My life-time struggle with the racism around me, and it’s recent increase towards Asian-Americans
I was only 10-years-old when I had first begun to experience racism amongst my peers. I was one of the only Asian-American students in a predominantly hispanic elementary school. Despite being half Mexican myself, I was singled out by other students for this. I was consistently teased for my Asian facial features, my Korean name and my lighter complexion was often compared to that of others. Like almost all kids in elementary school, I just wanted to fit in. But being teased for my unique ethnic traits made me feel ashamed of them.
In middle school, kids around me began to understand that race and ethnicity had nothing to do with the value of others. They instead realized that our unique ethnic and cultural differences are something to be celebrated together, instead of subjected to individual stigma. However, this didn’t mean that the ignorance had gone away. In 6th grade, while standing in line, I remember enthusiastically teaching Korean words to another fellow classmate. That’s when a student in front of me turned around and said smugly, “I’m sorry I don’t speak ‘oppa gangnam style.’” He was clearly trying to make a clever and snarky reference to the 2012 smash-hit K-Pop single “Gangnam Style.” Needless to say, it was enough to make me embarrassed about speaking one of my ethnic languages in public.
In high school, I had a girlfriend whose mother I met on several different occasions. Her mother was always kind, chatty and often joked with me. I thought she liked me. After my girlfriend and I broke up, we remained friends for a while. It was during this time that she told me she was upset over a comment her mother had made concerning our break up. Apparently, her mother said, “It’s okay that you guys didn’t work out. I didn’t want any weird looking mixed Asian grandchildren anyways.” Her mother’s statement shocked me, not because of what she said, but because of what it meant when she said it. I was only 16 at the time, and yet I was being prejudiced against by someone older than me. This is when I had realized that not even my age protected me from the racial prejudice of full grown adults.
Although I am now 19 and the racial teasing I received in my childhood is just a distant memory, it saddens me to know that other Asian-Americans are still being singled out today. It especially breaks my heart to know that the number of hate crimes towards Asian-Americans have sharply risen by 150% since 2020, according to the Voice Of America, as many people are scapegoating Asian-Americans for the economic and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although the motivation for a hate crime varies, the motivation behind racism is a constant: ignorance.
The kids who thought they were “just making jokes” were ignorant to the effect those jokes had on me and the effect they had on the people around them too. In fact, the APA found in a study that students who were the target of ethnic teasing showed negative psychological side effects. Yet, ignorance is still being normalized by both kids and adults alike. So much so that I had even believed that those kinds of jokes were “normal” and“harmless,” and I partook in them myself.
I realized my own mistake when I participated in those kinds of jokes and humor. Just like them, I was normalizing the same kind of ignorance that enables others to feel that hate crimes are justified. The hate that many Asian-Americans face today stems from the same ignorance that was the root of the prejudice and discrmination that was directed towards me. And so I share my story and experiences to alert others that we must have an active part in dispelling ignorance wherever it is, in order to prevent people from becoming victims to it.
Parts of me did not feel qualified to write about this topic. After all, there were other Asian-Americans out there who had dealt with more severe traumatic experiences of racism than I had. And even though my experiences with prejudice and discrmination feel trivial to other people, I learned that they aren’t. Opening up about even the less extreme occurrences of racism was a vital part in spreading awareness of its effects on everyone, and that all acts of ignorance, no matter how small, can play a big part in the hate that endangers all people in our society.