My parents came to the United States over 45 years ago from Hong Kong, making my siblings and me first-generation Chinese-Americans. My parents made sure we each had American first names (not nicknames) which were on our birth certificates, that English was our first language at home, and that we would settle not in Chinatown, where most recent immigrants would go, but in a predominantly White neighborhood in Brooklyn, just so we could assimilate as much as possible. We maintained much of our culture, however: going out for dim sum in Chinatown almost every weekend, celebrating all the major Chinese holidays, and placing an emphasis on education. Because this is what it meant to be “American”.
At least, that is what I believed, and so I internalized and normalized much of the discrimination my family and I experienced basically our entire lives—the bullying and racist jokes in school (one classmate laughed when he told me he could blindfold me with dental floss), the verbal attacks on the street (being cat-called in “Chinese”), the day-to-day microaggressions (being mistaken for a nanny when I used to be out with my mixed-race baby).
Despite all this, I felt that my family had achieved the “American Dream”; my siblings and I all went to college, acquired degrees, and became financially independent, even though our parents lived barely above the poverty guidelines. This is what I understood the “American Dream” to be—parents sacrificing everything to provide their children with a better life than they had known. I went to law school and became an immigration attorney so I could give back, helping other families like mine achieve whatever their version of the “American Dream” would be.
And that is what I was committed to doing. I’ve helped hundreds of individuals and families gain status in the United States. Once they obtained their “green cards” or citizenship, I felt I had done my job. Until this past year, when the rise of anti-Asian hate made my work all seem like an empty promise—for if we are perpetually treated like the “other” or “outsiders”, no matter how much of the “American Dream” we obtain and regardless of what our immigration status actually is, then what difference does a “green card” or citizenship make?
And so I realize that it is not enough to simply help clients get “green cards” or even advocate for more immigrant-welcoming policies. That is only the beginning. In order to actually move this country to be more anti-racist, we need to also be actively standing up and speaking out against hate.
May is Asian American, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time to recognize and celebrate the diversity of achievements of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI) across our country. I ask you to educate yourselves about what is occurring, to think about ways to effect change, and to take action and speak out against anti-AANHPI hate whenever you can. One place to get started is by trying these 6 ways to be an ally to the AANHPI community.
By standing together, we can root out racial injustice and create a truly inclusive society.