When you walk down the street, can you tell what nationality I am? Can you tell from the color of my skin that I’m American, besides being Asian? Or even more so, an Asian Jew?
These questions may not enter one’s mind in passing, but don’t we all have preconceived ideas about anyone we see on the street? This week’s shooting resulted in 8 deaths, six of whom were Asian women. A 21-year old white man in Atlanta, GA was the perpetrator. Racial issues have become much more pronounced and how could they not? Almost daily, we hear of shootings and other killings, whether here in the US or abroad. Terrorist-driven or not, the issue of race has been the common denominator for it.
I may not look American (what does it even mean?), but I came to this country as an immigrant and received my citizenship when I was 15 years old. My parents left a dictatorial regime to live in a country where freedom was embraced. Their bravery to escape the ideals they couldn’t accept and leave behind their families gave us the opportunity to dream and exert the freedom that wasn’t readily available to them.
Was it an easy transition? I naively thought it would be. Since I was educated in English, I didn’t think I would be noticed, and for a while I wasn’t. My high school and college years were pretty uneventful. I had friends and was socially active in an environment that was culturally diverse. My friends were Irish, African-American, Italian, Indian, White, and Filipino. While we all came from different races, we never considered ourselves as different; that was one of the reasons I never thought I would be singled out or stereotyped, but two incidents would change how I saw myself and how others saw me.
My first encounter was while I was searching for an apartment after moving out of my parents’ home. As a young adult who had just landed her first real job, I thought it was time to be on my own. Looking for an apartment was far from easy and I was willing to commute. My apartment search took me to New York City but the rent was not affordable for me at the time so I ventured to search in Brooklyn. It was while I was walking around my prospective neighborhood where I encountered my initial brush with racism.
As I was being shown around the neighborhood by my prospective housemate, I noticed two young women coming towards us. Not thinking anything of it, I kept walking on the sidewalk until I was almost face to face with these women, then it happened. As they were about to pass me, the one closest to me pushed me onto the street with oncoming traffic. Had I not caught myself from falling, I might have been hit by a car. I was shocked and taken aback because I had no clue why I was pushed, other than the fact that this young woman didn’t like the way I looked.
The second encounter happened as I was waiting for my husband to come out of a meeting. As I stood there, one of the men who had just come out of the same meeting started a conversation with me by asking what my nationality was. When he found out that I was Filipina, he asked if I was a mail-order bride because he was waiting for his bride to arrive in the US within a few weeks. After the initial shock of being classified as a mail-order bride without knowing who I was, I became angry. I informed him that I had been a New Yorker for most of my life as a US citizen and I was not a mail-order bride. My anger dissipated after a few minutes because I realized that this was just another stereotype that’s been projected via presumption of someone coming from a low income country. It’s an unfair assumption that Filipinas who come to the States are here to get a husband and become a citizen. In addition, the perception of Asian women to be fetishized by men like the murderer in Atlanta is demeaning and misogynistic.
While it’s true that there are women from the Philippines who come here to make a future for themselves or their family, making that a reality is through education and finding a job, not procuring a husband. Yes, there are women from the Philippines and other countries whose goal is to find a husband in order to provide for their families back home, but that’s not every woman. The women who were murdered in Atlanta were targeted by this man as a result of his own warped perceptions of Asian women.
Attacks on Asians have never been as visible or prevalent until the pandemic, and these recent attacks have become deadly. According to a New York Times article this past week, “In December, slurs about Asians and the term “Kung Flu” rose by 65 percent on websites and apps like Telegram, 4chan and The Donald, compared with the monthly average mentions from the previous 11 months on the same platforms, according to the Network Contagion Research Institute. The activity remained high in January and last month.” Pointing the fingers at Asians for the existence of COVID-19 combined with forced locked down for a year has made it convenient for so many to spew hatred on them. Even more disturbing is that according to NBC Asia America,”The research released by reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate on Tuesday revealed nearly 3,800 incidents were reported over the course of roughly a year during the pandemic”, 68% of which were reported by women.
As a woman whose daughter is Filipina and White, I have encountered some other stereotypes that nowadays, just make me shake my head. Questions like “oh are you her Mom?” when at a cash register paying for something or the look from me to her, wondering whether I’m some relative, makes me want to scream, “can’t you just keep your thoughts to yourself?”, but alas, there is always someone who makes unsolicited comments.
The shooting in Atlanta has made me realize how far we still have to go. Targeting races that are viewed as Other or Non-White is not new, given the history of slavery in this country. There are still inequalities in jobs and pay experienced by those who are not considered “white enough” or are a woman. Not everyone I meet will know my nationality right away, and it shouldn’t matter, but given the violence perpetrated by this past week, I’m not so sure.
My daughter has never experienced being stereotyped as a result of her race. I pray she never does, but in these uncertain times, who knows who will be targeted next? For people like my parents and so many others who came here looking for freedom and a chance to have a better life, the events this past week are a reminder that one’s race shouldn’t be the litmus test of who deserves to live in this country. Just like my parents and so many immigrants who defied all odds to come to this country, I will not be defined by my race because I am more than what you first see. I’m a human being…and Asian, shouldn’t that be enough?
Tes Silverman was born in Manila, Philippines and has been a New Yorker for over 30 years. Moving from the Philippines to New York opened the doors to the possibility of a life of writing and travel. Before starting a family, she traveled to Iceland, Portugal, Belgium, and France, all the while writing about the people she met through her adventures. After starting a family, she became a freelance writer for publications such as Newsday’s Parents & Children and various local newspapers. Fifteen years ago, she created her blog, The Pinay Perspective. PinayPerspective.com is designed to provide women of all ages and nationalities the space to discuss the similarities and differences on how we view life and the world around us. As a result of her blog, she has written for BlogHer.com and has been invited to attend and blog about the Social Good Summit and Mom+Social Good. In addition, she is a World Voice Editor for World Moms Network and was Managing Editor for a local grass roots activism group, ATLI(Action Together Long Island). Currently residing in Virginia Beach, VA with her husband, fourteen year-old Morkie and a three year old Lab Mix, she continues to write stories of women and children who make an impact in their communities and provide them a place to vocalize their passions.
Today we have a special World Mom Feature post by Loren Braunohler in Bangkok, Thailand of Toddle Joy. If you would like to contribute a post and be featured on World Moms Blog, contact contribute2@[at]worldmomsblog[dot]com!
“In Asia, It’s a Fair-Haired Child’s World”
Whether I want to accept it or not, I’ve become Kris Jenner. Yes, if being a full-time mom and keeping up with my children’s schedules, meals, nap times, and need for love and attention wasn’t keeping me busy enough, I am now their “momager”. Quite by default, to be honest.
In the U.S., my children are just two more fair-haired toddlers bumbling down the grocery store aisle. There is no additional pomp and circumstance; no extra drama to add to the already chaotic toddler lifestyle. They are just themselves – Logan and Katelyn – growing up and doing typical toddler things – amidst a sea of other toddlers: some of whom look like them, some of whom look very different from them, thanks to America’s melting pot phenomenon.
But hop on a flight across the Pacific, and my two fair-haired children are received very differently. So differently, in fact, that it is striking. In Asia, they are rock stars.
They are mini-celebrities. They are novelties. And everyone, from the noodle soup guy on the street to the wealthy Mercedes-wielding apartment building owner, wants to get their hands on them. And kiss them. And squeeze them. And talk to them. And hold them. And show them off to their friends.
There is our daily walk to and from the grocery store, which should take about five minutes each way, but instead takes ten or fifteen because of friendly people on the street who want a chance to entertain my children. There are the constant photos, anywhere and everywhere really, taking pictures of my son ambling down the street with his sunglasses on or my daughter “helping” me shop at the Tuesday clothes market.
There are the restaurant servers who happily whisk my children away for a walk back to the kitchen to show them off to the chefs (bonus: mom and dad actually get to eat together for a minute or two). And there is the occasional passerby who videotapes my son as he indulges in a soft serve ice cream cone.
In the U.S., this kind of attention would be creepy to the point of suspect. In Thailand, however, it is 100 percent normal and accepted. In fact, to be completely honest, it would be odd if no one were paying attention to your fair-haired baby.
Although I had read about the attention that Caucasian children received in Southeast Asia, I was not prepared for the deluge of attention that would be lavished upon my children when we arrived. At first it was difficult – and at times onerous – for me to deal with, but after two years in Thailand, I have learned to appreciate and understand this unique cultural difference. Thai people really love children, and they really, really love to interact with Caucasian fair-haired children. We have had similar experiences when traveling in Hong Kong, Bali, and Cambodia.
If you plan to visit or make a move to Asia with your fair-haired children, be aware that this, too, will likely happen to you. And as a parent to newly-minted mini-celebs, you have to figure out how to manage the overwhelming amount of attention your children receive, how they deal with it, and above all, how you deal with it.
Do your children meet their new-found “fame” with laughter, confusion, fright, boredom, or all of the above? And what about you? How do you deal with strangers going gaga over your offspring? What about holding them? Photographing them? Videotaping them? Are you out of your comfort zone yet?
If I could offer you some tips, they would go something like this:
Factor in more time to do, well, anything when you have your children out in public with you.
Always, always be polite, even if you find the attention annoying or overwhelming.
Learn to relax a little – you are in a new place and the rules are different.
Don’t let it keep you from exploring the new things around you.
It took some time for us to get used to managing the attention Logan and Katelyn receive. There are days I wish we could walk down the street unnoticed and make it to our destination in record time. But for the most part, I am so thankful to be living in a part of the world where children are cherished, adored and loved – even if mostly for their novelty factor.
The constant personal interaction has shaped Logan and Katelyn into social and confident young people, and for this, I am eternally grateful. Our only concern at this point is how much of a dive our children’s egos will take when we move home. But that, my friend, is a bridge we will cross when we get there.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Loren Braunohler in Thailand. Loren and her family moved to Bangkok in November 2010. A former U.S. diplomat who served in Mozambique, Venezuela, Sudan, Washington DC, and Thailand, Loren resigned from the U.S. Foreign Service in July 2011 to be a full-time mom to son Logan, now age two and a half, and daughter Katelyn, age eleven months. In 2012, Loren started Toddle Joy, an online blog and resource for expat parents of young children who are new to Bangkok.
Through her blog, she hopes to inform and inspire others about the joys of raising a toddler, both in general, and in a place like Thailand, where children are continuously adored and amazed by the world around them. Loren is also a freelance writer and has published pieces in Travel +Leisure (Southeast Asia) and Bangkok Mothers and Babies International (BAMBI) Magazine. On the web front, she regularly contributes to Expecting Expats.
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