I volunteered with some puppies at an animal shelter. It’s an attempt to heal. It’s an attempt to heal from trauma by putting myself in places of unconditional love and security, with all the hope that others in my community, in the aftermath of a tragic hate crime, have had the chance to do as well.
For the past few days, I’ve been experiencing this peculiar phenomena. Physically, I could be feeling the skin on my hands grow tough from dish soap while at the sink, or the plastic edge of a pen dig into my palm, and then all of a sudden, a wave of sadness, streaked throughout with anger, would crash over me. I’ve spoken to many of my Asian friends, and they tell me that they experience the same thing. While painting, cooking, driving home from the grocery store, doing all the things that humans do in a shield of normality, this pit of poison suddenly blooms.
The hate crime in Atlanta has been present on social media in pale wisps of links. They’re crowded out by Twitter hashtags about music groups and Minecraft YouTubers, while infographics about racial fetishization and threads written by Asian, female-presenting activists are smothered by memes.
It feels like I’m screaming, smashing plates against the walls and lighting gasoline, without a single head turning towards me. There are many times in my short life that I’ve emitted noises of frustration when my race has put me in a spot of vulnerability. I wailed when elementary school teachers compared the eyes of Disney princesses to mine, saying that mine were the opposite and had no room to sparkle like theirs. In middle school, it was routine to yell into my pillow when I got home after a day of getting slurs and textbooks thrown at me at school. I shouted a cry of indignation last month when I was spit on in a grocery store. These sounds all come together in the ugliest symphony that non-Asian people just keep tuning out.
I wonder how loud it will be when I am hurt next.
Another slash of pain was inflicted when I glimpsed at the GoFundMe for Hyeon Jeong’s family. The familiar hyphens and single-syllable Korean names stared back through my laptop screen as I scrolled through the donations, in a portrayal that shone of how we support each other and burned in a reminder of a lack of allyship from anyone else. I’ve taken breaks from social media because seeing the suffering continue to be ignored has been heartbreaking. Rationally, I know that not every person can be vocal about the tragedy and the nuances behind it for personal reasons. But when people cannot even take the time to express something performatively, the anger only grows.
The Atlanta shooting has raised alarming familiarity for many Asian American women. I implore those who are not familiar with the concept to contribute their resources and spend their time educating themselves on topics I’ve been forced to be an expert on through lived experiences since I was 10 years old.
See, my race has isolated me for much of my life. We as human beings all seek for acceptance, for a place of belonging, and for others’ approval. When your race has been ridiculed, only taken as a negative for years of life, racial fetishization for young women of color often comes disguised as a positive. I have had to combat an understanding that fetishization is not acceptance. From a younger age, I shrugged off microaggressions that took on a more vulgar nature. Reducing my identity, my cultural pride, to “yellow fever” was something that I believed was a necessity to finally be accepted. I opted to destroy my identity as the worst possible solution to bigotry and exclusion.
First-generation children of immigrants like me are taught to keep their head down, dismiss instances of racism, and work hard, encouraging total assimilation if possible. In her book Not Your Yellow Fantasy, author Joyce Giboom Park writes that “Asian women...are placed in a difficult dilemma of being fetishized while not having an outlet to report such fetishization and gender-based violence that potentially could be occurring... the narratives of Asian-American women are often shadowed by the toxicity and stereotypes surrounding our ethnicity, erased once again by those who maintain a dominant position against us in society.” Indeed, this practice, of fostering a half-baked identity and allowing a disfigurement of cultural roots, has dangerous consequences of racism, misguidance, and rape culture. Many dismiss racial fetishization as simply preference. But the Atlanta shooting is a grisly manifestation of the evident harms that it brings to women of color.
In a tangle of skyrocketing racism and sinophobia, rape culture that perpetuates unwillingness to address trauma in instances of race and gender-based violence, and the dismissal of racial fetishization, the tragedy has unearthed a feeling of fault and misplaced shame that has haunted for my entire life. Under the warm sun, surrounded by joyful soft mounds of fur, I am taking the steps to console myself.
I volunteered with some puppies at an animal shelter. I am trying to heal. I want to project unconditional love and support for those in my community, and feel pride in my identity once more.