solidarity among Asians and Black people. Obviously solidarity is a good thing.
But why not interview an Asian American activist? Why not amplify Asian voices? Why are Black people shouldering the burden? Could NPR not find a single Asian person to get a quote from? I love that a Black activist spoke up. Showed up. Was given a platform.
But maybe when a hate crime against Asians occurs, the work should be done by the Asian American Rights activists that have been speaking up for decades, and NPR shouldn’t play into the “hey white people, look, divide and conquer isn’t real” narrative and instead just ask an Asian person what they think about their own community.
I’ve been told by a shocking amount of people that Filipinos are the Black people of Asia. The Mexicans of Asia. Etc. What they mean by this is that Filipinos tend to be darker in skin color, and also are your maids and gardeners and nurses. There is literally no interpretation of this comment that is not offensive to any of the aforementioned ethnicities/races.
I point this out to say that my position as a biracial Asian and Filipino American makes speaking up all the more difficult. People see Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans and think that’s all there is to Asia. A tweet with over 38,000 likes was simply a map of Asia, pointing out that it’s bigger than China. Filipinos are simply not seen as Asian by the majority of Americans the way Eastern Asians are.
So you can see why it’s been difficult for me to talk about this mass shooting publicly, when you have NPR acting like a clown, the general invisibility of Filipinos (or the straight up denial that they are even Asian — yes, my last name is Spanish, and also, “full” Filipinos are often seen as ambiguous), and in general, the immense amount of pain that accumulates when you think that you are one thing, I’m not Asian enough, I’m only Asian in my family, and then you realize that you have a commitment to a community that extends beyond your family.
By virtue of my parents’ careers, I have been involved in activism my entire life, and even when I was having multiple panic attacks a day (thanks, Ativan withdrawal) I went out and protested last summer. I’m not virtue signaling here. I’m pointing out the cognitive dissonance in my mind — stand up for other people, but don’t stand up for yourself, because you’re not Asian enough to do so. Not Asian enough to be sad about a mass shooting. Not Asian enough, so let all other Asians do the talking.
My identity is fractured, which is beautiful and wonderful and amazing, but can make the pressure to add your voice to a conversation overwhelming, and is often tinged with self-doubt that you have the right to be there in the first place.
What happened in Atlanta was heartbreaking. The hate crimes against Asians in this country is and always has been heartbreaking. I’m not your writer when it comes to discourse on race, unless you’re looking for the biracial opinion on the best rides to go on when you’re drunk at Six Flags. I like to write about myself! I have made that clear. But myself includes my race.
It feels very wrong not to express the extreme discomfort I feel at staying silent at a moment like this, and it feels especially wrong to deny that being biracial has not influenced whether or not I feel comfortable speaking out. Right now, people are calling for Asian voices, opinions, and activism. (Not NPR, obvs.) Talk to my dad about it! Lumpiaking.com. I wish I was joking.
But right now I need more NyQuil. And it’s not even 2 PM. Before I decide the trajectory of my writing and activism going forward, let me sleep.