This Is For My Neighbor

When I was a young child, my neighbor gave me red envelopes on Lunar New Year.

Previously, she frequently walked around the block. Even when she needed a walker and could move only slowly, she still made a point of walking around the block on a regular basis.

A few years ago, she stopped the walks because of a loss of mobility. Now she almost never leaves her home. When she does, she has company. Her live-in caregiver runs her errands.

A couple weeks ago, when the plum tree in our backyard was in full bloom, my neighbor spent much time looking at it through her bedroom window.

A photo of the plum tree from a couple weeks ago.

My neighbor is a Chinese American elderly woman.

To think that she is practically safe from violence by strangers because she spends almost all of her time at home is comforting. But she should be safe from violence even if she were walking around the block alone.

That she has a live-in caregiver to attend to her needs is good. Her family can afford to pay her caregiver. But not all Asian American families can afford that. Some Asian American seniors have no choice but to run errands alone. And even if they have a choice, if they choose to run their own errands anyway, they should be safe from violence while they do so.

My neighbor has been living here since before my mother immigrated to the United States, and my mother was the first in her family to come to this country. By any reasonable criteria, my neighbor is equally or more American than my mother. My neighbor’s American-born-and-raised descendants are just as American as I am.

My father is a fourth-generation American, just like many Asian Americans. Asian American families aren’t any less American than his family.

I make the above statements because I know that a lot of anti-Asian hate is blended with anti-foreigner and anti-immigrant hate. I affirm that, in the United States, Asian Americans are no more foreign than I am. Contrary to what my above statements implied, I don’t think Americanness should be measured in numbers of generations either: in some ways, immigrants are more American than those of us who were born here (though my own mother would be astonished if I ever said that she’s more American than I am).

But when it comes to harassing or committing violence against innocent people, Americaness or lack thereof does not matter. Even if the most non-American person in the world visits the United States, they should be safe from violence.

I know some of you, my dear readers, are Asian American. Also, according to my blog statistics, some of you have Asian IP addresses. I stand in solidarity with you.

I have a few links to share:

If you are not Asian American, I recommend reading “Please Stop Checking in With Me Because I’m Asian.” Since it’s behind a paywall, I’ll summarize it’s main points (aimed at non-Asian Americans): 1) acknowledge the human impact of tragedies BEFORE using other people’s tragedies as talking points, 2) when talking about racism against Asian Americans, promote Asian American voices, 3) making cookie-cutter public statements about condemning racism is not nearly as helpful as educating oneself 4) Before reaching out to Asian Americans, consider your intention: is it to help them or to get validation that you are not complicit in racism? 5) Lean into personal relationships, and don’t use cookie-cutter statements against racism when talking to people you know personally and 6) Be mindful of timing: don’t bring up anti-Asian racism with an Asian American when they are concentrating on a task, trying to relax and have fun, or it is an otherwise inappropriate time.

“L’Étranger” by Mike Fu, a quote, “What I mean is, the being-looked-at-ness of the foreigner, for me, is inextricable from the experience of being othered in the land where I actually did grow up.” Be sure to read the whole thing and leave a heart or a comment if it is worth your while.

Two articles from Mission Local: “Hate crimes add another dimension to what ‘safe’ means to Asian families weighing in-person learning” and “Chinese elders in Mission food lines brave threat of anti-Asian violence”. The first article discusses why Asian American families are now more reluctant than other groups to send their children back to in-person school, and the second gives an example of a point made above: not all Asian American seniors have the resources to avoid being out in public alone.

UPDATE: I also recommend one more link (paywalled): “Asian Dolls: I am not your token, fetish, or trending hashtag” about how the author, as a Korean American, is glad that this campaign is promoting some frank conversations about anti-Asian racism, but has reservations about the shallowness of the social media campaign. Here’s a quote:

A few years ago, a worship leader and singer in an R&B band came over to me with a mutual church friend and jokingly said out loud, as we headed to the buffet table, “How can you see any of the food with your slanted eyes?” Today, she’s one of many sycophants virtue-signaling #StopAsianHate on social media. Oof.”

2 thoughts on “This Is For My Neighbor

  1. I remember how I posted something last year about how there was only a slight increase in violence against Asians (in Germany, mind), and how this related to the pogroms against Jewish people in 1348/49. (There were other factors at work there, too, and Christianity has an inbuilt hate of Judaism, but still. Not so far off.)
    … I’m rather non-suprised but still disillusioned that I turned out to be wrong. It’s probably only a question of time until this kind of hate makes its jump across the Atlantic.

    • It’s hard to tell how much of the increase in reported incidents is because there are more incidents, and how much is because incidents are now more likely to be reported (especially in mainstream media). About ten years ago, a bunch of incidents of violence against Asian Americans was reported in the local (San Francisco) media as well. I suspect (though can’t prove) that recent violence in San Francisco (I don’t know about other places) is more related to the older causes than the pandemic. But regardless of the motivation, it’s wrong.

      There’s a lot to unpack about how this is playing out politically in San Francisco (not just the violence, also a certain school board member who has managed to get the attention of national media). I felt it was important to acknowledge the human side before I said anything about the petty politics, to make sure I kept my priorities straight.

      I also don’t want anything I say to come across as me treating this issue as a ‘fad’ or ‘trendy topic’ (I should add this essay to the links:

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