“So, since “Home” is a relative term anyway, where would you say home is? ”
“Singapore,” I replied sharply.
“Ah, but you look completely American!”
The question had been asked by a fellow dog walker, some well-meaning but irritating type of resident of western Massachusetts. The white person’s awakening performance is mostly for himself, and it requires the approval of a non-white person. Here, the Asian person is very helpful: we come with built-in model minority complexes, we are aligned with whiteness in key ways, and we have a cultural propensity to be polite in public. So it’s I this man must address himself. My eyes are covered with an epicanthal crease, also known as a “Mongoloid crease,” and my skin has a yellow undertone. After an afternoon in the sun, I caramelize in a biscuit shade of brown, but never burn. It was there, I knew, what had prompted his brooding question, shrouded in though it was discursive eccentricity.
After 14 years in the United States, I learned to be vigilant and hyper aware of my skin. Racism mostly scrubs more like a rash than a gash. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like you’re whining. I am, after all, installed in my kind of privileged position. I can be read initially as some sort of cosmopolitan candle scholar – from Singapore, just exotic enough. I am relieved by some of the things weighing down Asian Americans (model minority, growing up as a minority), although I am overwhelmed by others: Hey FOB! You have an accent! Touched, so do you. Most of all, I remember nobody, at least, throwing eggs at me from a car and shouting “Fuck Chink!” then walk around the block and start over – which happened during my first semester at Berkeley.
The long time of the pandemic and its demands for additional coating made concrete the importance of visual exterior markings of race and ethnicity. In the early days of Covid, masks “marked” in a certain way: Asian, liberal, etc. In their ubiquity later, masks literally masked the difference. I live in a conservative part of western Massachusetts; Throughout 2020, homes across the region have been wielding creepy and violent Trump props. Before wearing a mask became widely practiced, I was worried about branding myself as a “foreigner” by wearing one. Then I was afraid of being “exposed” as an Asian when I wasn’t wearing one. So I completely covered. Under my hat, behind my sunglasses and my mask, who could know who or What I was? A month after the start of the pandemic, as Trump spat vitriol about the ‘Chinese virus’, my husband and I decided to stop walking in the woods with our dog for fear of running into an armed Trump supporter. of a gun. When we shared this decision with others, we always felt embarrassed, as if we were overreacting.
As an Asian in America, you learn to be grateful for the little things. I’m told my food is stinky, but if I’m compliant, no one will club me and drag me with a flight. We say to ourselves: “At least it was an egg and not a bullet”. In her New York Times editorial On the recent spate of anti-Asian hate crimes, Anne Cheng made this point: “Are Asian Americans injured enough or injured enough to deserve our national attention?”
And then, on March 16, a white man shot three massage parlors around Atlanta, including one called Young’s Asian Massage, and killed eight people, including six Asian women.
The truth is, “Chink” is one of the least insulting things I have shouted at myself, less pungent than sex and caring. ni haos, or the steadfast and horrible Kubrickian “I have loved you for a long time.” Let’s be clear, in a year that saw a stratospheric spike in anti-Asian hate crimes, the majority were against women. Until this week, I had struggled to give gravity to what I deeply knew to be important issues concerning Asian women in particular, but I continued to question myself, worried that I might not be relevant, to miss the point or distract from the events. at hand. In my frustration, my writing turned into declaimed lists that ranged from the range of microaggressions to harassment, to assaults, to my own paranoia. I was worried about looking petty or dramatic –indulgent, to take up space. When a white man murdered six Asian women and two other people because he had had a ‘bad day’, I knew I had choked on myself – an appalling sense of justification at the same time that I was not crazy. and horror that my worst suspicions had been confirmed.