I’m Asian American And My Voice Counts In This Election

by Giselle Cheung

Last month, a woman yelled, “Go back to China!” at a US-born New York Times editor. He then wrote “An Open Letter to the Woman Who Told My Family to Go Back to China.” He began, “Maybe I should have let it go. Turned the other cheek.”

So many Asian Americans do turn the other cheek. As both a female and a racial minority in the US, I was taught by example that the easiest route is to shut up and take it. As Vox’s Matt Yglesias recently wrote, the “ability to perform anger without coming across as the wrong kind of person is still a privilege in the 21st-century United States” — a privilege white men are afforded.

I’ve watched the 2016 presidential election; I’ve read about how “unrelatable” Hillary Clinton is.

To me, Hillary is more relatable than any other candidate I’ve ever watched earn a major party presidential nomination. This election has been a public validation of everything my peers and I have experienced since starting our careers. Hillary has quietly, consistently, and effectively achieved more in her field than any of her opponents. Two former US presidents call her more qualified than they are. To watch her fight for a seat at a table with an opponent who is not prepared to be there is cathartic. She has let her actions speak for people who felt they didn’t have a voice, and in doing so, she’s paved the way for those people to speak up for themselves.

She’s also why I recently shared some of my own experiences with discrimination as an Asian American woman. A subset is listed in chronological order, by year:

1993: I’m five years old and in kindergarten. My family has moved around a lot this year: I’ve attended four different schools, one in Little Rock, Arkansas, and three throughout Dallas county, Texas. My dad’s funeral was last month. My mom has pinned small black squares of fabric to our clothes — you know, little mourning flags. I don’t know English yet, and two boys who live in my neighborhood spit on me as we’re waiting for the bus after school.

1995: In second grade, white boys at Wilson Elementary cut in front of me in the lunch line and shout, “CHINESE CUT!” referencing that they had cut behind their friend and in front of me. Clever grade-schoolers making social commentary on China being backward. The “Chinese cut” is so-named because you’re cutting in front of a person of Chinese descent. This is necessary, of course, when you perform so many varieties of cutting — one for Chinese cutting, one for Mexican cutting, etc. Silly boys, you don’t need to cut. It’s always your turn anyway.

1996: In the third grade, I begin fulfilling stereotypes. I am very, very good at stereotypes. I teach the multiplication tables to one of the boys who spit on me three years ago.

2001: A US spy plane is downed in China. It’s all over the news. I am in eighth grade. An elderly white woman approaches my sister and me at the local mall and says, “Do you know when they’re going to return our plane to us?”

2005: In my junior year of high school, one of my classmates, who actually looks a lot like a young Donald Trump, copies my statistics homework daily. He steals my quiz off my desk one day, and I take it back. The next day, he takes my homework to copy and declares, “That’s more like it.” He talks of running for president and building a wall within which to hold all of the Asian people. But then, who will calculate the statistical impossibility of that for you?

Last week, I left a job that required travel to Asia monthly. In Asia, I receive comments like, “Oh, you don’t look American. You look like one of us, but…(you’re not)” from my business partners. And after landing at San Francisco International Airport, my home hub, the customs agents ask, “Are you from Hong Kong? Where’re you visiting from?” Discrimination can often be subtle and insidious, so it’s jarring to be told from multiple angles that you do not belong anywhere.

We all — myself, Trump, and my bullies included — fear the unknown. The majority fears foreigners, change, being in the minority. The majority understands that minorities are at a disadvantage in the US, and the positions held by the Democratic and Republican parties are rational (in the self-serving sense of the word). For a long time, the rhetoric has gone like this:

Democrat: Enact policy to improve the lives of minorities to ensure that when I’m a minority, I’m treated equally, with dignity and respect, or because I am a minority.

Republican: Enact policy to ensure that the current power holders remain in power.

One of the key differences I see between these two positions is time. The first takes a long-term view on a structural change, and the second takes a short term view on a temporary trend. If put to the marshmallow test, Democrats would wait to eat the marshmallow, and after longingly holding the marshmallow to their noses, they would introduce legislation to provide everyone sufficient marshmallows for the rest of their lives. Republicans would immediately eat the marshmallow, then go home and ask their rich dads to stockpile marshmallows, hire immigrants to build a wall out of marshmallows to protect their other marshmallows, and send the marshmallow bill to Mexico.

Similarly, while it may be short-term rational for me to stew in fear and let discrimination slide, it’s long-term rational to speak up. We’re not a temporary trend. S’more, anyone?

Top photo: Flickr/yaquina

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