Below are the full excerpts of stories featured in Thao Thai's piece, Our Stories Are a Song: Asian American Women Speak on Our Experience, which you can read here.
Bri, Bay Area, CA (Full Story)
My answer would be that you could grow up in an area with a large community of AAPI people, but have a completely different experience from other Asian Americans. The Bay Area has a large community of Asain Americans in San Francisco, Oakland, and the South Bay Area. Even though I grew up in the Bay Area for most of my life, I lived in an area that was predominately white and never felt connected to Asian culture or the Asian American community. I always felt disconnected from my Chinese American identity and hated being Chinese because I wanted to fit in with my friends. Usually I was the only Asian person in my group of friends.
Now as an adult, I'm reconciling my feelings about my Chinese American identity and unlearning my sense of denial and hatred for myself. I'm learning to feel a sense of pride for being Chinese American. However, I'm experiencing the inverse of my childhood and I still feel like I don't fully fit in. I have an Asian American boyfriend and Asian American friends (I've only had 2 Asian American friends before adulthood). The Asian American people I'm close to grew up in predominantly Asian American communities, feel proud of their AAPI identities, and have the ability to speak another language. Either way, I feel a sense of isolation and loneliness in my experience.
Cheryl I., Honolulu, Hawaii (Full Story)
I am a fourth generation Japanese American who grew up in Hawaii on the island of Oahu. Like many in Hawaii, my great-grandparents left Japan to come to Hawaii to work in the sugar cane fields in the late 1800s. My family has been here for over 100 years, and what I would like everyone to know about my experience as an Asian American is that not everyone has immigrant parents or even immigrant grandparents. Growing up as a Japanese American, my parents and grandparents spoke English. I had to learn Japanese by studying it in high school.
Growing up in Hawaii, I didn't ever feel like a minority because so many people here are of mixed race, or have similar backgrounds to my own. Then, I moved to Portland, Oregon to attend college. That is when my minority status became clear to me. What I realized by living in Portland for five years was that no matter how American I felt, I was always viewed as a foreigner.
I found myself diminishing my Japanese culture and background in order to prove how "American" I really was in order to feel accepted, or like I fit in. Fortunately, I have never experienced overt or outright racism in any of the places I have lived or traveled. However, I now realize that the microaggressions I experienced and brushed off were a form of racism that diminished how I felt about myself and my heritage.
Anonymous, San Francisco, California (Full Story)
I’m a South Asian woman in San Francisco, and grew up in a local town comprised of mostly Asian immigrants (like my own family). I’ll never forget the day that the Wall Street Journal published a piece on “white flight”, describing the phenomenon of white families fleeing neighborhoods and school districts that were starting to become predominantly Asian in demographics—that was probably the first time I became nervous that I and my community were being stereotyped in xenophobic ways.
Fast forwarding to today, it’s hard not to see a connection between the beginnings of this xenophobia and the anti-Asian racism and violence we’re seeing—especially in the Bay Area. When I go outside, I do everything possible to minimize attracting unwanted attention—I don’t wear a purse (my husband’s coworker recently had her purse snatched in our neighborhood and was dragged by a car for a block and a half), I don’t wear my wedding rings, I carry pepper spray, and I always wear running shoes / athleisure in case I need to sprint away from an attacker.
What makes me especially angry is that San Francisco city leaders offer empty virtue signaling and calls to “stand with our AAPI community”, but have done nothing concrete to actually address the source of this violence. When Asian-owned small businesses call the police for help after their windows have been smashed, why is the de facto response “sorry, this happens a lot—just keep better camera footage next time”? When perpetrators (especially repeat offenders) are arrested for attacking Asian elders, why are they released the next day with no consequences?
As an angry and tired Asian woman, I challenge all of our city leaders, across the country, to stop giving empty consolation and start doing real work.
Jasmine, Los Angeles (Full Story)
I'm half-Chinese, so I grew up with a white side of my family and an Asian side of my family. I was much closer to my white side due to our family dynamic and I even grew up thinking I was white. I never understood what my skin tone or the shape of my eyes meant to a large portion of the country or how it made me different. I remember little boys teasing me about my eyes in my public elementary school. They joked about how small they were, how they resembled slits, and would say things like “ching chong” to me.
It made me hate everything that made me different from the white kids I grew up around. I erased parts of my identity for decades and tried to make the Asian parts of myself smaller. I would join in the jokes or even be the first one making them in middle school and high school so I could get ahead of them. It was my best defense mechanism. I told my parents I wanted to change my last name to be my mom's last name because I viewed myself as white. I thought if I could just erase one of the most identifying marks of my Chinese heritage, it would solidify to everyone around me that I was white. That I belonged. That I fit in.
At the age of 26, I've only just begun to unpack the self hate that I've been harboring for decades. The little boys who made those comments weren't born racist. They learned that behavior from their parents, from the media consumed, and from the behavior they saw around them. I want people to know that your actions matter, the way you raise your children matter. Teach your children about diverse cultures, show them media that highlights different skin tones and raise them to be kind and compassionate. I'm sure those boys' parents didn't think they were racist and thought that they were raising their kids "right." What I want people to know most of all is that what might seem harmless to some has real effects on actual people.
Eunice, Los Angeles, California (Full Story)
You know when you know that you're experiencing something in your current reality, but you don't yet have the vocabulary or the mental capacity to digest and sit with the experience? Welcome to the first 20 years of my life.
I grew up in a predominantly white suburban neighborhood (one of five Asian kids at my elementary school, including my sister). I equated assimilating and distancing myself from my ethnic identity because it was the “right” thing to do. To thrive in this environment, I needed to cultivate my American identity as my main platform, because despite my outer appearance, there was comfort and at times pride, in being labeled “white-washed” or a banana. Just fly under the radar, then I'll be ok.
It's almost embarrassing to admit this: I didn't even know I could be considered a POC until college. It's reckonings like this that make me both grateful and resentful for my sheltered lifestyle in suburbia. It also means that there are years and countless encounters that are now being resifted through my educated and cultured mind. I shift back and forth between being angry at myself and angry at the world. Why didn't I stand up for myself? Why didn't someone stand up for me?
I still struggle with trying not to minimize my feelings for the comfort of others or even my own. Given the number of years I've resorted to putting aside my anger and desolation, I know it will take a while. I'm both optimistic and realistic about the future in this country: Blatant acts of racial aggression and violence are being committed on a daily basis against individuals that could be my 엄마 (mom), 아빠 (dad), 할아버지 and 할머니 (grandparents). A year ago, I was in a local coffee shop in my hometown that I had resided for 15+ years, when a, I assume COVID-19-fearful, woman questioned where I was traveling from. A month ago, a man crossed the street to avoid my friend and I, yelling at us to be tourists elsewhere, when we were fully masked and socially distanced.
It's torturous to know that it's taken the literal lives and safety of people to bring this conversation to the shallows, but it gives me hope. Because if people, readers, aren't waking up to this, what more would it have taken? Even a few years ago, I wouldn't have imagined myself sitting down to write this, knowing that people want to hear my experience, even if it's just the cupcakes and cashmere team that gets to read this. I'm emboldened by the fact that we BIPOC are taking a stand saying enough is enough. I'm comforted by the fact that I am nowhere near alone in this journey, solidarity exists among my fellow siblings of Asian background.
If I could, I would hug my younger self and tell her that she is cherished and authentically her own being. Your ethnic identity is not to be a crutch, but an outlasting source of joy and culture. Take pride and take space.