Maya Martin-Spisak is a third-year student majoring in History, with a focus in Law and History, and double minoring in Linguistics and Book and Media Studies. She is from San Diego, California but has also lived in other parts of the U.S., the Philippines, Belgium and Taiwan. At St. Mike’s, she has served in various roles in the Mentorship Program, Orientation, Residence Council, and House Councils. She is currently serving as the Mentorship Program Coordinator and Residence Council President.
My Experience as an Asian-American Woman
Firstly, I want to acknowledge that the following article is about my personal experience and is not meant to represent anyone else’s.
I was originally going to write about my 58 days in self-isolation quarantine. However, due to the recent events in Atlanta and the steep rise in Asian hate crimes, I thought it was more suitable to write about my experience as an Asian-American woman, though I’m not sure what to write. There’s so much to unpack and I don’t know where to start without feeling overwhelmed. How am I supposed to react when people who look like me are the targets of assault and hate crimes? How are we supposed to speak with our communities in a way that is productive for everyone, including people who refuse to acknowledge the hardships of minority communities? There isn’t one way or easy answer to any of this. I’m still mulling over these questions and processing all the events that have happened in the past year. But I’ll tell you what I’ve come up with so far:
The murder of Sarah Everard was gut-wrenching. She took every safety precaution she could on her walk home. Everard’s case highlighted the violence and harassment women face. And not even two weeks later, we wake up to hear about the terrible events in Atlanta. It gave me a wave of emotions. I was devastated to hear about more violence against women and yet another mass shooting in my home country. It broke my heart that someone had deliberately targeted the spas and killed Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Soon Chung Park, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez and Paul Andre Michels. I felt infuriated when Captain Jay Baker defended the killer, saying that he was having a “bad day.” And I was scared by the thought that I or someone I knew could be a victim of another attack. But through all that, I was and still am thankful for my friends and family who reached out to offer their support.
Later that day, I tried going on a walk to recenter myself but after reading about the significant rise in Asian hate crimes in Canada, I found myself on edge and looking over my shoulder the entire time. As a woman, I’m always careful of where I go. However, due to recent events, I have felt like I needed to be even more cautionary because I am an Asian woman and I felt like those two factors made me a very vulnerable target. It was similar to a feeling I had almost a year ago at the start of the pandemic: people who looked like me did not belong here. Rewind to this time last year: It was after one of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s press conferences where he had blamed China for the spread of COVID-19 and referred to it as the “China virus.” I had gone to a store to pick up some moving supplies where I seemed to be one of two East Asian people there. The other customers in the store made a point to avoid the two of us at all cost as if we were the only two people who could carry and spread COVID-19. The customers didn’t care about how close they stood to each other as long as the other East Asian person and I weren’t near them. In both cases, I was scared of the people who were scared of me because of their prejudice against Asians.
This prejudice is not new; it has been around for a long time. In Canadian history, many policies have codified Asian prejudice into law. The Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 made it so that the Chinese were the only ethnic group required to pay taxes to enter the country, and through the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923 the government banned Chinese immigration with little exceptions. An indirect result of these acts was the model minority myth, along with micro-aggressions, stereotypes, slurs, and fetishization—all of which are still present today and things I have experienced.
It’s taken a lot of effort to work through my identity. I am a Chinese adoptee raised in an American family. I don’t speak Mandarin, celebrate a majority of Chinese holidays, or have Chinese family members. When I was younger, I didn’t feel part of the Asian community. But even then, I had internalized and normalized a lot of the micro-aggressions, stereotypes, and model minority myths used against the Asian community. The “(you are not American, you are a foreigner) where are you really from?” and the “You’re good at that because you’re Asian.” I found myself discrediting my achievements and hard work by attributing them to my ethnicity instead. There was a point where I wished I had paler skin and Eurocentric features because of the media around me. I grew up in a household that pushed me to study what I wanted, but I still felt ashamed when I decided to major in the humanities over STEM because of the Asian STEM stereotype. And yes, being polite and successful are great traits to strive for but the model minority myth takes those characteristics and erases the rich diversity of Asian–North American backgrounds by creating a monolithic monster full of misconceptions. It took me years of work to break down those internal stereotypes, prejudices, and myths that had been part of my foundations from an early age. And I know I’m not done. Erasing those preconceived notions and internalized racism will be something I have to work on for the rest of my life.
In relation to recent events, I am grateful that people have taken to their media platforms to educate themselves on facts and misconceptions about Asian communities. But it’s not enough. It takes a lot of time to read, question yourself, and feel uncomfortable to undo the prejudices that are rooted deep within ourselves. And it’s important to listen to the stories and experiences people give, they can provide a perspective you might have not thought of.
Overall, my experience as an Asian-American woman has been difficult at times but I wouldn’t change it. I’ve grown a lot and become more confident in my own skin and great heritage. I hope other people find ways to do the same.
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