Anti-Asian Racism Already Threatens My Future Children
For the longest time, whenever my mother dreamed of a baby, she’d call me to talk about my future children. She’d describe in vivid detail the child’s mix of features, curly hair, and fat cheeks. If she saw a blonde baby, she’d ask if I was dating una rubia, or someone possessing whatever other characteristics she knew didn’t exist in me. The answer was always a resounding no. No, I wasn’t dating una rubia. No, I wasn’t even thinking about kids.
My mother still dreams of grandchildren, but their features have changed. Dirty blonde hair has become the darkest shade of brown; light eyes have transformed into black, tear-dropped wells. Rather than some imaginary rubia, my mother’s imaginary grandchildren now reflect my real-life partner’s features. But the most significant change is that I’m at the point in my life where these imaginary children feel more real. My cousins and friends have welcomed kids into the world, and I find my mind drifting to the things I’ll get to teach: the carve of a snowboard through a hardpack, the snap of a jab against a heavy bag.
But then I catch a glimpse of the news, and I realize that the most important thing I’ll have to teach my children will be about hate.
My partner is Korean; I am Puerto Rican. Our children will have two wells of rich culture to pull from. They will also face prejudice on two fronts, forced to contend with ignorance and xenophobia that weaponize their rich histories against them. And the worst part of it is that this isn’t even the worst part of it — Americans of color know that all too well. And in case we’d forgotten, the past couple of years have made it abundantly clear.
My partner is Korean; I am Puerto Rican. Our children will have two wells of rich culture to pull from. They will also face prejudice on two fronts, forced to contend with ignorance and xenophobia that weaponize their rich histories against them. And the worst part of it is that this isn’t even the worst part of it.
My partner has often used her privilege to shield and stand up for me in situations where I could not stand up for myself. I always thought that this privilege would be something she could pass down to our children, that it would enable them to better stand up for themselves and others. Yet recently, I’ve found myself reconsidering the meaning of privilege. If it means being safer from the police than darker-skinned individuals, then, statistically, they might be. But if it means being safer from hate and violence, I’m beginning to see the fallacy of my original belief.
In the wake of the recent wave of violence and hate crimes against Asian Americans, I’ve felt angry. I’ve felt disappointed. But most of all, I’ve felt powerless. There is nothing I can provide my partner with beyond supportive words and solidarity. But mere words and solidarity serve as a poor shield for the images that bombard her through social media:
- A middle-aged man coming home from work, blindsided by a sucker-punch
- A young woman waiting for the train, assaulted by a man yelling slurs
- An older woman working her food stall punched by a 30-year-old man
Every day there’s a new incident. And when eight people were murdered in an Atlanta spa shooting — six of them Asian, four of them Korean — the world dove into semantics over the intention behind the murders. But really, that’s less important than the result.
My partner was so disturbed by the news that she couldn’t bring herself to take my calls. Shortly after, she announced she was taking a break from social media. She is a grown woman who has made it her business to champion allyship between Asians and all people of color. She has every tool at her disposal to analyze and interpret what’s going on around her. But she just can’t deal with it anymore. I can only imagine the monumental task of explaining this horrific event to our children, to demonstrate that those who share their features and language, who sing the same lullabies that Halmoni sings to them, are dead.
Some will say that America is better than this. It’s not. It has proven that to us over and over again. This hate for Asians didn’t just come from nowhere. As enticing as it is to blame Donald Trump, he’s just a symptom of the greater disease. The hate has always been here, always weaponized against one group or another. This is America: the Indian Removal Act, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Jim Crow era and segregation, Mexican repatriation. And as Americans of color, regardless of our respective privileges, we share a legacy of fear.
I first learned what fear looks like in my mother’s eyes. The same woman who dreams of beautiful babies has been haunted by worry ever since the ’80s. As a child, I brushed it off as overprotectiveness, that a hard life had led her to see phantoms in every shadow. But I understand now that she wasn’t afraid of the phantoms, but the powerlessness to protect her loved ones once they walked out the door.
No amount of bravado or conciliatory words will change that. Every day, I wonder if my partner will be alright when she walks out of the door and if her parents will be safe on their commutes. I realize this is the beginning of a worry that will not end, even if these hateful acts do.
One day, I will have to sit with my children and explain my fear, why I am so hard on them, why my voice is so quick to break with anger. I will have to explain the hate they may face outside our home and how I am powerless to protect them from it. I’ll have to teach them how the features that coalesce into everything beautiful in my mother’s dreams could be the same ones that inspire the ugliest reactions. Even more difficult, I’ll have to explain that this hate might come from people who look like me.
It’s the uglier side of that legacy of fear — we learn to fear each other. Our communities are united at the moment, messages of allyship and anti-racism ubiquitous. I have to wonder how long it will last. How long before Asian Americans stop being our brothers-in-arms and be called the slur los chinitos again? When the violence ends, how much of the ignorance that fuels it will remain?
Hate does not stop with our own. It catalyzes the hate we receive in return. It’s a vicious cycle that keeps us divided, the world our children will enter. And try as we might to protect them, we can only prepare them.
It all reminds me of James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues,” in which a character shares how the adults in his life are burdened by fear while they try to shield the children from that burden too soon. As I cannot hope to be as eloquent as that titan of literature, I’ll end on his words, written in the ’50s, that remain just as accurate today.
“But something deep and watchful in the child knows that this is bound to end, is already ending. In a moment someone will get up and turn on the light. Then the old folks will remember the children and they won’t talk anymore that day. And when light fills the room, the child is filled with darkness. He knows that every time this happens he’s moved just a little closer to that darkness outside. The darkness outside is what the old folks have been talking about. It’s what they’ve come from. It’s what they endure. The child knows that they won’t talk anymore because if he knows too much about what’s happened to them, he’ll know too much too soon, about what’s going to happen to him.”