The One Where Emily Can’t Be Silent or Model Anymore

Here. Hold my Asian American Teacup
Part Five: Last post in my ongoing series about Asian Americans
(Part One begins here)

If there is anything “good” to come from Asian stereotypes, it’s that most Asian ethnicities practice (for the most part) patience and respect for others; they believe that family is important above all else (with maybe the exception of religion). Perhaps it has to do with China being one of the oldest civilizations in the world that this trait had passed on to each ethnicity, but there is no doubt that certain mindfulness techniques (meditation, yoga, tai chi, for example) have derived from these Asian practices. [i]  

I find it ironic that Western culture has latched onto these techniques; with gusto over the past several years, may I add. Yoga studios everywhere. Tai Chi being offered at Community Centers. Mindfulness techniques through meditation (think Headspace, Insight Timer, Calm). Which I think is a good thing; we all have to find a way to cope with anxiety and stress.

Then you have movies & TV shows, where they make (or in some cases remake) movies without using the appropriate actors. Hollywood has been notorious for “white-washing” many characters that should be Asian.

The release of the movie version [ii] of “Crazy Rich Asians” in 2018 was the first movie since the All-Asian, English-speaking cast of 1993’s “The Joy Luck Club.” That’s a 25-year difference and should give anyone an idea of how much Asian disparity there is in Hollywood-produced films.

Marvel Studios faced criticism from Asian Americans when Tilda Swinton was cast as The Ancient One in “Dr. Strange.” Whereas in the Marvel Comics, The Ancient One is a Tibetan man living in a hidden village on the Himalayan mountains. Swinton’s portrayal; however, is believed to be an androgynous Celtic woman.

There’s the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the main character in the Japanese manga & movie, 2017’s “Ghost in The Shell.” David Carradine’s “Kung Fu” series that ran from 1972 to 1975. [iii]  Or the 2015 movies “Aloha” which stars Emma Stone as Allison Ng in “Aloha.” And “The Great Wall” where Matt Damon is depicted as the “white savior.”

As for the OG “Karate Kid” movies, I must say that – as 80’s as it was – at least they got the ethnicity correct (Japanese) with Mr. Miyagi. But the same can’t be said for the remake. That movie was based in China, when Karate is Japanese. Although, these days English-speaking individuals tend to use Karate for any or all Asian martial arts.

The most reviled “yellow face” in movies is Mickey Rooney in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”  Mr.  Rooney was cast as Mr. Yunioshi, the bumbling “oriental” (there’s that word again!) of Japanese descent. Time period or not, there are still recent movies utilize something called Orientalism (a whole litany of that word!).

By definition, Orientalism is the way the Western world perceives Asia; where the concept of one’s ideas of an Asian person both exaggerates and distorts the Asian culture to define the differences between their white culture. It’s seen as a means to reinforce the positive image that non-Asians have of themselves while – at the same time – portraying Asians as odd, baffling, and sometimes barbaric. It’s a notion that the Western world is the epitome of humanity and that their morality, progress, power is superior to no one else. They see the Eastern world as a direct opposite of their “New World” ideals.

That said, patience and respect is something that all Asian & Asian Americans are taught at an early age.  We are taught to respect our elders and recognize “hard work” as a way of success. We are taught in a subtle way to practice empathy; though it usually is disguised as being called “selfish.” [iv]

High School Graduation (with honors, of course)

Most first-generation Asian Americans are taught that we should assimilate to American culture. Many of which were never taught their native language (<waves hand>) for fear that it would confuse (in my case) Tagalog with American English. In the case of many half-generation Asian Americans, they may be old enough to understand and/or speak in their native tongue. However, many are taught to only speak English at home; to practice the language to sound less like a foreigner with an accent. [v]

In particular, first-generation Asian Americans are taught to not “make waves.” That we shouldn’t cause a scene or make an issue about actions or behaviors that would ostracize their family and/or their culture.  Meanwhile, in American culture, making waves is something more like making progress and/or change. [vi]

For those reasons (and many more), Asians & Asian Americans are seen and referred to as the Silent Minority.” By definition, silent minority is a small number of people within a demographic group, or even the entire group (in this case, Asian & Asian Americans) who do – or rather will not – express their opinions publicly.

By doing this, the Silent Minority individual(s) choose to disassociate themselves from other groups (other ethnicities including Caucasians) on any hotly debated issue such as political or religious discussions, for example. They choose to be an inactive bystander by remaining neutral and not siding with either end of any particular topic.

In other words, it’s seen as a reason not to “rock the boat” while simultaneously showing that they are willing to assimilate to the American culture in order to be accepted.  

There is another term that coexists with Silent Minority; one that likely encompasses what their silence is hoping to achieve. Model Minority is defined as a minority group whose members (let’s say in this case, Asian Americans) wish to achieve a higher degree of socioeconomic or professional success in order to prove they are willing and able to be part of mainstream society.

For example, they strive for higher education believing that this will result in a prominent profession in which they can be a respected leader. They try to assimilate to remain neutral on hot topics (Silent Minority). They aim for a higher place in the socioeconomic ladder of the Western world so that they’d no longer feel judged by who (their ethnicity) and what (values, cultural practices, for instance) they are.

Still the dutiful daughter; always studying even at University despite the ongoing distractions

It’s these reasons that White America identify Asian Americans as a “model” for other ethnicities. This stem from their perception that Asian Americans we are less of a “threat” to their society by remaining neutral. They assume that Asian Americans do not want to share their thought on topics like racism, politics, and religion. They expect that Asian Americans will NOT speak up or participate in certain events. For example, the #MeToo organization. The #HumanRights, #LGBTQ, and #LoveIsLove campaigns. The #BlackLivesMatter and #SocialJustice movement. [vii]

Though white America believes that it’s a compliment to be labeled as a “model minority,” most Asian Americans (even if they remain silent) do not.

Asian Americans, especially GenX (and beyond), see this as an excuse to justify the exclusion of minorities as well as marginalize any individual success within a minority group (Prime example: “Asians are ALL smart”). Furthermore, this concept of being a Model Minority ultimately results in other marginalized groups pitting themselves against each other; where one groups believes they are able to assimilate and/or or be accepted into the American mainstream than the other group(s).

To me, this illustrates the reason why many of our immigrant parents (and other families & friends), remain neutral / side with popular white America. And why, despite being minorities themselves, they perceive all other ethnicities (Asian-, African- Americans and Latinos, for example) as being inferior to them. Much like how white America deems everyone inferior to them.

Personally, I find it pitiful that white America feels they need to set other minority groups against each other. This shameful behavior belongs in the middle school playground; not in the adult world. [viii]

What’s that term? Divide and conquer?

Look back at history, specifically the periods of civil unrest, the increase in hate crimes, and the onset of excessive verbal abuse from white America happened at a time of fear. Specifically, the fear that non-white Americans are a threat to their way of life. Fear of unemployment; of having their jobs “replaced” with a person who does not look like them. Fear of being “taken over” by other minorities.

Just like they feared the Filipino farm workers in Stockton were taking their jobs (and their women) from them. Or how during WWII, Japanese Americans were considered a threat to national security. Or how Vincent Chin died because two laid-off white autoworkers felt that any Asian (regardless of ethnicity) was responsible for the economic downfall of the Big Three.

Just like the 91-yo Filipino American in Oakland, CA seen by circuit TV was thrown to the ground. And the Asian American New Yorkers who have been spit on and verbally abused on the subways and streets of NYC.

Or the 83-yo Chinese woman in San Francisco who was punched without provocation and fought back. [ix] Additionally, she insisted that the remaining donations (around $900K) on GoFundMe given back to the AAPI community to combat racism and hate crimes. How’s that for a gesture of good will?

Just like the 8 people (six of them Asian) that were fatally shot at two different Asian spas by a 21-yo male with a supposed porn addiction. And the subsequent statement from the Chief of Police who marginalized those deaths by saying that he was just having a “really bad day.”

Again, all these incidents stem from fear and are perpetuated by stereotypes. All of these activities continue to occur because of anger. This anger ultimately surfaces with hate and hate crimes.

This is the moment where I state my favorite quote. This quote, IMHO, is a perfect analogy [x] on how hate crimes begin and its resulting outcomes.  And yes, it’s from the very wise, 990-year-old Grand-master Jedi, Yoda.

“Fear is the path to the Dark Side.
Fear leads to Anger. Anger leads to Hate.
Hate leads to suffering.”

This is why I choose to speak up about Asian-American Hate Crimes, especially its part in US history. I feel it’s important for every resident in US to realize that Asians (and other non-white Americans), have always been seen as inferior to white person. That even though over the last 6 years, there has been a 150% increase in Asian Hate Crimes, these sentiments, behaviors, and actions have existed here in the US as far back as 1587 when Filipinos took those first steps in present-day Morro Bay, CA 33 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. And most definitely occurred before 1776, when the Declaration of Independence, which states that All men are created equal was signed.[xi]

I’m speaking up about Model Minority because it pits Asian Americans and other ethnic groups against each other. Because it marginalizes any success that we achieve. Because it no longer pays to “assimilate” or strive to be better than other ethnicities. Because White America will always see us as inferior to them.

Because even though we’re acceptable, we are not accepted.

I’m speaking up because I no longer want to be a Silent Minority. I want it known that white America’s ethnically related behaviors and actions cause suffering. That this suffering not only affects Asian Americans but the United States as a whole [xii]  And like many 1st & 2nd generations of Asian Americans, we want our voices to be heard.

We want to talk and debate about the disparities and inequities in OUR country. We want to discuss how Asian Americans and all other minority groups want social justice, equity, and equality for everyone in the US, regardless of race, religion, economic status, sex, gender, marriage, identity, etc

I’m speaking up because I want to help #StopAsianHate

I hope you take all that I’ve written to heart. My wish is that you pass on this knowledge to the next person and the next person and the next person. Because, if we don’t TALK ABOUT IT, nothing will ever change. And history, once again, would be doomed to repeated.

<Drops mic and walks off Soapbox>

[i] Now before you say that yoga derived from India and meditation had its beginnings as an Islam practice, both are rooted in Asian culture, as India and Saudi Arabia (where Islam began) are part of the Asian continent.

[ii] IMHO the movie, though very entertaining, does not compare to reading the book. (Although the mahjong scene at the end was a great addition.)

[iii] Though syndication of “Kung Fu” had even us 80’s kids watching it

[iv] Who am I kidding? Not only are we taught that we’re selfish as kids, but that thought of “being selfish” extends to our adult lives.

[v] Never mind that the parents still speak their language to you, you still had to respond in English

[vi] Does the whole “feeling I’m split in two make more sense now?

[vii] Seriously, I could go on and on and on …

[viii] NEWSFLASH: They will continue to do this unless something CHANGES. Which means talking about it.

[ix] Don’t mess with any Asian-American woman. We may look docile and agreeable, but – if pushed hard enough (both literally AND figuratively) – we strike back!

[x] Then again, this quote can be used in any situation

[xi] It also said that we have the right to vote. Thomas Jefferson when writing & signing the Declaration of Independence wrote, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.” Just saying …

[xii] Think of why America was called “The Melting Pot” and why our Statue of Liberty reads:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

The One Where Emily Hates Stereotypes

I’m not smart, but I am a nurse!
Part Four in my ongoing series about Asian Americans
(Part One begins here)

I brought up the Vincent Chin incident in the previous post, because after finally opening my eyes to racial disparity at the age of 14, I became self-conscious of being Filipino American. Especially as this country perceives Asians as “different” – or rather, “inferior” – to them.

I’m sure most of you know that Hubby is also Filipino American; he was born in Manila, but came to the US.  Being only 5 at that time, most of his upbringing has mirrored those of a first generation Filipino American. [i]

Growing up, I didn’t think I would marry another Filipino. In my eyes, I naively thought that in order to “assimilate” to the US culture, I would have to marry a non-Filipino. Yes, I realize how silly that sounds. Then I met Hubby and realized that it didn’t matter what ethnicity my spouse would be. What mattered was that my spouse would be my best friend and partner-in-crime with every adventure we would take.

Unsurprisingly, most non-Asian people automatically think that Hubby and I are “fresh of the boat.”[ii] We especially experience this when we’re somewhere we don’t visit often enough for people to at least recognize us. Typically, it’s while shopping further away from home, but especially when we’re out of town.

We notice the stares from others for being the only Asians in their area. We get suspicious looks when at any store or restaurant, almost as if they’re saying, “Who ARE those people and WHY are they here?” We get surprised looks when we speak very clear English. [iii]

Then there’s the flip side: Individuals who think they know everything about Asian Culture. They’re typically the ones that introduce themselves with, “Where are you from?” Yet despite telling them that I’m from Detroit, they continue to ask other insane questions like, “I mean, where are you originally from?” or “Where are your parents from?” It’s as if they have a hard time saying, “What is your ethnicity?”

Once they get the appropriate answer, these individuals (I refer to them as ATA’s) [iv] tend to say one of two things: “I knew you were Filipino,” followed by mentioning some other random Filipino celebrity (Pacquiao, for example) followed by some random Tagalog phrase. OR they are disappointed because they have a “really close friend that is <insert any Asian ethnicity>” and I’m sure you probably know him/her.”

Seriously, look it up on YouTube.  There are TONS of parodies about this exact situation. Or listen to Ruby Ibera’s Circa91 album [v] – the entire thing. There are quite a few interludes between songs (think of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill“) that are totally worth listening to, that provide a great example of growing up Asian American.

And then there are the stereotypes about Asians. Yes, I know every ethnicity / culture has them, [vi] and I’m sure you’re quite familiar with all of them as well. But FFS, let me respond to these stereotypes.

All Asians are NOT smart. They are NOT all doctors, nurses, engineers, or accountants. All Asians do NOT pass every test with A’s. [vii]

On the flip side, not all Asians are “lazy” and “don’t want to better themselves.” Yes, they may take on low-paying jobs — several at once, may I add — in order to provide a better life for themselves. If not for them, then certainly their children, parents, or siblings either here in the US or back home in their native land. They want to make sure that their family becomes successful because they DO NOT want them to take “dead end jobs.” They want them to have a profession with the ability to climb a career ladder.

No, they do NOT take up your slot in a university that you applied to. Or leadership positions, private business, job opportunity, for example. If anything, Asians often have to fight harder for what non-Asian persons have. Some of which entails omitting ethnicity to avoid being treated unjustly.

Not all Asians are “smart with their money” or “cheap” or “trying to low-ball you.” They are not “always trying to work a deal.” Not all Asians have nail salons, Asian grocery or party stores, or Chinese or Thai restaurants. Not all Asians eat dog meat.

Most of all (as of recently, that’s for sure), not ALL Asians are purposefully making “cheap” or “defective” clothing or electronics. Not ALL Asian countries are trying to sell you fake masks or other PPE.

And Asians are NOT purposefully trying to create a pandemic throughout the world by releasing a deadly virus that (thanks to the former “leader” of the free world) has been nicknamed “The China Virus” or “Kung Flu.”

Do you — as a human being — REALLY think that an entire ethnic group is THAT heartless and apathetic to the rest of the world? If so, then (IMHO) it takes one to know one.

Harsh, I know. But if the tables were turned and any other ethnicity / culture was saying things about Americans, imagine how you would feel.

I specifically mean words; not emotion. We already are bombarded with “you’re not patriotic” or “Go back home / to your own country.” As it is now, many Asian Americans feel that they are viewed as a “forever foreigner” despite being a US citizen by birthright. And yes, we are as “Patriotic” as any US citizen would be, regardless of any emotions (anger, hate) and actions (hate crimes, insurrection). [viii]

How would you respond if someone threw microaggressions [ix] your way? What would you want to DO about it? How would you defend your culture?

I ask these questions only to emphasize that Asians and Asian-Americans are constantly having to prove their worth in America.

And again, I want to emphasize that these actions & behaviors did not start at the onset of COVID-19, or even after the 2016 Election.

These actions, those words, the exclusion … they have been happening for decades.

[i] Kids under the age of 12 that immigrate are usually referred to as half-generation Asian Americans.

[ii] Fresh of the Boat (or “FOB” as most Asian Americans say). This refers to being new to America. “Boat” is used in reference to having traveled by the Trans-Pacific Ocean Liner. Many parents of 1st Gen Asian Americans born before the mid-80’s were FOBS, since Air Travel was very new at the time and expensive at that time. Now, the “B” has been known to replace “Boat” with “Boeing.”

[iii] I was constantly told that they (patients, families, friends of families) were surprised that I spoke English. I’ve even had some remark that they couldn’t understand me because my accent was so thick. Let me remind you, I grew up here. I don’t know Tagolog (the Filipino language). I speak perfectly clear English, thank you very much!

[iv] People that love “All Things Asian”

[v] IMHO Ruby Ibarra’s track, “Us” should be an anthem for every Filipina American girl out there.

[vi] Remember how I said — er, rather wrote that other countries view a “Typical American” as selfish, brash, and loud?

[vii] Prime example: I barely made it into Nursing School at Oakland University because I was one point away from failing my Microbiology prerequisite class.

[viii] And by “Patriotic,” I mean show and have pride for our country. Not the type of patriotism that believes “America needs to stay the same and not move forward” and/or “America is not the same way it used to be,” or “Change is a bad thing.” And certainly not the type of patriotism that promotes violence amongst its own people and government, More on this in the next (and final) post.

[ix] Microaggressions are “a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group.

Here are a few examples of micro-aggressive statements:

      • “Well, you didn’t grow up here in America, so you wouldn’t understand.”
      • “Huh, you don’t have an accent.”
      • “You should know. You’re <insert random Asian ethnicity> and you’re are all smart.”
      • “Can you read this <random ethnic restaurant>’s menu?”
      • “He/She <points to Asian friend> would know more about these things because he/she is Asian.

The One Where Emily Reflects on Asian-American Experiences

Random Acts of Crime-ness
Part Three in my ongoing series about Asian Americans

(Part One begins here)

I’m back like a bad habit. But as you can see, I’ve had a lot of emotions about being Filipino-American bundled inside me for many years. I figured that since I had a captive (??) audience, I could give you other experiences I’ve encountered. Take it as you would, my point in telling you these stories is to make others aware of what happens when you’ve been judged solely on the color of your skin and what your ethnicity is.

Let’s start out with the most recent incident. Three weeks ago, Hubby and I headed out to run some errands. It was strangely very sunny on this blustery day which made the scratch on our car much more apparent.

We knew for sure that scratch, extending from wheel to wheel on the driver’s side, was NOT there two days ago when we did our weekly grocery run. At first, we thought that a runaway grocery cart produced this scratch. However, on further inspection, it looked like someone deliberately took his/her key and ran it on our car as he/she was walking away.

TBH, Hubby and I tried not to read into things, but given the amount of violence against Asians these days, you never know. A person may have seen us exit our car and saw that we were Asian. Or they may have looked at my Subaru Forester be disgusted that it wasn’t an American car. Either way, it was more annoying, rather than unsettling; which is what I think this petty person was hoping to achieve.

Shortly after the 2016 Presidential Election, I never experienced so much vitriol and hate from another person. Since then, I’ve been told to go back to my own country several times.[i]  I’ve had several racial slurs directed at me[ii], though they could never get the actual ethnicity correct. I’ve cringed at news about racial disparity more so than I had in the past. It seemed as if the results of the 2016 Election gave others permission to spew such hate.[iii]  But let’s face it; prior to 2016 these type of Hate crimes for Asian Americans and any marginalized minority group have occurred throughout the history of America. In fact, I’ve had several instances where I was consciously aware that I was being “profiled;” of being the recipient of micro-aggressions.

As I mentioned before, I became consciously aware in high school that there were people in the world that saw and treated me inferior to them. After that realization, I began to reflect on other instances where I may have been singled out just because I was Asian.

Here is “Early 80’s Emily”with our family beagle, Muffin

One of them was a popular childhood chant that aimed at Asian-Americans of Chinese or Japanese descent. While I won’t repeat it, it infers that these people had “dirty knees” and was therefore unclean. I remember certain classmates squinting their eyes while using their hands to perpetuate the stereotype that Chinese eyes slant upwards, while the Japanese eyes slant downwards.

The irony is that this rhyme speaks volumes about the exclusion of Asian Americans in the US. It’s a direct reference to the living conditions where Asian Americans lived. This silly childhood rhyme reveals the exclusion of Asian Americans by refusing to supply government services such as water and to the area where they reside.[iv]  Sadly, by passing this childhood rhyme down to kids, it continues to teach the next generation of children that exclusion is good.  It perpetuates their belief that Asians were inferior to Caucasians in America.

Around that same time period (specifically in June 1982), a young man named Vincent Chin was a victim of a hate crime, resulting in his death four days later. He was bludgeoned with a baseball bat.

This became national news at the time, yet I was oblivious to it until 1987 (the year I started *that* job) when Ron Ebens was cleared of any federal crime. That summer, I read everything I could about Vincent Chin’s death. I also tried to find information about other racially-motivated hate crimes. Sadly, at that time, my only way of obtaining information was to go to the library and use an *actual* card catalog to flip through random cards by various authors or subjects. The selection of books was very slim.

Chin Memorial FerndaleIf you can recall, in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the auto industry was in a slow, unequivocal free fall. The energy crisis had hit the industry particularly hard. Since Detroit is known as the “Motor City,” the birthplace of mass-produced cars, many autoworkers were facing wage-cuts and/or job eliminations.

In contrast, the Japanese auto industry was booming. Many Americans outside the auto industry were purchasing Hondas or Toyotas or Mazdas; Japanese brands that they felt were more efficient on gas and didn’t require as much maintenance or use as much gas as the Big Three[v] cars did.

Leading up to June of 1982 there was obvious animosity towards all Asian Americans. The encounter between Chin and Ebens & stepson, Michael Nitz began at a club.  Ebens called out to Chin, specifically stating, “It’s because of you little the m*therf*kers that we’re out of work.” Ebens, was clearly lumping Chin, a Chinese American, as a Japanese American.

A brawl ensued between the three resulted in the club’s security throwing al of them  out on the street. Chin made the mistake of challenging Ebens & Nitz to another fight. At that point, Ebens grabbed a baseball bat from Nitz’s car and both began to chase after Chin, who ran away on foot.

Ebens & Nitz spent 20 minutes looking for Chin, even paying another man $20 to help them find him. Chin was eventually found at a McDonald’s location close by. Nitz held Chin down as Ebens repeatedly bludgeoned Chin with the bat until his head split open. Sadly, Chin died 4 days later, never having gained consciousness. He was due to marry his fiancé later at the end of June.

A 1984 federal civil rights case against the men determined that Ebens was guilty; he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Nitz was acquitted. In 1987, a retrial for Ebens (who’s conviction was overturned in 1986) was moved from Detroit to Cincinnati due to the publicity of this trial. At this trial, the Cincinnati jury cleared Ebens of all federal charges. Ebens never spent a night in prison.

As a result, the case is viewed as the critical turning point for Asian-American civil rights engagement. It also became a rallying cry to the federal government for the need for stronger federal hate crime legislation. In 1999, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act became federal law.

Today, there remains a memorial plaque placed on Woodward Avenue’s median just east of 9 Mile Road in Ferndale; where Chin worked at Golden Star Chinese Restaurant where he worked.[vi]  Not many Detroiters are aware of this plaque, thus indicating that Vincent Chin has been all but forgotten. At least until recently.

Vincent Chin is far from being the only instance of Asian American hate crimes. In 1975, Peter Yew was a victim of police brutality from the NYPD. The Stockton Schoolyard Massacre of 1989, where media and government focused on the need for better gun control; barely mentioning the deaths of five Vietnamese children in a mostly-Vietnamese elementary school. Hung Truon, a 15-yo Vietnamese boy from Katy, TX was kicked to death in 1991 by two teenagers while repeatedly shouting, “White Power.”

Then there’s Jim (Ming Hai) Loo, who in July 1989 – only two years after Ebens’ trial – who’s death was eerily similar to that Vincent Chin.

The reason why Vincent Chin’s story is still being told 40+ years later is not because of his death.[vii]  Rather, it remains the most prominent example of a modern day, post-civil rights, racially-motivated hate crime. This happened more that 30 years after the events in Little Manila; yet the reason behind such hate remains the same.

And it continues to this day


[i] Which I find ironic seeing that I was born here and AM in my own country

[ii] Also funny since they could never get the actual ethnicity correct. Am I Chinese? Am I Thai? Am I Latino? Yes, I’ve been mistaken for Latina several times that people have asked me if I can translate Spanish to English for them.

[iii] Basically, the government refused Asian Americans their basic Human Rights.

[iv] Lead by example, I’ve been taught. Sadly, the leadership at that time was heavily promoting bigotry, misogyny, disparity, identity, equity and other issues.

[v] For those unfamiliar, the Big Three are Ford, Chrysler and General Motors.

[vi] Currently Imperial Restaurant, known for their street-tacos (see it in the background?)

[vii] Nor is it simply due to recent hate crimes affecting Asian Americans

The One Where Emily Hates the Term “Oriental”

Don’t mistake me for a rug, or lamp, or china doll for that matter
Part One in my ongoing series about Asian Americans

I’ve had these thoughts in my head for a while now. And to be honest, I’ve wanted to write them into one cohesive “thought” since I was in my early 20’s. With the recent events in Atlanta and throughout the entire US; now seemed to be the right time to sort all those thoughts and write them down and share it with you.

I warn you now, I have a LOT to say. Rest-assured, I will separate these thoughts into a series of posts. Perhaps, so as to be overwhelmed with what I’m writing. Because I really hope you read the following posts and learn something from them. And perhaps share what you learned with your family & friends.

I’ve overheard people talk about how they do not think the violence against Asian Americans is real. Or they believe that, based on our ethnic culture, we don’t “mind” that such actions happen. But what you see and read in the media today about such hate crimes are absolutely true. As a First Generation Asian-American (well, technically Pacific Islander), I do believe that we (AAPI – Asians and Pacific Islanders) tend to feel that “disconnect” in life-experiences more acutely; we tend to feel torn between two cultures. We tend to say that we live two different lives.

It’s tough having to blend both our AAPI and American cultures together. This is why you’ll constantly hear that immigrants & 1st Gen Asian Americans feel like they live in two different “worlds.” Each culture has a way of doing things, getting the job done. There’s my Filipino heritage; one that has many customs that has been passed down from generation to generation. These things I learned from my parents and aunts & uncles who had grown up in the Philippines.

However, with the American culture, I simply learned along the way. At school there was maybe one or two Asian American kids other than me and my brother. I discovered that my classmates and teachers would routinely perform actions or say phrases that I had never heard or seen before, leaving me bewildered. Yet these same behaviors were normal to them. Growing up with our Filipino family & friends, I felt comfortable enough to ask questions and learn more about my Filipino culture. In contrast, I was afraid to ask questions about “normal” American behavior for fear of being judged. To solve that, I would simply observe my classmates and teachers to determine what they considered as run-of-the-mill everyday stuff. And of course, watching TV shows; I wouldn’t have known that porkchops went well with applesauce until Peter Brady said so. Growing up this way, I felt torn between the differences in culture. It often felt as if I was being torn apart and pulled in two separate directions. And somehow, I had to find a way to cope with this.

That said, my experience (as well as other Filipino friends / family), there is usually that ONE event in our lives (despite our parents’ warnings) where we acutely recognize how different we look from our classmates, and it becomes blatantly clear that we are seen differently in their eyes. I believe that this learned behavior is passed on from parent to child. And I also believe that this behavior usually rears its head when my teachers, classmates and co-workers, when feel that we pose a “threat” to them. But more of that later. I promise.

I’ve shared some of them in previous post, but the one that REALLY opened my eyes was my first summer job.[i] I’ve shared the story before in other posts, but here’s the gist of it. At 14, I was hired at a fast food joint because I wanted to make some extra spending money. I figured it couldn’t be too hard to work a register and take orders. But that’s not what I was assigned. At first it was washing dishes in the back. Then it was being put on the food line, all while other “new hires” got to work the registers and take orders. I had a gut feeling it was because management didn’t want customers to see me.

Needless to say, I lasted 3 months at that place and refused to work there again the next summer. Though I left that situation, I regret not having said something to that manager. Or even the assistant manager, who recognized what was going on.

Growing up in the 80’s, I was labeled every kind of Asian celebrity out there; from Margaret Cho to Ming Na Wen (in her Joy Luck Club days, not the Agents of SHEILD days). Later it would become Sandra Oh or Lucy Lui. Any other person out there may have thought it was a compliment to be compared to beautiful actresses. For me, those “compliments” felt as if I was just viewed as an object in non-Asian persons’ eyes.

Which brings me to the next issue: Being called “Oriental.” IMHO, I think that being called “Oriental” feels as if I were an object or a property to be owned; a vase, a rug, a style of decor for example. I feel this way for two reasons:

    1. That term lumps every Asian Ethnicity into one group, when — as of the 2010 US Census data (2020 still not available), there are close to 30 different Asian cultures around the world.
    2. It’s rude. Seriously, would any other subgroup like German Americans or Italian Americans like it to be lumped as European? Yes, the term “Asian” does the same, but Oriental makes it sound as if I was from a distant land in the East where so many luxurious items could be taken back to the US. Things like jade, gold, porcelain, mah jong (ii). And also, not ALL Asians are in the “East.” There’s a reason that Pacific Islanders are added to the mix, as there are other countries / ethnicities west of Hawaii (the Philippines being one of them).

Yes, I realize the term “Asian” does the same thing. However, being called but Oriental makes it sound as if I was from a distant, came from Eastern World where so many luxurious items could be taken back to the US. Things like jade, gold, porcelain, mah jong. [ii] And also, not ALL Asians are in the “East.” There’s a reason that Pacific Islanders are added to the mix, as there are other countries / ethnicities west of Hawaii (the Philippines being one of them).

I’ve taken many people by surprise when saying that I don’t like the term “Oriental.” By no means do I believe that using the word “Asian” is JUST a “politically correct” term for “Oriental.” I truly believe that if you are going to label a person by ethnicity or race, then get your terms (or even just the correct country) right.

As an RN, I’ve taken care of every age group including WWII and Vietnam / Korean War Vets. [iii] While I’m conscious that “Oriental” was the term they previously used; but, if my Mom can (for the most part) use her iPhone to send emails, chat or even look at the FB app, then I would think that someone can learn how to keep up with other changes in society.

And, oh BTW — did you know that in 2016 a federal law was passed to remove any mention of the word “Oriental” in any federal document? [iv]

(more in Part II)

[i] Well technically it was babysitting. I’m still amazed how parents were confident in me to leave their child(ren) in my care! 

[ii] Yes, I know mah jong has been the go-to Asian game (especially when betting is involved) for all Asian ethnicities. Also the mah jong you see as a pesky ad while mindlessly playing games on your phone … that’s not the mah jong that Asians play.

[iii] Interesting anecdote: WW2 vets either despised me or loved to share stories about their time in Asia. Vietnam / Korean vets; however, tended to be more angry and very suspicious (of which I can empathize).

[iv] That is the same law that was passed to strike the term “Negro” in all federal document

An Open Letter to the Other 50%

Dear People who, four years ago, told us that we should “get over it” and believe that the 2020 election was rigged,

Let me first start off by saying that you now need to eat your own words. An election that has been validated multiple times by various highly respected people / groups … one that has been brought to multiple State Supreme Courts and dismissed was NOT stolen by ANYONE.

I’ll also add that 50% of the voters in the 2016 election did NOT want this incumbent president to represent our nation in the first place. We may have not liked the results, but as good citizens and stewards to our country, we respectfully accepted the results and carried on.

As a Republic Democracy for 245 years (this July), the US has provided its citizens the right to choose their own representatives; ones that will take to Washington DC (and the world) the wants and needs of its constituents. It was one of the core values of our Founding Fathers, and through a democratic process, the US Constitution has added amendments (15 & 19, in fact) to secure the rights for ALL citizens of the United States, whether by race or by gender.

The example you have displayed at the Capitol Building today is completely void of Democracy. In fact, you have interfered in the voting process. This means you have actively defied our Constitution; our moral value as a nation.

You follow the words of a person who aims to make (or keep) America great again; the same person who has stoked the fires of anger & hate for his & his family’s own gain, and incited his followers to protest this 245-year-old voting process. You have stormed the Capitol Building, disgracing our Democracy by taking selfies of yourself smiling while sitting on our US Senators’ desk.

You have disrespectfully walked on the Senate & House floors, pretending to be the Senate / House speakers (yes, I’m talking about you, Arizona QAnon Viking Man).

You have walked around our Capitol in Militia uniforms, also taking selfies in the Capitol Building’s Rotunda.

You have waved many a flag of a nation that has not existed in over 150 years.

You hung an effin’ noose in front of the Capitol Building.

May I ask … is THIS what you think will make America great again? Because, quite frankly … despite our economy and the poor COVID pandemic response, I never thought America had EVER lost being great.

Greatness is in how you handle crisis. Greatness is subscribing to the needs of your audience, whether you agree with them or not. Greatness is how you lead others through the difficult times. Greatness is about the art of compromise.

Greatness is NOT selfish or narcissistic. Greatness isn’t someone who wantonly disregards public opinion. Greatness doesn’t trade science for conspiracy theories or unproven facts. Greatness is NOT a person who strives to divide people, in the name his own personal values. Greatness is not “Me.”

Greatness is “Us.”

A great person should be smart enough to know that leading a Democracy requires the assistance of those who also strive to be the best for themselves and — more importantly, others. Greatness is understanding the concept of Teamwork, rather than subscribing to the practice of autocracy.

Greatness, as a leader in our Government, is a person who wholeheartedly believes in the Constitution & the Bill of Rights / Amendments. Greatness is maintaining what works for our government now. Greatness is updating (as needed) and securing our government … OUR nation for the future.

Greatness is honoring a pledge you have made for our country & flag; one that believes that our Republic is “One Nation under God,* indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for ALL.”

Our nation remains great and will continue to be so as long as we BELIEVE it will. Democracy requires diligence in maintaining these documents and pledges. Democracy requires respecting others, our land, and our government. Democracy requires the ability to compromise.

Despite what you think, your actions today are very much NOT “American.” Unfortunately, your display today has likely solidified what the rest of the world generally thinks of a “typical American:” selfish, brash, and loud. (Yes I’ve been watching too much “Emily in Paris.”)

You may have thought your demonstration outside (and, well inside) the Capitol was a given right in our Constitution; that you were entitled to the “Freedom of Speech.” However, when you actually read the first Bill of Right, it addresses the right to assemble PEACEFULLY.

It stopped being peaceful the minute you stormed the Capitol Building, disrupting our government from upholding the Constitution that they pledged to protect.

What you’ve really done is make a mockery of our government. **

For those of you that went to grade school with me, you’ll recall our 5th grade teacher, Mr. K. who was also our social studies / history teacher. He was SO very proud to be an American, and never failed to remind us that the United States was the best country in the world. Being of feeble 11 years of age, I didn’t fully grasp the importance of the “Cold War” which he always referred to when making such statements. However, what I did grasp was him constantly saying, “If you don’t like it here in America, then you can leave.”

While I have been pretty outspoken about my political beliefs over the past 4 years (well, actually more than 12, but who’s counting?), it may come as a surprise that I still love it here in the US. ***

I’ve been afforded opportunities that I may not have experienced if my parents return to the Philippines, if my parents didn’t utilize those unalienable rights afforded by being a US Citizen.

I’ve been given a stellar education. And despite my gripes about my previous employers, I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get as far as I have in my career.

I owe all of these opportunities – well, first of all, to my parents, but also for the ability and freedom to better myself in this nation. I don’t take for granted the freedoms we have. I believe the purpose of a three-branch government is important to keep the checks and balances in line. I don’t take issues of race, gender, or identity inequality (or any inequality, for that matter) lightly.

I believe that our democracy should a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Frankly, what you have done today has sorely disappointed *this* citizen of the United States. Yet your action have not dampened the pride that I have for this country.

In fact I remain ever hopeful that this is but a dark time in our Democratic nation and that “We the People of the United States” will continue to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

Those were the words of our Founding Fathers. Live them. Breathe them. Respect them.

With sincere respect,
A Proud Asian-American Daughter of the United States

(Off soapbox. Peace out!)

* Yes, I realize that there is much controversy surrounding the addition of religion into our Pledge of Allegiance.

** By “government” I’m *not* referring to a specific person or persons; I’m referring to its entity as a WHOLE

*** Despite seriously considering moving to New Zealand, but the pandemic foiled that plan. D’oh!