Lately, my students have been big on tattling.
They probably don't think that they are. They usually don't. I have so many well-intentioned, rule-following students who believe it to be their noblest and highest duty to faithfully report all the goings-on in the land.
"Mrs. Choi, Sasha's being bad. She spilled the water and didn't even clean it up so I did it all for her."
"Mrs. Choi, guess what. Joseph poked Ezra in the ribs a few times. Like, THREE times. Yup. I totally sawed it. With my own eyes."
"Mrs. Choi, Mrs. Choi! Y'know what? You'll never guess what. EVERYBODY left the table in, like, a HUGE mess. Like you wouldn't believe. And I'm the only one that cleaned everything up. All by myself!"
In moments like these, I know what children are expecting. They want me to frown with displeasure, express loud disappointment with said miscreants, and smother them with praise for being such angels. In fact, one cheeky kindergartener went so far as to say this a few days ago -
"Everyone else is so bad. Aren't you so lucky that you have me, the only good one?"
I snagged the teachable moment and explained, "Sadie, there's no such thing as bad people. Just people who make unfortunate - and sometimes bad - choices."
But lately I've begun to wonder.
[ WARNING: POTENTIAL TRIGGERS AHEAD ]
When I see things like this -
or this -
and heartbreaking shares from close friends like this -
I begin to wonder whether I might've told Sadie an untruth.
There are evil people.
Hate crimes against those of Asian or Asian American descent have been on the rise these past few years. There's a different headline nearly every day, and with each hesitant click, our eyeballs get suffused with graphic images of relentless beatings, acid throwing, and inexplicable ugliness.
I won't even get into all the rest. There are too many, and if you dared to click on any of those links above, I think you get the grisly picture.
On rare mornings when I can wake up with fresh mental fortitude, I dare to click too. I read the articles and blink back the tears. I grit my teeth through the surveillance videos. But on most mornings, I take note and continue scrolling past just a little faster, past the pictures, past the terrifying words, past the announcement of yet another grievous tally mark on this hate-filled chalkboard.
At some point last year, I started getting terribly anxious and paranoid. Wherever I went, I was constantly swiveling to glance behind me and check for suspicious characters. It got tiresome - both on my nerves and my cricked neck - so my husband and I eventually decided it might be best for me to hang a keychain mace upon my keys. Especially after what recently happened right here in Atlanta.
That was a little more than a year ago. Since then, it's been an endless deluge of reports, each hitting closer and closer to home. It feels like an evil buzzard is circling closer and closer to my loved ones, and I'm powerless against it because I don't know how, who, where, or when. Only that it might. So when passing friends and colleagues get to do things like walk to their car in a parking lot, or get on public transportation, or just do life with such casual and fearless nonchalance, I am so jealous.
Because I am constantly terrified that a simple trip to the grocery store could be fatal for me or my people.
Every time I see another post, I can't help but superimpose my parents' browbeaten yet cheery faces over these mangled, beaten ones.
I feel gut-punched as I think about my Umma, who introduced our Yankee family to grits, expertly plaited our hair every morning before school, and swallowed so many tears over the years so that she could be the stone-faced bedrock for our family.
I think about my Appa, who endured countless taunts as one of few heavily accented, naturalized citizens working as a government civil engineer. For over twenty-five consecutive years, Umma would have to pry, poke, and prod him out of bed, so reluctant was he to face another day at a toxically racist workplace each morning. But he would eventually shrug on his worn coat and head out the door without complaint so that our family would never have to worry about shelter or food.
I didn't know most of this until after he'd already retired, when Umma made glossing mention of it. When I stubbornly pressed for further details, he reluctantly admitted that, yes, he once faced daily jeers, hateful taunts, and even sabotage.
"What you gonna' do?" he grinned jauntily and waved a dismissive hand. "It's gonna' happen. But I know God is in control."
I think about my father-in-law, who sold his marriage home to immigrate to a foreign country and take a chance on running a small grocery store in Manhattan.
I think about my mother-in-law, who remained behind in South Korea with their newborn baby - my now-husband - while her long-distance husband forged a path for them an entire ocean away in America.
I think about so many other elder aunties and uncles who have had some indelible hand in my life journey, all of whom are now potential targets of senseless violence because of what their face looks like.
Most of all, I think about the sweet, ever-smiling, yogurt-covered faces of my nieces and nephew, whose unmarred faith in kindness and helpful people allows them to continue to believe in happy endings. I desperately want them to grow up in a world where they don't have to walk this planet with such caution, fearfully wielding keychains like mine.
Can I be honest about something else here?
I kind of hate that this post will be sorted as an 'Out of the Box Thought' on my site*. (*Author's note: This post was once categorized into a section of my blog called 'Out of Box Thoughts')
That will have to be its de facto category, since this post isn't about my students, or books, or eating.
But when it comes to the basic rights of a human being to live, breathe, and exist...I detest the thought that a person's liberty to simply be, might be deemed an 'out of box' thought. Even on my own website.
James and I have been wondering, researching, and looking for ways we might be able to support efforts to curb APISA hate crimes. So whether you're like me - scared and feeling the need to do something other than waiting for something to happen, or maybe you're an ally looking to stand in support, here are a few worthy causes that James and I are considering to multiply our impact as a couple -
- Find one victim or a victim's family that you can support with even a cup of coffee's worth of support. If you can, reach out to just one more.
- Uplift small Asian-owned businesses or local community causes.
- Help struggling Asian American communities stay afloat
- Support advocacy groups and associations that seek to support resources and affordable care, like the National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association or Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
If you know of other worthy and reliable causes, please, please, please share them in the comments section below.
Most importantly, if you know someone who has a face like mine, just know that we're scared. We might not be openly talking about it, but we see all the headlines and it's always in the back of our minds. So please don't pretend it's not happening. Scroll past the images if you must (I almost always do, since they tend to deflate whatever petering hope I had in humanity). But it would go such a long way to hear you express care and concern.
You don't have to try to find the right words. There are none. And people who are hurting don't even have the bandwidth to judge how politically correct you are. So don't script or rehearse anything, and don't worry about not being able to fix things for us. Just checking in is a great start.
Like any heated round of Monopoly or Settlers of Catan, this is a game of strategic allies. So if you can visit these websites and help any of these causes, I'm grateful for your willingness to participate in a collective force of war against attacks on my or someone else's Umma and Appa, Mama and A Ba, or Amma and Baba.
And if, by some chance, you end up an unwitting witness to something unfortunate (and rising statistics suggest a growing likelihood that you might), please act. Whether it's a microaggression against a colleague of color or a full-on hate crime, this is one of those circumstances when being a tattletale might be a really great thing.
Of course, don't tell my students I ever said that.
About the author
First it was the crayon.
Then my first novel, handwritten on 104 pieces of school looseleaf paper. The pages of this proud number were bound with thumb-smeared rice.
And now I'm here.
More of this wild mind at pageandspoon.com