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After an elderly Asian man was murdered in San Francisco, it took days before his story made it to the news and was later called a hate crime. While the violence continued, it would take another few weeks for his story to go mainstream. It’s now mid-March, and as numerous Asian women are killed in a shooting rampage, the headlines have yet to bring attention to Asians nor the racist motivations of these unfortunate events. Omission of this detail is another reflection of how the media is catering toward their predominantly white audience. Even when we’re being blatantly targeted, we’re invisible to the world.
As we continue to celebrate Women’s History Month, I’m charged up about ceilings that Asian women have to break through. We’re struggling to have our accomplishments recognized at work and being hypersexualized in society, while in our personal lives, we’re delicately balancing outdated traditions of male superiority and filial piety that run thickly in our blood. We’re trained to become successful professionals, dutiful daughters, amenable wives and all-accommodating mothers. (Not all working Asian moms have the support from seemingly perfect, multigenerational families.) Compounded by the double standards that working mothers face and the mental load they carry, along with the fact that Asian women are more than twice as likely than men to report hate incidents, we’re silently suffering with our insurmountable feelings of despair and infinite expectations.
As a first-generation Korean American, I relive the bittersweet turmoil of my childhood every time I’m asked: Where are you from? Unlike most Asian families immigrating to the United States for the American dream, my bipolar and OCD mother booked a spontaneous flight to Seattle to marry her childhood sweetheart. My parents separated when I was 5, and I’ve been hustling my way through life since—to prove that someone who had neither parent figure, learned English as a second language and was raised on government support could go on to live the American dream.
Till this day, my mom is my most ardent cheerleader, now a breast-cancer survivor and immunocompromised as a result. It fills me with anxiety, ironically about her physical safety during the pandemic and now the increased violence toward Asians.
Our story is just one of 22.6 million Asian Americans living in the U.S. There’s a long history of anti-Asian rhetoric, which explains why the recent surge in violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) didn’t happen overnight. A seed had been planted by oppressors long ago, with racism growing for generations. While the violence doesn’t surprise me unfortunately, the silence of both the media and the village around me is deafening.
Awareness has grown slowly as AAPI celebrities and leaders broke out their megaphones and begged anyone to listen. I realize now that I’ve been repressing generational trauma and perpetuating Asian stereotypes by not being more public about my own story and stance against racism. Embarrassed for not having spoken sooner, I recently took action and organized An Open Dialogue on Violence Against the AAPI Community hosted by my employer. Even as someone who identifies as Asian, this dialogue taught me the history behind the “model minority” myth, which makes me angry about the encouraged infighting amongst minority groups. While growing up in Georgia and Hawai’i, it was friendship from the Black and Pacific Islander communities that saved me emotionally from racist encounters during my formative years.
I am beyond grateful for my career path, but it’s such a lonely, antithetic and hypocritical view from where I sit, in the midst of all this talk about equality in the workplace and at home. We need more Ali Wongs, Emily Changs, and FemStephs in the mainstream media to help debunk the model-working-Asian-mom myths and exemplify what’s possible for the next generation. We also need non-Asians to loudly denounce hate and violence, so that we have a chance at breaking this never-ending cycle of racism.
- Create opportunities for more dialogue.
- Donate toward causes such as Stop AAPI Hate.
- Ask your company to make a statement.
- Hire, mentor and promote to fill the gap of Asian Americans in executive roles. It certainly isn’t a pipeline problem, but the data is misleading. Asian Americans are the most-educated U.S. demographic group with large representation across industries. We’re outspoken, headstrong and natural negotiators. Yet, we’re least likely to be promoted to management. My loneliness is clearly warranted, but there should be more of us where I’m at.
I’ll always think fondly of every person who took a chance on a young Asian woman from a non-Ivy League college with nothing to offer but grit, curiosity and desperation to pay off student loans. Don’t underestimate the diversity of narratives from underrepresented groups that surround you on a daily basis—waiting to be seen and heard—despite the fact that it will still take courage to share their story. Check on your Asian friends and colleagues today—because now more than ever, we need to know who our allies are.
Instead of asking me where I’m from, ask me another question: “How are you doing?” Or better yet: “How are you really doing?”