“Get the f— out of my way you f—ing Asians” he shouted. Spitting at my feet, he took off running in the opposite direction.
A year ago, I went to New York to visit a friend. We agreed that we should avoid taking the subway and walk around instead. Not only because we were scared of COVID-19, but because there had already been several attacks against Asian Americans that week in New York. Despite the precautions we took as we walked around, a man furiously locked eyes with me. He ran towards me, placed his hands on my shoulders and pushed me into the wall of the nearby scaffolding.
My friend was angry. I was stunned. We reported the incident to her campus police. “I’m sorry, but there isn’t much we can do about this,” they responded. “There have already been several similar incidents around campus already. Be careful out there.”
I called my parents. “How could this happen to you?” they asked. “Why did you let this happen to you?”
It wasn’t until I called my parents that I was able to discern some of the emotions churning within me. Was I being an inconvenience to the police? Was I being a burden to my friend who was taking the time to show me around the city? Should I even be reporting an encounter as small as this when people around me were getting beaten, stabbed, even killed?
Like many other immigrant children who have grown up in America, my parents always spoke to me about the “American Dream Tax.” Life in America is much better than in China. The macro- and microaggressions are the price we pay to be here. So, after calling my parents, I decided to not share my encounter with others. As scared as I was, I felt I had no right to place that burden on the people around me — especially when so many were suffering from COVID-19. Their problems were worse than mine.
I would just keep my head low, and stay quiet.
I had done my best to suppress this memory over the last year. I never brought it up again to my parents, and I refused to tell any more of my peers. However, after the exponential rise in anti-Asian hate crimes this past year and the recent shooting in Atlanta, I realized something: No matter the degree of our experiences, anti-Asian hate is a serious problem and should be treated as such. Trauma is not a competition. There is no fine line defining what is an awful hate crime and what isn’t. Hate is simply hate.
While many immigrant parents believe in the American Dream Tax, I choose to believe differently. To me, America is more than just a country that is better than home. America is the champion of progress and equality. So if we keep these experiences to ourselves, how can we acknowledge the problem? How can we progress?
It embarrasses me to write about my encounter. It embarrasses me to voice my opinion when dozens have lost their lives while I simply suffered a bruise. But I also know that I would never wish this to happen to anyone else. When xenophobia rears its ugly head, we cannot keep quiet. By staying silent, we unintentionally let this behavior slide. We let the offender off without any significant repercussions, and even worse, enable them to do it again.
So I urge you to speak out about your experiences. I understand that this may not be natural to do — immigrants like my parents, after all, were taught to lay low and avoid making a scene. I cannot tackle this instinct, nor the incentives behind it. But our generation is different.
We know that we cannot remain silent. We know that we would never brush off our peers if they told us about any of their experiences with hate. There is a certain beauty in sharing our experiences. We not only advance the conversation, but also gain comfort and solidarity with our peers. While I still feel uncomfortable talking about my experiences, I hope that sharing my story helps more of my peers feel comfortable in talking about theirs as well. Because sharing stories is the only way we can start to create change.
CONNIE TIAN is a sophomore in Grace Hopper college. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.