I was in elementary school when I was first called "China Boy." To be honest, I was so offended that he mistook my ethnicity, I don't think it registered that he was actually insinuating that I was "other," that being Asian meant that we are all Chinese and are something to be mocked, disrespected and looked down upon. I corrected him, telling him "I'm Korean" and then promptly pushed him off the jungle gym.
In seventh grade, an eighth grader on my bus route had selected me as his personal punching bag. I appeared non-threatening to him; an easy target, docile and submissive. I didn't fight back or stand up to him. I just tried to laugh it off where I could and hoped that he passed his classes and moved onto high school so I could ride the bus in peace.
These are small anecdotes that represent some of the physical, verbal and emotional harassment that Asian Americans face every single day. We all have firsthand experience of being treated as other, as subhuman, as a fetish, a joke, a disease, as an outsider, and as a punching bag. We’ve all seen eyes pulled back and slanted. We've been told that we are “exotic,” or “lucky to be here.” We’ve been asked “where are you really from,” as if it’s impossible that we’re really American. We've all been called slurs or "ching-chong." We've been told to "go back to where we came from" or "speak English." We've been threatened, abused, attacked, killed and denied justice.
In America, Asians are stereotyped as the “model minority;” high-achieving, studious, non-threatening foreigners who won’t fight back; the typical nerdy stereotype. We’re seen as sneaky, conspiring and untrustworthy. Asian women face the intersectionality of gender as fetishized, hypersexual objects and are represented as a deviant temptress. These stereotypes are found throughout our country's history: The Page Act, Chinese Exclusion Act, Yellow-peril, Japanese American Internment, Yellow-fever and Western Imperialism.
America is seeing a terrifying rise in the amounts of reported hate crimes and harassment against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), at rates as high as 10 cases per day. It breaks my heart, it terrifies me, and it keeps me up at night. What hurts worse is the silence, lack of empathy, and even participation in this that I see in my circles. It sends a clear message to me that my family's safety is not valid or important. By the way, if you are not part of the oppressed community, you don’t get to decide what is and isn’t oppression.
While I want help and support from allies, what helps is to stop talking about how sorry you are, listen and educate yourself. Listen to the experiences of the AAPI community, learn our history, and understand that this issue is bigger than a president or a virus. Refusing to acknowledge the experience and histories of oppressed groups—being “colorblind”—doesn’t help, it only excuses your from engaging. I promise, the man with the gun, the racists, the hate groups and bigots, they do see color.
But awareness alone doesn't solve issue. Donate your time and money to anti-hate groups and relief efforts for victims affected by violence. Support Asian-owned businesses. Vote in local and state elections for policies and leaders who stand for justice and protection of our communities. Speak out when you see or hear acts of violence or hate occurring. Hate is like a fire, and even if you don't actively spread the fire, unless you grab a bucket and get to work, it will continue to burn everything.
Looking back, I wish I would've chosen resistance rather than humor. I wish I would've been braver and stood up for myself, but in all honesty, I was, and am more worried about my safety, and that of my wife and infant son. So, like my parents before me, I will work to show him that he can be himself and that he is loved. I will show him that I will do everything in my power to keep him safe. I will train him to defend himself in word and action in the times that I can't keep him safe. I'll tell him that fitting in isn't everything, that its more important to be happy as who you are versus what is easy, that he has the right to be safe and loved and those are not mutually exclusive. I will pray that he has allies that will support him and fight by his side. Then the world will show him that it's better to fit in than to be yourself, it'll call him China Boy. And in that moment, I hope he tells the world exactly who he is and pushes the whole thing off the jungle gym.
Daniel Bliss is a 2011 Centennial High School graduate. This piece was adapted from his original blog post “China Boy” at blissinthewind.wordpress.com/2021/03/18/china-boy.