Almost a month ago, Chris and I were verbally harassed with anti-asian slurs by a white man at a local grocery store.
Of course, people can ask: what did you do to provoke him? why didn’t you call the police? why didn’t you fight back? why did you run away? why didn’t you say something? why didn’t call someone to help you?
There’s no reason to answer any of them. Because when you’re enduring it, when you’re the victim, there’s nothing you can do. But everyone else…will they say anything?
I had always hated these words used to describe me—”nice” and then later in life, not in the lustful way “cute”. It was a way to both infantilize and ultimately minimize who I was. Like there were no other words to describe me as the person that I am.
In the last few years, I have been questioning the foundation of how I became the person that I am today. How did my Americaness and Asianess play into that identity? How did the (unknown???) slow childhood development play into it? And perhaps all the coddling, all the anxiety from my parents that I wasn’t learning…how did that have an influence?
Maybe I am seeking just an answer. Min Jin Lee’s piece on speaking had been provocative for so long.
In school, I could envision myself giving the presentation. Like the time in eighth grade giving a English presentation about my Chinese background, I imagined myself standing in front of class telling them about the stories that I knew and highlighting them through a book that we read. I saw myself as a performer—radical, funny, entertaining. But when it came time, my heart beated fast and I shuffled to the front of the class, at the time in a trailer on the side of the middle school campus. My voice could barely increase above the volume of a whisper and I am not even sure if I said what I wanted to say.
That is to say, I internally craved the spotlight. But never was able to execute perfectly with my external self.
Of course, over time, I learned how to speak. Yes, perhaps practicing and honing through online conversations so that my thoughts actually made sense through typed word. I often joked about it in my early twenties—”I wouldn’t exist if the internet didn’t exist!” referencing how I spent hours talking to people online letting my identity form by the six to ten chat boxes that would occur everyday from waking to sleep. And that’s before a smart phone! For whatever reason, whether it’s that internalized fear, I gravitated toward jobs that required public speaking. I could tell everyone better than they did! I would think. But it rarely was ever true.
What is it to be someone whose words are unheard? What about being someone who wants the words to be heard? I may draft over and over again, rehearse and rehearse until the words are burnt into my brain. But I can only look at stare at someone’s eyes, now imaginary through the camera lens of my computer, and hope that I make a connection.