A letter on identity, erasure, and processing anti-AAPI hate.
My dear one, you are not yet here in this world. And yet I have already made so many decisions to protect you.
You will be a mix of me and your dad, and in many ways that will serve you well. Your name will be chosen intentionally to sound more male and more American — so you will never be underestimated before someone has met you. Your face will be less easy to “place” in the best possible way. As a second generation Asian American, you will have all the benefits of my and your dad’s hard work and our parents before us. You will know about your family’s ancestry because of my quest to make sure you have roots. You will be surrounded by the fiercest advocates.
So yes, your position in life will be one of deep privilege. We’ve made sure of that. And yet, I worry for you constantly. Because this is what I’ve learned firsthand.
- Chances are still high you will look different from your classmates. You will have to find pride and strength in being just who you are.
- Chances are still high you won’t learn the history of people who look like us, even though American history and definitions of citizenship (who “belongs”) have been shaped by Asian Americans for centuries. Even though the American railroad, entire regions, and entire industries (including the one your dad and I work in today) have been built on the backs of Asian immigrants. You will have to seek out and share this history. Our stories are American stories.
- Chances are still high you will be assumed to be weak, passive, too smart or too strict (beware the model minority myth, it is used to pit us against the Black community). You will rarely be seen as “from here,” no matter how loudly you speak in your accent-free English. Too American to your family in Asia, and to most everyone else not American enough (simply because of how you look). You will grow to love living in between cultures, in between worlds. It will help you see each one more clearly.
- Chances are still high you will be the butt of the joke in conversations, TV shows, movies — and no one will say it’s wrong. You will find your voice. You will learn to call it out even when few are brave enough to back you up. Many are still learning how to speak up. Many will get it wrong.
- Chances are high you will succeed if you set your sights on a goal. Even so, you will rightfully wonder just how far you can rise in your ambitions. You will wonder what ceilings you’ll bump up against next. But you won’t let it stop you from trying anyway.
Now here is where I admit a painful truth. The other week I found myself broken at the thought of you. Those decisions I mentioned? The ones about your name, how you might look, the fact you’ll have deeper roots in America? I realized I made them in order to erase myself in you.
Because I am scared that you will be half me—that is to say, half Asian. I’m scared that, no matter what we do, you will still be singled out, made to feel less than, told you don’t belong, even potentially targeted for violence. Hell, I am glad that you will look less like me and more like your father. Less obviously Asian, and therefore safer.
What kind of mother does that make me? What does that say about my own identity, the love for who I am and my heritage? That is an even harder question I cannot yet face. That’s a conversation for another day.
But darling, I know this world is becoming better for you even as it feels worse in this moment. Representation is changing and there are now a few more shows, movies, and books with protagonists who look like you and share our lived experience. The violence of today will give way to a bold generation — yours — that is inclusive, strong, and vocal. A generation that will expect equity and inclusion by default.
I can’t wait to bring you into that generation one day. I can’t wait to see what you will fight for, what you will DEMAND for underrepresented groups. Because I’ll be right by your side. Until you’re here, I will take heart in the coming together of our communities and the ever-so-subtle awakening of the nation. It’s not nearly enough change yet, but we are getting there. Come join us soon, my love.