In the Times Of Xenophobia
Now that we see a rise in anti-Asian crimes that makes my mom afraid, I want to remind her the strength she exhibited when she came to America as an immigrant.
Dear Mama Anita,
Mama, when we came here first, the language was the hardest part wasn't it? You practiced for hours, head bent over my borrowed laptop watching videos and old CDs. I remember the trips to the libraries, where you painstakingly selected the best books, and audiotapes and copied word for word pages upon pages of the mysterious English language.
I was transfixed looking at you as your mouth moved over the strange syllables. I became, at the age of 13 your teacher and it was my honor to teach and lead the same hand which had gripped mine and showed me how to hold a pen. The pen which wobbled at first, but then strengthened in your hands as you learned more.
Even now, when you talk haltingly to the receptionist in the doctor's office and they roll their eyes with impatience and talk faster than you can understand, it takes me back to those days. I see you nod and try to speak and ask a question and I remember all those sleepless nights again where you didn't, even for a moment, thought of giving up. You learned to be an American while never forgetting your roots and I know it was the hardest thing you ever did. I see you, Mama. I see what you gave up for me even if you don't realize it. You left behind friends all to give me a fresh start and I hope I work hard enough to make you proud of me.
Mother, you make our family whole. All my life you've taught me and my sisters to share. Whether it was food, feelings or clothes; you taught me that real happiness is realized when the happiest parts are broken into sharing, little pieces and distributed around to the people who love us. In times of suffering, its our friends and family who hold us together. You taught me, by your own example to cherish the people around me by never taking them for granted and to find happiness wherever I am and in every nook or cranny.
In my country it takes decades for a farming family to rise to middle class and from middle to the dream upper class. It's not only about poverty and lack of resources, its also about mentality too. I come from a country where men clings to their prejudices, the way they cling to God. It's a tight-knit, narrow rope of a conviction that is dooming half of my country's population. I felt like a helpless spectator for most of my teenage years until I decided to change the narrative by trying to change the way my own family approached feminism. It was the hardest thing I've ever done and I could never have done it without you.
Mama, we grew up in that environment and for you it was nothing new to want and not have. To be able to voice you needs in open was a privilege you didn't think you could afford. I showed you, by educating myself first, that it didn't have to be. I had to learn a lot of things. It's a human right. Even if society expects to always put our rights, as women in the second place, we can and will rise above that by first trying to bring micro-changes in our own home. Grandma Minna and you supported me, and I believe without her support I wouldn't have been where I am today.
What is self-care? You asked me once. Self-care for me and you means forgetting these hurts, and un-learning these past conditioning. It is forgiving the people around me, not so that they will be able to get away with their transgressions but so that both of us will be able to move on. It's choosing yourself over the people who make you unhappy and freeing yourself enough so you can feel without feeling guilty about it.
You taught what it means to give love as well as to receive and I'll be forever grateful for the hard lesson that made me who I am today.
When we immigrated here, we left behind everything. We left furniture, clothes, books, and friends. We left behind the eucalyptus tree that had watched us grow and even now I believe provides shades to other kids that play in that backyard. When you recall your childhood, I see in your eyes the longing to go back, but there is nothing for us there anymore.
Our neighbors have moved to new places and our roots in this country have grown too deep. The people here are our friends. The first time you walked and chatted with our kind neighbor Barbara I'm sure you were afraid to try out your newly learned English. You were afraid they would laugh or brush you off. Nothing like that happened, did it? That day you made a best friend and found a companion in your loneliness. Mama, I'm proud of you.
Now that I see the news filled with bruised faces of Asian women who had done nothing but exist in this society, I see that you are indeed afraid. Please don't be. We have allies. For every racist, bigot and mean-spirited man or woman, there are others who call us and tell us to reach out to them if we need anything.
Our community has shown tremendous love and support in these hard times. To be blamed for something we cannot help like our ethnicity seem terrible. These racists and bigots do not realize that we were also affected terribly by the pandemic. We lost loved ones, had our businesses upturned and savings reduced all because of an unseen virus that is rapidly changing world. These hard time will not reduce our love for our fellow citizens.
Neighbors who didn't knew our names sent us food, chocolates and hand-written cards assuring that they stand with us in theses hard times where we see a rise against Asians. I have seen support from the Black community and it has made me believe that only together, standing side by side can we learn and realize and do better.
What is in a name? My name is my identity. I remember the first time a white friend butchered my name in a haste to be funny and quirky. Though a scared part of me wanted to laugh along, your voice echoed in my ear, loud and firm.
My name has hundreds of years of history behind it and I would never shun my ancestors who watch over me by altering it, to please those who wouldn't respect me. Instead of smiling along, I spelled out my name proudly so they would never forget it. From that day on, with your voice echoing in my year I learned to revel and be proud of the places I came from. I didn't try to hide them instead I realized that the places I came from, whose name many people wouldn't be able to pronounce is the same place that gives me strength and makes me who I am today.
Mama, it was tempting, to shed who I was, to alter my name and language to fit in with the popular crowd and forget myself. Thank you for never letting me me forget my first language by making me speak it with you. Now that I'm older and kinder with myself, I see the wisdom behind your urging to never forget my roots.
Thank you for being patient with me and with yourself as you learned to maneuver an unfamiliar world. The world around me and you is changing rapidly again but I'm sure that we will get through it with stronger morals having learned that it's never acceptable to accept less than what we deserve. As we work on a society that is more accepting of differences, and realizes that color is only skin deep and underneath we are all the same, I urge you to stay strong through it all.
Thank you for never giving up on yourself because through your example I learned to never give up on me. Remember, you are loved and I am grateful for your love and support.