When do I get to be an American?

This week’s shootings in Atlanta are unfortunately the latest in a growing number of violent acts against the Asian American community. These recent events — from the Atlanta shootings to multiple, horrible stories of (elderly) Asian men and women being attacked unprovoked — sting. The victims could have been my parents. They could have been my childhood friends. It could have been me. 

I was born in Seoul and am the proud daughter of immigrants. My parents moved to the States in their thirties with little money to their names. They had university degrees from prestigious South Korean institutions that held no weight in corporate America, especially with their lack of English skills. We were the first of our families to set out West, and we came in pursuit of the American Dream. And guess what? We made it. 

My parents are lifelong entrepreneurs, founders of their own small businesses. When they immigrated to America, they accepted that they’ll have to pay the cultural and economic price to earn a brighter future for their children. So they tolerated being made fun of for their accents. They bit their tongues when being scammed because they struggled to negotiate in English. They paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes without benefitting from Social Security and Medicaid benefits. They swallowed the loneliness that comes from being made to feel different yet rendered invisible. 

I have my father’s insatiable curiosity and penchant for thinking big. I have my mother’s compassion and steady resilience. But we are also not cut from the same cloth. I, alongside millions of Asian Americans in the U.S., see myself as just that: an American. Not all of us were born here, but we grew up here. We studied here. We earned jobs here. We contribute to our communities here. We don’t see ourselves any less deserving of the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness afforded to any other American. Comedian Hasan Minhaj put it best: “We have the audacity of equality.

If your Asian friends haven’t publicly shared their concerns, it may be that they are still processing. Asians are not a monolith. There are 21+ million Asians in the U.S., and different ethnic groups have their own unique multi-cultural experiences. There are many of us who have led very privileged lives, and we may be unpacking our own frustrations towards a society that promotes meritocracy and equality yet punishes us when we don’t neatly fit into its stereotypes of us. Layer on top of that the dehumanization and fetishization of Asian women, in particular, and there is a lot to contend with. 

So if you take notice of and enjoy our food, our music, our films, our culture, take a moment to remember that our country is beautiful because we embrace a variety of cultures. #StopAsianHate is a step to remind ourselves that we are first and foremost Americans.

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