It’s so tempting to dwell in the rabbit hole and stories of hate and discrimination against Asians right now. I can spend hours scouring Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and pretty much everywhere I look on the internet. It is easy to find incidents after incidents in the last few weeks since COVID-19 became a familiar word in everyone’s vocabulary around the world.
This has been an especially challenging time for me, a self-proclaimed flaming optimist who prides on being a yenta of joy. I have always successfully found the good in people and situations. That is, until a few years ago when the political landscape shifted 180 degrees in the U.S. For the first time since I moved here from Taiwan in 1977, I felt pangs of unease and defensiveness for being an immigrant. I felt the increasing need to prove my American-ness in the midst of hearing “Go back to where you came from” and constant assaults on new immigrants and refugees. Even elected officials: longtime immigrants and U.S. born were under attack from political leaders. Nothing seems off the table when it comes to racism and xenophobia.
I rarely spoke up about how the current culture and discrimination against immigrants were taking a toll on my sense of security and wellbeing. After all, I have always plowed over past hurts. I can certainly grit my way through this new wave of emotional assault. I am a proud member of the SIUB (Suck It Up, Buttercup) club. I know how to armor up for hurts in order to belong and maintain my persona of success.
So, I got busy creating a new nonprofit, co-writing a book, starting a sole proprietor business, co-founding a consulting company, on top of caring for my mom, being a wife, and oh yeah self-care. It is a familiar, tried and true strategy to get so busy with to-dos to distract and numb myself from feeling negative feelings or process any trauma. Author Brene Brown has written extensively on the armors people wear to protect themselves from heartbreaks and vulnerability.
Nearly four years later, I have created a TV show, published a book, consulted new clients in two businesses, certified as a creative depth coach, stayed happily married, cared for Mom, and maintained my sanity. I had pulled it off - maintained positive under a racist administration and increased hostility towards immigrants. It seems my armor of positivity would stay safely intact.
Then the pandemic flu crisis happened. I started to read about growing discrimination against Asians who are being scapegoated and blamed for the Coronavirus. Over 1,100 incidents have been reported in the U.S. on Stop AAPI Hate, an online tracking site created only in mid-March. Everywhere I look are headlines of Asian harassment. The Law of Attraction to always finding what we focus on is fully demonstrated daily.
It would be so much easier to just surrender to the seduction of studying the alarming statistics, gobbling up story after story of attacks, feeding my growing anger with hundreds of tweets and other social media comments. It was even weirdly comforting to dwell in the anger and indignation. But I was feeling more and more vulnerable. It was harder and harder to ignore the negativity that seemed to be everywhere. As much as I wanted to stay upbeat, I knew I had to be real. It’s time to take off my armor and become vulnerable. I had to speak up. I had to rock the boat.
I have rarely admitted out loud how much I’ve been influenced by an old Chinese adage “big trees attract big winds.” I think it lurks in the back of my mind to stay small enough to not attract negative attention. The default motivation of striving and succeeding as an immigrant has propelled me enough to have a successful career as a nonprofit founder, social entrepreneur, author; but not stellar enough to be the truly big tree to attract big winds. I’ve played it safe.
Even writing an Op-Ed or social media posts in the last few days felt threatening, to show up on a bigger level. That’s why I had to do it. I am choosing to speak up about the invisible wounds from living in a time of coronavirus racism, so others won’t feel alone. Other successful immigrants, people of color, children of immigrants who have been mostly sheltered from discrimination in their cocoons of achievements and economic privilege. Many such leaders I interviewed have expressed their relief to realize they weren’t alone in feeling like they didn’t belong even though they’ve “made it” in this country.
I want to invite new and deeper conversations of living as an “Other” in the U.S. I want to be transparent about my fears and hear how others are coping with being a woman of color, “model minority” and immigrant.
I want to offer a safe space to talk about our collective pain as the “Others” and heal together as a community. This is a space where no hierarchy of pain exists. This means a person who is economically privileged who experienced psychological trauma is allowed the same opportunity to grief as someone who is a refugee who had to rebuild everything, a judgement-free zone.
I want to offer creativity and spirituality to help healing emotional wounds caused by trauma from racism, xenophobia, discrimination, and efforts to belong in a new country.
I want to collect stories of resilience, courage and contributions of women immigrants in particular because their voices are the dimmest in the media. Their stories will not only offer healing for themselves but inspirations to other women and girls.
I want to learn from history; the courageous men and women who stood up for the Muslims post-9/11, for the Jews during the Holocaust and other periods when minority groups were scapegoated for the crisis of the day. Then curate a collection of their stories and how they coped with and defeated racism and xenophobia so we can do the same, today.
I want to learn more about “respectability politics.”
I want to overcome my need for perfectionism in order to belong and help others like me.
I want to help celebrate our achievements as immigrant leaders contributing to making this country great.
Most importantly, I want to invite people to choose to act from inspiration rather than desperation. I want us to feel empowered, armed with effective strategies, talking points and stories so we will know how to speak up and add more love, kindness and compassion to our divided community.