I wish I had the emotional capacity to be shocked, but I think I’m just numb. How can I give myself the space to grieve when the violence we face is so active and so ignored?
My parents didn’t raise me as a fighter or an activist, but as a survivor, because they knew that the only thing that would help my brother and I succeed was to survive long enough to assimilate into the promise of America. But these brutal killings over the past year show us that, despite everything, we will always be tied to some foreign Other — used as fodder under American imperialism and forever scapegoated when the U.S. fails to take care of its own people. The worst part is that despite knowing about the condition of being Asian in America, even I am numb to the pain of my own community.
In “The Souls of Black Folk,” W.E.B. Du Bois talks about a “double consciousness,” where the first is to see yourself from the eyes of another and the second is to exist as yourself. Asians in America are so fragmented and so stratified that we don’t even have a collective second consciousness. We only have the first –– a consciousness that doesn’t even belong to us. This renders our pain invisible to both insiders and outsiders.
As I sit here thinking through my numbness and my inability to access the grief that should come with existing as an Asian woman, I think about why my parents chose to move back to China in the mid ’80s.
Despite having the option to “go back to China,” which is a privilege that not many of the diaspora have, there’s a part of me that’s still unable to access the grief I need to feel to release the twisted knot in my chest and in my psyche.
For the most part, my mother was right. In America, we will always be seen as Asian first and as people second. Where my parents were wrong is perhaps where my youth translates directly into hope. Our liberation has always been tied to other people of color, and as we figure out how to revive a shared political consciousness in our own local community of Asians, I believe that we’ll have the space to grieve and feel and one day march without an alignment to whiteness — with a consciousness that’s wholly and completely our own.
What does it mean to be Asian in America?
It is to have inherited the trait of being an invisible survivor, and to eventually realize that you have the choice to cry freedom from the hilltops and carve out the space to be seen.