I’ve been wanting to share this story for a long time now, but I’ve also never felt ready to tell more people than I’m comfortable with about this. Considering May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I thought this could be the perfect time to share a personal experience with you…
I am a proud Asian-American. My mom emigrated here from the Philippines and my dad is a first-generation Chinese-American. I am proud of who I am, where my family comes from, and how hard they have worked to get to where we are today. I consider myself as an American, but I haven’t always felt the same as every other American kid.
I never felt like I was different until I started getting teased about how my eyes were shaped or my appearance or the kinds of food I ate. It made me feel self-conscience as a kid and I tried to fit in and be more “American”. It kinda worked, but not really. (Read Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang. Basically, explains my childhood) Other than that, I had an awesome childhood. Did gymnastics and cheer, hung out with friends, did decently in school. The usual suburban upbringing. My college experience was amazing too. Made new friends, met my boyfriend, and I got my first job.
I started working as a sales associate at Victoria’s Secret PINK the summer of my sophomore year in college. I loved my job, I loved my coworkers, and the clothes were so freaking cute. I have SO many great memories from working there, but I will never forget an incident that made me realize there are still racist ignorant people out there in the world.
I was ringing up customers at the registers alongside one of my coworkers. My coworker was ringing up a Caucasian man and his Caucasian girlfriend while I was busy ringing up a different customer. His conversation started off as the normal small talk you have while waiting to pay for your things. It wasn’t until I heard him talking rudely about the employees at the food court that I started paying more attention. He started talking about how the Asian employees at Mrs. Fields are gross and disgusting and it’s ridiculous that they don’t speak English well. He continued saying that Asians should not be in the front of the store because it doesn’t give a good aesthetic to customers and they would be better off in the back instead. He then turned and looked directly. at. me. Look, I’ve experienced racist comments before but nothing as direct as this. I was so shocked that I just stood there with a look on my face like “Is this dude fucking forreal right now?!” My also shocked coworker was standing there staring at both of us not knowing what to say or do. I turned back to my customer to finish ringing her up and didn’t say anything to him. I was too shocked and angry. The second he left, I wished I said something to him or to my manager. I couldn’t believe something so blatantly racist and judgmental came out of this man’s mouth in the freaking 21st century. This is the kind of stuff you see on the internet but never think it would happen to you. My 19-year-old self never thought I would encounter someone like him. I know other parts of the country and the world are still racially segregated, but I guess the open-minded California bubble has protected me from comments like these. Until now.
I’ve written this post over and over again trying to figure out what message I’m really trying communicate by telling this story, but I think my message is that this kind of shit still happens all. the. time. It happens more often than it should to people you already know. Like many other Asian-Americans and minorities, I’ve been told to go back to my country. I’ve been called a “chink”. I’ve had people yell “ching chong” or other racial slurs at me. I’ve had people tell me they’re surprised at how well my parents speak English. I’ve had people tell me I’m not Filipino enough or Chinese enough. I’ve had people tease me about how I look or how the foods I eat is weird. I’ve heard it all.
I’ve felt alienated because of my ethnicity, but I know there are many other minorities who have similar experiences and I don’t want them to feel alone. We can lean on each other. Racist comments and racism in general is not okay and needs to stop. The more we hear and read about these types of experiences, the more we become aware of what’s going on in the world. At the end of the day, regardless of your skin color, your eye shape, your religious beliefs, sexual orientation, we are all humans with feelings and we need to start taking better care of each other.