With the rise of xenophobia, there comes a deeper separation between being Asian and feeling yellow.
There is nothing worse than watching old people being attacked, if you don’t agree, please read no further, please click away from this page. With the horrifically rising number of cases in hate crimes against Asians – not confined to Asian-Americans – around the world, I’ve had some time to reflect upon what it means to be, not Asian but, yellow.
The difference between the two is the stereotype regarding cultural and moral values versus assumptions solely based on skin color. If we meet for the first time and we start to converse for a few minutes, here are some things you’ll probably think about me: family-oriented, disciplined, respect for elders, graduated from a good college…basically a model citizen.
Being viewed as yellow means that without speaking, you immediately think I’m: good at math, a bad driver, a doctor/engineer/lawyer. If you’re a man, you’ll probably want to sleep with me since we’ve long been sexualized in the most twisted verbiage and fantasies. The prejudice is even heightened by my personal favorite comedienne Amy Schumer, who said during her 2012 Comedy Central routine: Mostly Sexy Stuff,
“I can’t compete with an Asian chick…’cause they know men hate when women speak…Asian women have ‘the smallest vaginas in the game.'”
I love you, Amy. But thanks to you, I feel yellow. And thanks to COVID-19, my yellow-ness is both blaring and blazing.
Pre-COVID, I half grew up in Silicon Valley where diversity was just as embedded in local culture as was the latest technological advancement. Once we immigrated to the States, I found myself learning English in a Catholic school at eleven years old, surrounded by mostly white teachers and students. Never once did I feel like I was judged for being a minority in school. Neither in high school nor in college at Berkeley where Freedom Speech Movement paved the way for minorities to thrive as equals on campus. In many ways, I’ve felt extremely fortunate to have Caucasian friends who are incredibly open-minded that I never once felt ostracized because of my Asian roots, in fact, it was celebrated. Then again, race acceptance in San Francisco pre-COVID was not representative of the rest of America, let alone the rest of the world today.
Sans coronavirus, I typically traveled between 12-14 countries a year. When I spoke, I could be using French to get around Morocco or Mandarin in Singapore so the chances of feeling yellow was almost slim to none. Usually, folks couldn’t figure out where I was from until we conversed beyond cultural barriers and racial stereotypes. COVID, however, has changed everything. It has spiked an acute awareness towards the color of my skin.
During April 2020, a 39-year-old Asian woman in Brooklyn was doused with a chemical substance when she was taking out her trash. The attack left burns to her face, neck, and back. Now, as lockdowns continue and mutations of the virus augment; the attacks against Asians have only multiplied. Recently, the patterns have surrounded Asian elders who are too weak to fight back, some have even died from violent aggressions. Last week, a 91-year-old Asian man was pushed into the pavement in Oakland, meanwhile a 61-year-old Filipino man was slashed across his face in the subway, along with an 84-year-old Thai man who was shoved to the ground and passed away two days later. Xenophobia is no longer a word we need to look up, it’s a brutal underreported reality affecting Asians living or visiting countries outside of the largest continent in the world.
On the sixth day of his presidency, Biden immediately addressed the increasing hatred towards Asian-Americans. He said on Jan. 26:
“This is unacceptable, this is un-American. I’ve asked the Department of Justice to strengthen its partnership with the Asian-American Pacific Islander community to prevent those hate crimes. I’ve also asked the Department of Health and Human Services to put out best practices for combating xenophobia in our national response to COVID.”
Since March 19, 2020, Stop Asian American Pacific Islander Hate started to collect reports of hate crimes against Asian-Americans after multiple instances of xenophobia across America. Regardless of the color of YOUR skin, here are ways to help: If you see an Asian elder who might need your help walking alone in a neighborhood, offer support. Make sure you’re wearing a mask since elders are the most susceptible to COVID. Asians are taught not to speak up, we also think we can handle everything on our own. So if you encounter resistance, be kind and keep your eye out for the elder. Be respectful but keep lending your helping hand. That’s what I always do, anyway.
Last year, I had to fly to Milwaukee during the pandemic. For the first time in my life, I was worried for my own safety in a country that I grew up in. I had visions of acid being poured over my head, some Karen yelling “go back to your own country” at the farmer’s market. I shared my fears with my partner at the time, and he said:
“I’ll protect you.”
Easy for a white male to say. Not sure what’s harder, feeling yellow in my own country, or asking a white man for protection when I’ve spent my entire life priding on the power of independence. COVID has changed how I view myself, especially on the surface. At least, I’m not afraid to talk about it.