Reframing the common question “Where are you from?”

Language matters. What we ask matters.

For too long, we have been socialized to ask and answer the common question “Where are you from?”

For many Black people and Indigenous communities, this question is triggering because of unknown and/or traumatic, severed pasts due to colonialism. We must remember that personal stories, lineages, cultures, and authentic histories have suffered from systemic erasure globally. 

Asking “Where are you from?” continues to otherize folx who identify as BBIA, adopted, multicultural, and more. 

For the AAPI community, this question reinforces that we do not belong, and is too often followed up with “But where are you really from?” — indicating a displeasure with and refusal of whatever answer originally given, as if to comment that a person could not possibly be from anywhere other than what is close to or matches the mental stereotype within one’s colonized mind.

Decolonize the idea that the question “Where are you from?” must be answered with a geographical location. 

We are from what we say we are from, who we say we are from, where we say we are from, and anything we say we are from that is authentic to who we are.

We each have a multiplicity of identities, and we define for our individual selves if and how we want to respond to this question when we inevitably continue to be asked this throughout our lives.

Our intent matters, and our impact matters.

Reflect on the intent in asking and being asked “Where are you from?”

Regardless of whether the intent in asking meets a surface-level desire to know masked under the false pretense of curiosity that only satisfies the person who asks the question or aims to build one’s understanding, having internalized this question as a truth-bearer of identity, the impact of asking can be harmful, toxic, and traumatic, especially with repetition.

We must reframe the common question “Where are you from?” so that we do not further perpetuate stereotypes, nor do we reduce people to only be representatives of their assumed and/or authentic social groups.

Create and continuously recreate new questions with the intent of building deep understanding across communities and cultures. Involve your communities in this process of reimagination. 

“What do you choose to share about your identity/identities?”

“Where do you call home?”

“Who is your community?”

Freedom dream new ways to define and share who you are — for yourself.

Listen intently and fully to the questions, ideas, stories, emotions, and arts shared with reimagined questions to understand your own self, your community/communities, and fellow communities.

Full Instagram Carousel: https://www.instagram.com/p/CRkoH8lsNsI/

We belong together.

How to describe myself as an Asian American woman right now?
I used to walk on the street, go on the subway and turn the music up real loud
I’m a musician, a teacher, and I want to feel the sound in my bones
Instead I’m scared of having my teeth or head knocked off my orange-seated throne

Every day I gotta choose on my commute, dependent on my mood
Do I go through my lesson in my head, keep my eyes down on my shoes
No, I can’t, instead I stay alert all around me
On a good day I’m listening to a podcast, out of 10 on a volume of 3

How do I begin to explain the daily negotiations 
When news, media, and law don’t acknowledge the racial motivations 
360 West 43rd, I used to live next door
Will it be me or my mom you’ll shut out on the concrete floor

What if I spoke up, how you like that?
I’m dynamite, and a firecracker and I won’t be typecast
I won’t stand for society’s erasure of my i-dentity
I’m here for good measure, for no one’s pleasure, for us and our entities

Strong like chrome I can’t be sanded down
And unlike a cassette tape, I won’t be rewound
Even with my small feet I won’t let me be bound
I can step in and out of Chinatown for my words to be heard and found

My dad emigrated from Hong Kong so my last name TSUI is Cantonese
But (in Cantonese) I do not speak Cantonese, (in English) I’m actually Shanghainese
But (in Shanghainese) if I speak Shanghainese, (in English) y’all go weak at your knees,
And as MC Jin says, y’all better learn Chinese

But being Asian is more than just being from China
I’m a member, a representative of the collective from major to minor
AAPI, a political term for Asian American Pacific Islander
Is not just about East Asians or me that you hear rhyming here

For the South Asians, Brown Asians, Black Asians in our society
Undocumented Asians, adopted Asians, more than obeyers of filial piety
Shouts to Tony Delarosa, Dr. Kevin Nadal
We must be more inclusive than the diversity and equity institutional walls

GoFundMe, Go Fund us in our neighborhoods, our needs and wants
Don’t need the blue eyes white supremacy dragon slanted, tilted, a-Flaunt 
Remember, the system is built on the backs of Black people and labor
When we divide ourselves up we ain’t doing anyone no favors 

Maxine Hong Kingston reminds me of my fellow warrior women
And I want you to listen to the LGBTQ+ and Trans fams, the non-binary people and visions
We must have more than just my mom’s good luck superstitions
Trust y’all, we need to do more learning and listening on our mission

We’re NO model minority, we’re the global majority 
Our voices together are stronger than any authority
So my call to action is for us is to truly unite
We cannot do this alone, we need each other in this fight

Justice is not just is it’s for just us
We cannot take the master’s tools to rectify or make just
We can call to those in power to help our communities
But we must step off each other’s subway stops for true cross-coalition unity 

Let’s stand together and if you need some perspective
Remember that this is lifelong work as one intersectional collective
We are striving for the liberation of our marginalized peoples 
Each one of us is a hero, rest in power 13-year-old Adam Toledo

Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian, BBIA
BIPOC solidarity, We’re here united and we will rise today
Black Lives Matter as we stand on Munsee Lenape Indigenous Lands
Deep within us, we’re together, our hearts, souls, and hands

It’s 4.4, the anniversary of Dr. King’s final breath countdown
AAPI history, lives, and arts in schools, Ethnic studies is the starting ground
We must eradicate anti-Blackness, It’s not simply just stop Asian hate
Ask “how can I use my voice to activate and stop ALL hate”?

And beyond that I’m asking that we spread so much love
As powerful as the firebird’s flames and the peace of a soaring dove
And to tell every kid we know in our lives and see,
“You matter, and know your voice can set you free”

For my grandfathers and my grandmother, who I’ve never met
I am your wildest dream each day from sunrise to sunset
Today is 清明节 (Qing Ming Jie), a day that means literally clear and bright
In many Asian cultures, it’s a day of rituals for our ancestors’ spirit and might

And for them, our ancestors, our presence, our future, for all to hear
it’s not just we belong here
It’s we belong – together. 

For our ancestors, each other, this moment, our children, say this with me:

I shine bright with my golden light.
I shine bright with my golden light.

Dear grandfathers, grandmothers, I will protect your daughter and son
My mom and my dad, I will protect all our loved ones
As my students say, our joy is revolutionary,
Because we are golden, we are worthy.

Today, I want to end with Isang Bagsak. Isang Bagsak is a solidarity clap that originated in the cross-cultural fight unifying Filipinx and Latinx communities through Larry Itliong and Cezar Chavez. Isang Bagsak literally translates to “one down” and is a unity clap – to signal unity in movements together and that this moment is one down, of many more to go. I learned this from Tony Delarosa, and I am not the culture bearer of “Isang Bagsak”, I am a culture sharer. I, along with all of you, will start clapping together – slowly. As we gain momentum and the clap gets faster and louder, pulsating here in New York City, I will say “Isang Bagsak”, and right after you hear that, we will clap ONE TIME together – as a collective. Let’s do it. 

Isang Bagsak
加油 (Jia You)
My name is Alice Tsui.
Thank you.

Times Square Takeover to Stop Asian Hate 4.4.21 | Photo Credit: Sang Cheng

We are GOLDEN

When you looked at my face
And shied away from my gaze
People were terrified in 2020
Of my mask and two eyes
Used to regard me 
by my Asian persuasion
I remind us that 
we’re all part of one nation
We’re spreading animosity, 
said the Black Eyed Peas
Can I have some peace, 
survive with my black eyes please
Let’s come together as a world, 
let’s inspire
Yet still I rise 
shouts to Maya Angelou, and Yuri Kochiyama
It’s time for some introspection
Take a look at yourself for that personal reflection
Remember the sun doesn’t 
shine in only one direction
And instead of hate,
we can shine in one direction [and make some corrections]

Memorialize Lives
Heroes Sherose They rose, They rise, we rise
Still we rise, to remember and celebrate these lives

(The victims’ names are currently not shared due to reports of family members wishing to keep the names private.)

We remember them alongside so many fellow Asian American lives lost, and we will honor them today in our community and our joy.

My name is Alice Tsui (spelled T-s-u-i, and pronounced TSOY) and I am an actively anti-racist and decolonizing public school music educator in Brooklyn, New York. I am a lifelong New Yorker, grew up in Brooklyn [went to public school in NYC] and I am an ABC – American born Chinese daughter of two immigrants, two immigrants who are my elderly parents. I serve predominantly Black, Brown, Latinx elementary school students in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. 

In February last year, I was walking upstairs when a 5th grader stopped me and said “Ms. Alice, someone said you had Coronavirus.” I found out that it was another 5th grade student of mine who I had taught for many years. This week, a 4th grader called me “China” in my face. In those moments, I could feel my extreme rage – not at the student, but at the systems of our world that have led my students to say this. I was mad at the toxicity of systemic racism that we breathe in, and specifically – white supremacy for dividing the two Black girls who said this and me, an Asian American teacher [and woman] in this world. 

A month ago, when I started to see the rise of anti-Asian violence yet again, but this time specifically against elderly people, I discussed anti-Asian racism with my fourth grade class. One of my 4th graders, a Black boy, told me “It [Asian hate] won’t be on the news until there are more people who die.” What does this say about what my Black and Brown students have already internalized about our society? I saw this same student this week who said “it’s on the news now”, but I reminded my students that it is important to question how the story is told, who is telling it, and what isn’t being said. Another 4th grader asked me if my parents were vaccinated and I said yes, they are, but I am scared for them to be outside and so I ask them to stay home as much as possible – because they’re Asian. 

These are a few of the many, necessary conversations on race and racism that must occur in ALL schools – elementary, middle, and high schools. My call to action to you, everyone here, is to find the emails of the principals and teachers that either you, yourself, have gone to, are connected with, or are in the neighborhoods you live in, and not just the Asian neighborhoods.

These are the demands that are listed out in a letter I have already written and are available in a letter with resources at bit.ly/aapilettertoschools 

  1. Acknowledge and teach Asian American history, lives, and arts – including and beyond Lunar New Year
  2. Create mental health spaces for AAPI educators and children to feel, process, and heal without the burden of educating others on [their trauma] and what racism is
  3. Empower classmates and colleagues of AAPI community members to learn and speak against anti-Asian racism

Our children are counting on you. 

Last year, one of my Asian American students said “To me, what Black Lives Matter means is that Black Lives are brightly illuminated. I want her to know that her Asian American life is also brightly illuminated. To the 13-year-old Asian American boy attacked by a group of teens throwing basketballs at his head in Flushing – your life is also brightly illuminated.

To my Asian American community, I see you, I hear you, and we are HERE. To my fellow Asian American educators – take up SPACE. To my fellow AAPI women,  I feel your pain and my heart cannot stop feeling grief, and my racially occupied mind POUNDS with rage. I am here with you. I am worthy of safety, respect, and love. You are WORTHY of safety, respect, and love. To the allies, accomplices, and co-conspirators, I see you as we stand together in solidarity – and I hope you are doing everything you can, including the action item I named before, to support us beyond this moment. 

To all AAPI children, including the children of the victims, I am here for you, and you can feel whatever it is you are feeling. Please cheer for the AAPI children who are bravely here today. As a teacher, and a fellow Asian American person, I want to tell you that you matter. Your feelings matter. Your identity matters. Everything about who you are matters. You shine so bright with your GOLDEN LIGHT.



Everyone, say this with me, for our children – “I shine bright with my golden light”. Teach the AAPI children in your lives to say this – for themselves. 

I didn’t know what an affirmation was until I started teaching them to my public elementary school students, because no one ever told me or taught me that I mattered. I share these affirmations with you all for yourself, ourselves as a community who is healing, and a community that can celebrate our AAPI joy because our community that is GOLDEN:

I am worthy.

My voice matters.

I matter.

You matter.

We matter.

We are GOLDEN.

We are WORTHY.

I want to end with this final note. My parents emigrated to the United States in the 1980s. They are in their 70s and 80s now, and after working so hard their entire lives to support my brother and I, I cannot stay silent, and I must speak out to protect my family, and all our families, so that they do not need to live in fear. I must use my voice, because I know my voice has power. Our voices have power. 加油 【Jia you – Add oil, let’s go!】 

Thank you. 

(This is a transcript of my speech made at the Stand Against Hate Rally in Chinatown, NYC on March 21, 2021)

Golden Power

On the complexities of yellow and yellow peril, and offering an alternative: Golden Power.

A non-comprehensive list of what WE ARE NOT:
We are not 
yellow
foreigners
your yellow fever
yellow peril
invisible
dangerous
coronavirus
exotic
model minorities
a monolith
the enemy.

“Yellow Peril” is a racist term that has been used to describe Asian people as a danger to the Western world. The term was coined by Russian Sociologist Jacques Novikow in 1897 and used by Western empires and white people in power, including Kaiser Wilhelm II, to encourage colonization of Asian countries and people. Using “Yellow Peril” perpetuates xenophobia and anti-Asian hate.

“Yellow” as a color for Asian people stems from “Luridus”: “Lurid”, “Sallow”, “Pale Yellow” – a label assigned by Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus. “Luridus” was also used to characterize unhealthy and toxic plants, and “yellow” helped reinforce an irrational fear of and danger from the perpetual foreigners: Asian people.

“Yellow” and “Yellow Peril” have been denounced and reclaimed by people of the Asian diaspora. Only Asian people can decide for themselves whether to denounce or reclaim racist terms that have been used against us. If you are not Asian, you cannot decide for us. Each Asian person’s voice is valuable, and yet does not speak monolithically for all members of the Asian diaspora.

Asian Americans: We actively renew racist rhetoric in our language if we do not understand the intersectional history of standing for and with Asians. We can embrace the history of activism that comes with “yellow peril” and denounce its usage when used by non-asian folx to describe our humanity. We can bravely share our narratives because each one of us matters – individually AND as part of the Asian diaspora. 

I want to offer an alternative. Golden Power. GOLDEN. POWER. 

Affirmations for my Asian American community: 
We are Asian.
We are American.
We are Asian American.
We are Golden.


Rise up in solidarity.
Speak up to protect BBIA.
Embrace our Golden Power.

I am Golden Power.

We are Golden Power.

Asian American Affirmations

As an Asian American child, I never spoke of myself as someone important, a voice to be heard, or an identity to be seen and valued. I never spoke an affirmation about my identity. In fact, I never knew what an affirmation was until I started teaching affirmations to my students. 

When I started hearing from fellow educators and families about anti-Asian hate that our children nationwide are facing, all I could think about was what I could say to Asian American youth. What can I do to help empower our Asian American kids, and frankly, all fellow Asian Americans? What would I want my younger self to be able to say? 

Here are my (starting) affirmations that I share for my Asian American youth and the entire Asian American community:

I am a voice that matters.
We have voices to share stories, sing and dance, and express ourselves. We are too often told not to and instead, lumped together as a broad category of people who are forced into the model minority myth. We want to and can be seen and heard by our realities. Our voices matter.

I am worthy of safety, respect, and love.

We need safety through the actions of others and allies speaking against anti-Asian hate and violence. We deserve to be respected. We are worthy of love every day, all year long. We are worthy of safety, respect, and love.

I am part of the Asian American community.

We are a community filled with diverse people. We are not all the same, and yet we are all part of one community. We ALL belong. We are part of our Asian American community. 

I am my own Asian American identity. 

We have our own individual experiences that define us uniquely from each other. We dispel monoliths and labels that only generalize who we are. We decide who we are. We are our own Asian American identities.

I am Asian American. 

As a child, I never said to myself that I was Asian American. Now, there is a power in my voice every time I say that I am – as if I am speaking a truth that has too long been disregarded, unheard, or not valued. I am Asian American. We are Asian American.

Asian Americans, I empower you to speak these affirmations out loud, write them daily as you may need, and revisit them as we continue to face any hate. It is my hope that what I shared can provide solace, support, and joy – or truly, whatever it is that you may need.

If you are not Asian American and you want to #STANDFORASIANS, I encourage you to share these affirmations with the Asian Americans in your life and speak out when you see or hear something, donate regularly to organizations who are helping Asian American communities, use your platforms to speak about solidarity with the Asian American community, sign all the petitions you see supporting us and what we need, and do all that you can to truly advocate for us. Educators of Asian American youth, I urge you check in with your students, and to share these affirmations with your kids. We need you.

And yes, that is me feeling truly so joyful and excited because I got a sticker (displayed on my sweater) of the first Asian American person I ever saw on television – the Yellow Power Ranger. It was the first time I saw myself.

Before Lunar New Year

We are more than Lunar New Year.

We are more than a Christmas meal.

We are more than 2020.

There is a new strain of COVID-19 in the UK. I want y’all to take note of the rhetoric (or the lack thereof) surrounding this. The United States doesn’t have a travel ban. Nobody is treating British people (and their descendants) like they are a disease. I want y’all to take a look at who is and isn’t talking about it. Notice the conversations that aren’t being had. Now compare that to what happened to a Chinese and other Asian-descended peoples at the beginning of the pandemic. I want you to look, listen, and watch whiteness work.

Ally Henny

Whiteness continues to be pervasive in our everyday lives. Chinese (and Asian, because of generalization and stereotyping) communities worldwide are continuing to live in fear not only of COVID-19 but of Anti-Chinese and Anti-Asian sentiment, rhetoric, thought, and so much more. I think about this 7 year old’s statement in April:

What have we done for our Asian American and Chinese American youth? Have we acknowledged them, their families, their lives? Have we affirmed their identities to be important? Have we worked AGAINST the hate that continues to surround and penetrate their livelihoods? Have we done more than eat Chinese food on Christmas because they’re open? What have we discussed in terms of Black Lives Matter and what that means for Asian Americans? And vice versa?

As we near the end of 2020, we have not woken up. Instead, we have an American film nominated in a foreign language category. Instead, we have to explain that saying “I am Chinese” is NOT synonymous with supporting a communist government, over and over again. Instead, we continue to have our names mixed up because we all look alike – and then only to be rectified by a short caption but no apology:

An earlier version of this article included a photo caption that incorrectly identified the actresses in “The Joy Luck Club.” The caption has been updated.

The Washington Post

If we are truly W.O.K.E. (We Obtain Knowledge Everyday) and A.N.T.I.-Racist (Actively Navigating Thinking Internally), Asian Americans would be acknowledged before Lunar New Year. We would have more than one day in class dedicated to music that would only be straight from the Asian countries; we might even have two or more days and explore Asian American music (dare I say American music). We would be more than filling a quota for diversity in our curriculums, offices, and lives.

We would exist during Lunar New Year. Afterwards of course to celebrate.

But most importantly, we would be acknowledged and truly matter – before Lunar New Year.

I “am”

It is a privilege that I only first experienced overt, daily racism from walking down the street because of my Asian skin due to COVID-19.

I (currently) do not walk outside with as much fear as I did in March, April, and early May. I am not completely stressed by the idea of running errands alone, nor do not feel like I need to have my two medium-sized dogs with me when I am out. The fear still exists, but I suppose not quite at the same level. Now I can, with privilege, negotiate what is more terrifying again: COVID-19 or anti-Asianness.

Don’t get me wrong – anti-Asian sentiment is still unfortunately alive and well in the “United” States. I am reminded by it whenever I see the “kung-flu” headline that seems to keep resurfacing in tweets, public statements, “news” reports, and presidential rallies. The videos of the Asian woman who was burned with acid outside her home in Brooklyn, NYC and the elderly Asian man being attacked in San Francisco will forever be stamped in my mind. And so many more. I will never unsee the horrors of this reality.

Then the end of May came with white womxn weaponizing Blackness, Black lives continuing to be killed on American screens with the world’s eyes watching, and very literally, NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE. 

As AAPI month came to an end, solidarity with Black folx was of necessary and immediate urgency. I almost laughed at all my own “issues” I’ve had the past few months because really, my personal confrontations with racism felt like uncooked pieces of rice in a larger bowl of atrocity noodle soup.

I am an Asian American music educator teaching Black and Brown children in New York City. I’ve founded the music program at my school. I’ve seen my children grow up. But most importantly, I will never truly understand what it means to be a Black and/or Brown person. Never. I also know that for some readers, racist judgements (#urban #titleone #poor #lowincome #badneighborhood #unsafe #achievementgap are a few) were made upon reading the first sentence because you are already trying to envision who I am, and who my kids are. I’m no savior. I refuse to be, and I will never be.

My elementary school students and I talked about the anti-Asian hate openly. My students didn’t understand why it was happening, but yet, some blamed the bats that people supposedly ate. As the only Asian-identifying educator in their schooling thus far, I constantly feel the responsibility to share who I am and my AAPI identity with my kids. “I do not eat bats”, I shared, “and not everything you see or read may be true”. 

After the killing of George Floyd amongst many others, my first 8:00AM Orchestra class online included the following questions and statements from students:

This was not a time for me to teach them ANYTHING about “Orchestra”. These statements didn’t just last for that hour. They came up again and again in the days and weeks afterwards, all the way through the end of the school year. I was and continue to be the learner because We Obtain Knowledge Everyday.

Immunity

Close your eyes. Take a moment to envision an American person.

Now open your eyes.

It isn’t me.


It was in elementary school when I came home one day and told my mom that I was American. She chastised me, as if I had burnt her as badly as overcooked, inedible rice.

“No, you’re not American. You’re Chinese.”

Elementary school me was confused, but didn’t talk back (#filialpiety). I knew not to bring it up again, because I had learned that saying this was just wrong in my mom’s eyes. To her, saying I was American was equal to saying that I was white and that I had abandoned my Chinese roots – almost in shame. I took that to heart, and have never said “I am American” to her again.


I don’t remember exactly when I learned the term “Asian American”, but I remember feeling some type of identification with it. To a high school me, this term was for people who “weren’t Asian enough”, and simultaneously “weren’t American enough” – but rather just existed in this middle haze. A term that did not diminish me because of something that I wasn’t. A term that unified people who also felt that they “weren’t enough”. In what we lacked, we strangely found unity. I stopped saying that I was Asian, or Chinese, or American, and now always say that I am Asian American, specifically Chinese American. The two words must come stuck together like two tapioca pearls up a bubble tea straw, of an order I made in English.

“We Asian Americans need to embrace and show our American-ness in ways we never have before. We need to step up, help our neighbors, donate gear, vote, wear red white and blue, volunteer, fund aid organizations, and do everything in our power to accelerate the end of this crisis. We should show without a shadow of a doubt that we are Americans who will do our part for our country in this time of need.” – Andrew Yang (Washington Post)

Reading this severely angered my Asian American self. My identity that I had so strongly valued in its togetherness was separated, with one prioritized over another. I felt my Asian Americanness separate and unequal, with Americanness prioritized – no – STOMPING OVER AND SPITTING AT at my Asian roots. Is my existence as an “American” insufficient? Do I have to prove how “American” I could be? I already know the answers to both of those questions; I can never be sufficient or prove my “Americanness” no matter how much red, white, and blue clothing I don.

 “We are still, in the public eye, a perpetual foreigner.” – Tzi Ma (Time) 

“One moment we are Americans, the next we are all foreigners, who “brought” the virus here… our belonging is conditional.” – John Cho (LA Times)

Every day when I walk my dogs, you see my eyes and think FOREIGNER. Then you see my mask and you think COVID-19 – not because everyone else is or isn’t wearing a mask, but because I’m wearing a mask. What’s worse – my un-American eyes or my disease-ridden mask? I only feel somewhat safe when I have two medium sized dogs whose leashes are attached to my physical body, and even then, am I really? I no longer know how to react to being a Brooklyn, New York Asian woman if acid gets poured on someone else who is one also. I’m not safe alone. I don’t know if or when I will be again. If Jeremy Lin is pleading for people to “just accept us as humans”, is my existence beneath humankind?


“To be Asian in America during the time of coronavirus is to feel very alone. You might think that everyone’s alone during the pandemic. But it’s a different form of isolation carved out by that insidious model-minority myth, with its implication that as long as you worked hard and didn’t ask for handouts, racial inequities could be overcome.” – Cathy Park Hong (NY Times)

“Like fame, the “model minority” myth can provide the illusion of ‘raceless-ness.’ Putting select Asians on a pedestal silences those who question systemic injustice. Our supposed success is used as proof that the system works — and if it doesn’t work for you, it must be your fault.

Never mind that 12% of us are living below the poverty line. The model minority myth helps maintain a status quo that works against people of all colors.

But perhaps the most insidious effect of this myth is that it silences us. It seduces Asian Americans and recruits us to act on its behalf. It converts our parents, who in turn, encourage us to accept it. It makes you feel protected, that you’re passing as one of the good ones.” – John Cho (LA Times) 

I’m only American on the few days my dad made me ham sandwiches for lunch in elementary school because I asked for it instead of my Shanghainese or Cantonese rice dish. I’m only American when it’s convenient for the media to celebrate the successes of people whose faces resemble mine. I’m only American when the model minority myth works in my favor and has duped my parents into believing in the possibility of achieving an “American dream” where hard work could overcome racial inequities. Am I, and are others, truly included in #AllAmericans, one that extends beyond activism by and for Asian people, one that stands in solidarity with the disproportionate deaths of LatinX and black people due to societal inequities? While we all support healthcare workers (or at least I certainly hope we all do), when will we truly support each other without perpetuating further discrimination – Asians included? Am I really that radical by saying EVERYONE, STOP HATING EACH OTHER?


In my middle school, the loudspeaker blasted “Proud to Be An American” as sung by Toby Keith daily after we recited the pledge.

“And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” – “I’m Proud to Be An American”, Toby Keith

Will I ever be free?
Will my parents ever be free?
Will my fellow Asian Americans ever be free?
Will Black, LatinX, Indigenous, and all marginalized groups ever be free?
Will America ever be free?

When you closed your eyes and imagined an American, did your own reflection come into the view of your eyes? Did you envision yourself? Are YOU free? Do you want to be free in America?

But questioning all of this, isn’t enough.


“I don’t want your love and light if it doesn’t come with solidarity and action.” – Rachel Cargle

My mother survived the “Cultural Revolution” in China. By the way, “Cultural Revolution” is read as cease all education, subscribe or die from the Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book, starve every day of your childhood, shut up or else during the house raids at my grandparents’ house, and the death of my grandfather – based on the little that my mother has told me.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be or feel fully free, but the one freedom I will never cease to use is my freedom of speech. My mom didn’t have it, and is terrified to use it now. I don’t blame her, but I can’t sit silent. Because of my parents immigrating here, I have this right, whether my “fellow Americans” acknowledge me and the fact that I can exercise it or not. I carry a lot of privilege to be able to use it, even if I feel it diminishing these days. But I have to take my chances.

Vaccines are never 100% effective, and I don’t know if any will be created that are in my lifetime. There’s one I’m testing out now, every single day and in all aspects of my personal and professional life.

I’m sharing this vaccine with you.

EU9dSGVXsAE0WFE(Source: Hate is a Virus)

It is okay to be fearful. I am.

But don’t stop in the tracks of hate. Immunize.

Immunize until you can picture yourself when I ask you to close your eyes. Immunize until you can picture EVERY SINGLE GROUP.

And then immunize again. We need all of the immunity we can get.

P.S. Additional immunizations include #washthehate and #RacismIsAVirus. Feel free to triple up.

America’s Unwanted Daughter

Yellow Peril.”
The Wuhan Virus.”
The Chinese Virus.”

Chink.”
“Cough into your elbow.” (Comes closer) “I SAID COUGH INTO YOUR ELBOW!” (Repeats multiple times in a train between stations, so I cannot get out).
“Get away from me.”
– What people have directly said to me

COVID-19 is most definitely changing my experience as an Asian American. When I first wrote about the coronavirus “back in February” (so… just a month ago), I had no expectation that my life would be where it is today. (Did anyone though?) What I shared on video with USAToday had a greater impact than I thought it would – for better, for worse, for everything in between.


Starting in March and as COVID-19 started to escalate in the United States, my commute to work started to feel awkward and uncomfortable. People would move away from me, and glare at me. They didn’t need to say anything racist; I felt the racism with their eyes. “Are you sick? Are you a carrier of the coronavirus?” These were the questions that their eyes tried to pierce at me.

In Asian culture, it is a proactive measure to wear masks, but for so long in American culture, masks had an association of being negative, and perhaps still does, of automatically labeling someone as sick. Maskophobia is real, and I struggled for weeks in my decision to wear a mask or not. Did wearing a mask mark me as a target of racist attacks? Did NOT wearing a mask make me susceptible to violence? To mask or not mask, there was no clear answer. There is still no clear answer. I only started wearing a mask this past week, and I always walk quickly, shifting my gaze downwards to avoid being a victim of a hate crime.


As a result of sharing my thoughts online, I started getting so many messages from people I have met in my life, and from countless strangers as well. I am grateful to have so much support, but the hate continued to spew as well:

“Forget racism. I am so sick of people turning everything happening to racism.”
– A white person.

“Welcome to the freaking club. Here, make yourself right at home.”
– A person of color.

I unfortunately expected it from white people. The rhetoric was nothing new.

But it has been incredibly hurtful from people of color.

Here I had subscribed to the media channel where Asian people have truly “made progress”, having finally been highlighted with “Parasite” winning the Oscars, and movies like “The Farewell” changing the landscape of what it meant to be Asian American – for the non-Asian American. But these accolades and the continuation of the model minority myth (which has its own harmful effects) were quickly shoved aside by the endless headlines of the “Asian virus”, and not the “New York” virus. This isn’t my first encounter with being called “chink”, or “dirty”, or “smelly”, or being told that “Chinese people are disgusting.”

How do I even respond to, “welcome to my world”, when I’ve suffered from racism since I was a child?

What is the proper response for “welcome to the freaking club”, from another person of color?

How dare I think that the racist tropes of Chinese people, of Asian people, could not possibly make such an overwhelming comeback in my lifetime.


One comment I have been severely criticized for was,

“Yes, I am Asian, Yes, I am Chinese, and I’m really proud of that.”

I didn’t realize that by saying that I would be interpreted as supporting the Chinese government and communism (which, to be clear, I do not). After all, I just wanted to express that I was proud of my Chinese culture, and where my parents came from. Lo and behold, tons of Chinese people verbally fought each other online on this one statement alone, either denouncing the Chinese government and the evils of communism or standing by the Chinese response to this outbreak.

People interpreted “I am proud to be Chinese” as a political statement. I hated that what I said polarized and divided people. It kills me that this one statement is as divisive as saying “I am proud to be American” today. What are the “United” States anyway?


I also received so many messages about how sorry people were that I had to experience this with my students. Racism is learned behavior, and NO CHILD IS BORN RACIST. My intention was never to create a pity party, and especially not one that would further marginalize my predominantly African American, Caribbean American, and LatinX students.

How can I talk about racism without igniting further racism or marginalization? Explaining to every person that my students were not at fault, but were reinforcing learned racial stereotypes was exhausting. Yet, I continued trying to extinguish fires of misunderstanding. Did I end up actually putting out the fires, or did I simply fan the flames? Did I inadvertently pour more gasoline on the fire that seemingly divides people of color? I felt my racial fatigue continue to burden me, with no sign of an end in sight.


I can’t stop thinking about the Asian American youth. As a born and bred New Yorker, and product of the public school system, I am so disheartened when I read about the experience of Asian American children and teenagers. Katherine Oung, a Chinese-American teenager in Florida shared this experience,

“Not only do we have to be afraid about our health. But we have to be afraid about being ourselves. Class basically just started. One of the girls said all Chinese people were disgusting. And so I literally like raised my hand up and was like “I’m Chinese.” She didn’t even say sorry. She didn’t.” (Katherine Oung, New York Times).

When NYC schools were still open, Stuyvesant High School teachers penned a letter pleading for the closure of schools, citing that

“Compounding [students’] terror is the racism many of our Asian and South Asian students are experiencing as they commute to school. Not only is this a viral epidemic, it is a threat to our global mental health.” (New York Teachers, New York Times)

I went to Brooklyn Tech, another public specialized high school in NYC with thousands of students. How would 14-year-old me respond to exacerbated comments on my Chineseness and my Asianness – in AND out of school? If I am experiencing extreme discomfort as an adult, what are the almost 200,000 Asian kids in our public school system feeling? It’s horrific to imagine and I want to do something, but I don’t really know what to do. Are they voiceless, and if so, how can I help speak up for them? How do I empower them to #washthehate? What long-term effects in mental health can I possibly help in combatting on their behalf?

The feeling of helplessness as an Asian American educator is paralyzing.


I may be scared for myself, but I am truly terrified for my parents – on so many levels. My parents are senior citizens who enjoy walking outside. One of the reasons my dad immigrated to America was for cleaner air. My dad has severe asthma, and has experienced near-fatal asthma attacks a number of times in his life. I tell my parents constantly to stay home (as if I’m the parent now ha), and I’m scared that the airborne spread will infect them if they are not careful.

I am merely scared for the actual spread of the virus, but I am beyond terrified of my parents potentially being on the receiving end of a violent, racist attack. With over 650 racist acts over the last week (and those are only counting reported incidences), many of them against elderly Asian people, I can’t help but live in terror for my parents. Will they make it back from grocery shopping safe, alive, breathing, and unharmed? Will they come back from their walk commenting on the trees they saw blooming, or having been spat at by others? Will my parents have to die from the air they sought to breathe here or from the hate that we label as “freedom of speech”?

HATE is a virus that is spreading quicker than COVID-19, and I constantly wonder if my parents have already been victims, but just haven’t told me.


My mom saw the video where I shared my experiences, and hasn’t talked to me about it. Through my brother, I found out that she wished I hadn’t said anything. She fears for my safety, and is afraid it marked me as a target.

A few days ago, I received these posts on my personal Facebook wall:

“Just saw your video how you were like I am proud to be a Chinese well then fuck you because you guys have put everyone in danger if you love your country so much ask them to be hygienic stop eating bats snakes rats because it’s easy to say you love your country but stand up for what is right or wrong and I f****** hate china and Chinese people.”

“I am against racism but then you guys are just acting like nothing happened look at the world around you and your country did this.”

… What?!

I literally felt frozen, and unable to physically move. My mind went completely blank. This personal attack cut me, even though I tend to pride myself as someone who doesn’t mind the thoughts of others.

My friends reported both comments as hate speech (fun fact: I am not able to do that even though it is my personal Facebook). The first one was removed. The second one wasn’t, and still lives on my Facebook wall. I guess microaggressions aren’t considered “hate speech enough“.

People apologized to me for having to experience this. “That guy is stupid and doesn’t know what he is talking about!”

Oh, by the way, the person who wrote that is a woman of color.


When people ask me “How are you?” I’m truly uncertain how to respond. Do I say yes to make you feel better? Do I say yes to mask my incoherent mind and thoughts? Do I say yes and wear an actual physical mask?

Or do I say no and make you privy to all that I am thinking and feeling? Does saying no make you feel sorry for me? Does saying no make you feel pessimistic instead of wanting to be optimistic in this time? Does saying no make me selfish?

How am I?

I am incoherent.

I am still uncertain if I should wear a mask or not, even though I have currently decided that I should.

I am apprehensive of writing, recording, and sharing my thoughts because I do not want to further divide people, or add fuel to the racism that exists.

I am wary of everyone around me because of my Chinese face.

I am nervous for our Asian American youth.

I am terrified for my parents’ lives. For all Asians and Asian Americans’ lives.

I am worried for my own students in this time, who are facing an extreme number of inequities – if the inequities can even be counted.

I am skeptical of the media’s portrayal of COVID-19 for likes, subscribes, and follows, and not for spreading TRUTH.

I am uncertain if my friends who are healthcare workers will survive.

I am alarmed by people who continue to commit sinophobic acts of prejudice – verbal, physical, violent, all of the acts.

I am afraid that people will stop caring about violence against Asian Americans, and Asians around the world.

I am America’s unwanted daughter. Raised here, I live and breathe my freedom of speech, but it is undesired, unwanted, and HATED. I am hated.

My mom wishes I would just stay quiet.

But I can’t. And I won’t.

Tired of Being Asian

I am a proud Asian American, a proud Chinese American, first generation raised in America, first to go to college and earn a Bachelor’s and Master’s, currently pursuing my doctorate, and just truly so proud of my culture and who I am. To many, and hopefully my family and in some ways even myself, I am the epitome of the American dream.

This is sadly not about that.

I want to detail what it has felt like to be an Asian person in America since the outbreak of coronavirus.

Imagine the first time hearing about the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan leading up to Lunar New Year, THE biggest holiday in China. As someone with a majority of my extended family in mainland China, the first thoughts are worry, concern, and just a hope that everyone is okay. As Lunar New Year occurred, my extended family in Shanghai didn’t even all meet up on this big holiday – the first Lunar New Year since my grandmother has passed. It was supposed to be a momentous one, one of continued life of the younger generations. Instead, all WeChat conversations that I was a part of focused on this spread of this virus, the travel bans in and outside of China, and warnings amongst family members to stay indoors as much as possible. Better safe than sorry – I get it. In fact, my paranoid self even wanted to stay away from Chinatown at first. How ridiculous a thought and action I upheld, until I realized the suffering of Asian businesses because of sinophobia.

It was only a conversation I heard about amongst my Asian/Asian American community until the first confirmed case occurred in the United States. Immediately, my newsfeeds on Facebook and Instagram were flooded with warnings to get protective health masks to try to prevent its spread. I immediately googled the effectiveness of health masks to mixed results – but I also wanted to be proactive and safe, for myself and my family. By the time I went to a pharmacy, I had found out that all health masks were sold out EVERYWHEREincluding on Amazon. I shrugged it off and figured the paranoia and “proactivity” would blow over – but the masks never restocked.

As days and weeks started to pass by, I started to read about racist attacks against Asian Americans and then the experiences people were having in NYC. People with Asian-sounding last names not being picked up for Ubers, racist slurs being targeted toward any Asian people who would cough on a subway, and people moving away from any Asians with a face mask on (which by the way, is seen as a proactive measure in East Asian countries and preferred, as opposed to a reactive, “I am sick” statement as it is received in the West). It was so disappointing to hear, but became even more disheartening when I started to read personal experiences of people I personally knew post what happened to them on their social media.

But it didn’t hit me fully until this week at my school, I had heard rumors spread about the possibility of me having the coronavirus. I immediately felt truly more heated than I thought I would, even though I knew it was because of the spread of misinformation and the association of the virus with “Asian-ness”. I ended up addressing the coronavirus with my elementary school students (for now) as follows:

  • There are things that you hear that are false and things that you hear that are true.

  • Not all news is factual – there are some things on the news that are false and some that are true.

  • It is hurtful when I hear that some students have been saying I have the coronavirus because it is false. There is no evidence to support this claim. Just because I look like a group of people who are primarily affected by this virus, does not mean I have it. Yes, I recognize that I am Asian/Chinese, but if you are thinking that I have it simply based on the way I look, it is an unfair assumption.

  • It is even more hurtful if you heard someone say it, and you either laughed at it, or affirmed that this may be true. This is perpetuating misinformation.

  • I am similarly reading information about the coronavirus on the news and am fine to have a discussion or debate about what we hear based on what we know.

  • I sincerely hope that any students who may have said something, laughed/affirmed something that was said about me having it, or even THOUGHT about it takes the time to reflect on their thinking. I do hope to hear some apologies without personally requesting them from any students just because they feel that they need to.

  • If there are any questions you have about my Asian-ness or Chinese-ness, please ask instead of assuming.

I was really proud of this response (because it took a lot of my own personal self to talk out), and I was also grateful to hear students come up to me personally to apologize on their own accord for either saying, laughing at, or bystanding in the situation. But I also knew that just because I addressed it with some students, it wasn’t the end of this and I had more to do as a teacher.

As recently as three days ago, the NYC Department of Education issued a letter about Coronavirus to all employees citywide. Imagine my shock when online, in NYC teacher forums, educators were joking about the GREATER likelihood of school shutting down for the coronavirus than for snow days. Imagine my further dismay reading non-Chinese, fellow educators make casual comments about the coronavirus that either furthered the paranoia of its spread, or helped continue the underlying racist attacks that so many news outlets are insinuating. Imagine my insides cringe at stepping into spaces where the coronavirus is joked about, and others laughing about it. Imagine my anger finding out that my friends who are Asian American educators as well have had to hear children utter racist comments that equate the coronavirus to Asianness, and also hearing that so many schools have not been proactive in addressing – some even going to lengths to avoid these difficult, necessary conversations. It has been infuriating.

All at the same time, in this past week, I have received more racist comments than I remember receiving in a long time. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I was either walking or on the subway, coughed (because of asthma, not because of me being sick, and COVERING my cough), and having one or a combination of the following reactions:

  • People giving that cold, harsh, eyes-of-caution stare
  • People literally telling me to cover my cough multiple times (even though I have)
  • People moving immediately away from me
  • People muttering unkind, racist slurs under their breath (but just audible enough for me to hear)

I have turned the volume up so high on my headphones this week while going about my life because I cannot bear to hear, read, or experience anything further. I am so tired of social media because all I read about is the coronavirus, and this is so unfortunate because there are people who are truly affected by this virus in their health, and I cannot focus on the facts, because there is too much racism between the lines.

I want to be invisible and LOUD ABOUT THIS simultaneously. I want to help create a change in perception, for my students, for my community, but I have felt so RACIALLY FATIGUED, a term my friend explained to me this week. According to Critical Race Theorist William Smith, racial battle fatigue (RBF) is a

“public health ad mental health illness [based on the] cumulative result of a natural race-related stress response to distressing mental and emotional conditions. These conditions emerged from constantly facing racially dismissive, demeaning, insensitive and/or hostile racial environments and individuals” (Smith, 2008).

According to Smith (2008), racial battle fatigue stems from racism and microaggressions and to find these in society today, “one must not look for the gross and obvious…. but the subtle, cumulative miniassault is the substance of today’s racism” (Smith, 2008).

Racial microaggressions are a form of psychological warfare and are defined as:

1) subtle verbal and nonverbal insults directed at people of Color, often automatically or unconsciously

2) layered insults, based on one’s race, gender, class, sexuality, language, immigration status, phenotype, accent, or surname

3) cumulative insults, which cause unnecessary stress to people of Color while privileging whites.

(Smith, 2008).

I can’t feel like I constantly have to stand up for my race and explain my Asianness – non-Asian, non-Chinese people need to STAND UP also.

“We must go beyond educating students about basic infectious disease prevention, such as hand washing. We must also address the growing stereotyping, racism and discrimination that pose long-term threats to our health, economy, and individual and collective psyches” (Torres and Cao, 2020).

Words matter. Actions matter.

Words hurt. Actions hurt.

I am so proud to be Asian American, but I am so tired of being Asian American.