A friend wrote the piece below. She’s someone well-known in the Seattle food community, and a voice I’ve felt drawn to every time she’s spoken. She’s formidable, but in the most capable, magnificent way. Each conversation we’ve had – regardless of the time lapse between – has left me thinking harder about one thing or another. Myself. Food. The world. Inequality. Pain. Strength. Work. Passions.
We chatted yesterday as I struggled with how I should have/could have questioned past interactions with friends that could have easily be misconstrued in ways other than as I intended. I’ve kicked myself for not realizing that the world likely feels much different for them that it has for me. I feel for them, and hurt because some may have seen this and not said a thing – but I may have caused unnecessary pain simply by not having an awareness of how our lives feel different, and failing to give them the support they may have needed. She sent me a piece she’d recently written, and it immediately struck home. It needs to be shared. This isn’t the time for her to be able to do so publicly, so instead I’ll share her anonymous voice which comes through loud and clear – past the entitled trumpeting, past the ignorant haze – and perhaps it’ll resonate with you as it has with me.
The headlines are horrific, almost unbelievable. Again, America is roiled by a mass shooting. Again, the illusion of our acceptance and sense of belonging ripped away from the ugly festering sore of racism in our country.
As an American, I make my way through my days secure in the knowledge, my belief, that I belong. I give not a thought to how I look, how others perceive me, for I am simply living my life as a citizen of this country.
I encounter a phrase that qualifies my existence here, that explains away my “otherness”, because apparently reason must be given for my presence.
Not simply American.
I have to explain what kind of American I am. I am so inured to it that it does not strike me as odd that the second or third sentence is too often an explanation of my ancestral heritage. “She’s of Japanese descent.”
I don’t hear my white friends stating their nationality, much less their familial provenance in casual conversation with a stranger. There’s no “I’m Irish-American,” or “I’m American with roots in Ireland,” stated as an introductory sentence. There’s no one asking them, “So, where are you from?” upon first meeting them. Strangers don’t comment on their excellent command of the English language or asked why they don’t speak with a thick Irish brogue. They aren’t accosted at the QFC by some random person speaking to them in Gaelic .
What I’m describing above may seem absurd, but this happens way too often for someone who looks like me. This, and much worse. A part of my self-esteem, my confidence and my joy erodes away at this constant persistent lapping away at the foundation of my identity.
Oh sure, one’s family history may come up with friends, but it is not a validation given to strangers as to why they are here in this country. The assumption is that they are American, and I might not be, based solely on our appearances.
During times like these, people reach out to me. “Be careful,” they say. “Stay safe,” they implore. “Sending you warm thoughts”, they text.
How am I to stay safe when I am accosted in everyday places like grocery stores, parking lots or public running trails? For if those places aren’t safe for me, perhaps I should just stay home and let the cowards win. How can I stay out of harm’s way when I am just living daily life?
“How are you?” they ask.
The truth is I’m bloody tired. I’m exhausted from being on guard from a phantom enemy that chooses to strike in the most mundane places under the guise of being enlightened, educated, or woke. I’m not a percentage, a statistic, a badge on someone’s anti-racist sash. I’m not proof to someone’s claim that they’re not racist.
The excuse that these women in Atlanta were more than masseuses, does that take away their right to live without fear, in this land we call free? The press tries to villainize them, erasing the fact that they are the victims who have paid violently for the fetishization of Asian women.
Friends ask how they can help. Start with your language. Stop hyphenating us. We are not Asian-Americans. We are Americans. Full stop, end of sentence. Change your words and acknowledge our right to be here. There is no need to qualify from where our ancestors hailed. Our history is just that; help us live in the present and for the future, as the Americans we are.
We are Americans. Nothing further needed.