If you’re reading this and you’re not Chinese, American or Mom, please stay — and welcome! You are essential to the conversation too. It’s just that I feel a need to talk directly with a group that looks most like me, to reassure us that we are not alone.
I have also added a Chinese translation of this blog post. You can find it by clicking HERE.
Dear Chinese American Moms,
I am reaching out to you because we are in danger of losing our kids and all that we love. Every day brings news of violent and deadly conflicts between police and Black men. Everyone is grieving and talking about a new civil war, a country in crisis.
It is time for Chinese American mothers to take charge of our destiny and protect our families. We possess too much power and personal vision to sit this one out.
Look at us. We are first-class influencers. With our legendary and notorious talents for mothering, we send so many of our kids to college. They are part of the remarkable wave of Asian Americans, multiracials and biracials who will someday lead this nation. We are also economic forces in our own right. Most of us work outside the home or own businesses.
We do so much, know so much, feel so much. And now, we need to throw our support behind #BlackLivesMatter.
If you think that issues between the police and Black folks is “their” problem, you have a point. Cops are most likely to stop someone who is Black. Cops are also most likely to use force in dealing with Black people, according to a new study, which reviewed 19,000 cases across nearly a dozen cities.
But remember, the police kill Asians too. It has happened before and can happen again. Next time, it could be one of us, or one of our kids:
- In 1997, Sonoma County police fatally shot engineer Kuanchung Kao, 33, as he stood on his front lawn, drunk. An officer said he feared Kao, who was 5’7″ would attack him with martial arts.
- In 2003, San Jose police fatally shot Cau Bich Tran, 25. The emotionally troubled, 4′ 9″, 98-pound Vietnamese immigrant mom went down as she held a vegetable peeler in her kitchen.
- In 2006, Minneapolis police fatally shot bicyclist Fong Lee. When cops questioned if he had a gun, the scared son of Laotian immigrants fled empty handed — while eight bullets pierced his body.
Escalating tensions between cops and civilians verge on hysteria throughout the country. And, this stuff is not happening in Black neighborhoods where it would be “their” problem.
Going forward, we live and die together. We’ve seen assault weapons fire from every direction. They can kill or injure us or the ones we love any time, anywhere. All it takes to die is wrong place, wrong time.
Are Asian Americans anti-Black?
Chinese American moms can instantly help make America a safer place by uniting with the Black community. This is a radical thought because everyone is also talking about Asian Americans being anti-Black, especially immigrants.
As people who suffered from anti-Chinese racism that banned us from immigrating for decades, any form of anti-Blackness from us is hypocritical. Besides, our kids who are born and raised in the U.S. embrace Blackness as part of their American heritage.
American-born Chinese kids like me grew up admiring the political and artistic achievements of African Americans, and making friends. It might be a cliché to mention rap music and basketball but Black American heroes has always inspired those of us who are ABC.
You know the names. Jeremy Lin, who is of Chinese heritage and the son of Taiwanese immigrants. Eddie Huang, another one with similar roots, who is story behind the NBC’s “Fresh Off the Boat.” The hit TV show stars Chinese American wonder boy, Hudson Yang.
Our sons done good by chillin’ with the brothers. But of course, there is the unspoken fear about girls.
Back in 2012, a very funny, 2-minute YouTube video went viral. “Sh*t Asian Moms Say” spoke to the deepest anti-Black fear — that good Asian girls would sleep with Blackness.
In the video, the Asian mom tells her daughter, “I know you try to sex every day! So embarrass me! Don’t forget your culture! Confucius say!”
The mom also questions: “Why you so dark? Is he the Black guy? Why you like the Black guy? Is he your boyfriend? I tell you, no boyfriend!” The mom jabs her finger at the poster in the daughter’s room, which features rapper Lil Wayne, who writes the most awful, anti-woman lyrics.
Time to look in the mirror
Which brings us to serious girl talk among us Chinese American moms.
Asian women — including tons of immigrants — are marrying outside the race. In 2013, among newlyweds alone, 37% of all Asian women intermarried, according to a PEW study. The most common mix is White-Asian.
In 1983, I was the rare Asian American to choose a Black husband (we divorced in 2001). Today is different. Black-Asian is on the rise too, leading to an abundance of beautiful Blasian babies. Why we’re intermarrying is a whole ‘nother discussion, for another time.
The point is, we and our children no longer fit the stereotype that paints us as anti-Black. Now, we must use our power and love to bring perception in line with reality.
While I personally detest Confucius, he is my ally on this next point: Chinese tradition makes women, especially mothers, the culture transmitters. We are the ones who give the kids the values and courage to live good, moral lives. So let’s do it.
Moms need to stick together
Now we get to the core issue: Can you believe in #blacklivesmatter?
#Blacklivesmatter is a movement sweeping through Black America and activist America, pulling in young people everywhere. It began in 2012 after Trayvon Martin, an innocent black teenager, was murdered by a neighborhood security guy, George Zimmerman. By using the Internet and social media to fight for justice, #blacklivesmatter took a 21st century approach to civil rights.
This new movement builds on the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, when Black folks famously fought, protested, went to jail and died. Until their ongoing struggle changed the laws, it was illegal for people of different races to marry, use the same public toilets as White people, or sit anywhere they wanted on the bus. Affirmation Action also opened doors to jobs and educational opportunities for us and our kids.
Today’s African Americans include recent immigrants from around the world and their children. They join the descendants of the only group forced to come to this country as slaves. The entire community, because of their skin color, is on the front lines of the ongoing race war with bad police procedures.
As Black dads and their sons die, Black moms and their daughters are left to battle alone. They are living out our worst nightmares about losing our men and boys. Chinese American moms, we cannot leave weeping Black moms to mourn and struggle alone.
Whether or not your kids have spoken to you about #blacklivesmatter, it is definitely on their brain. If they have friends of other races or care about politics, they are probably already out there fighting for Black justice. Maybe they’ve even emailed you an open letter to Asian American families that is going crazy all over Facebook.
What should you do? Prepare yourself. Your capacity for love is about to be tested.
Protecting my future
Whether I’m in a dialogue with my daughter or college students in my classes, the toughest thing for me to do is shut up. Just listen. Let them talk without correcting them or challenging them or making “helpful” suggestions and clarifications.
If you’re like me, sitting quietly goes against my genes as a Chinese American mom. My parents believed a good daughter was seen and not heard. Then, motherhood rewarded me with control as the culture transmitter.
For many years, I maintained the all-important appearance of harmony by smoothing over conflicts. Anyone who disagreed with me got shot down and shut down. I am an expert at dominating discussions and changing the subject to suit my comfort level.
But after years of therapy, I’ve realized that this behavior puts me at risk. Muzzling dissent leads to resentment from others and walls me in isolation. Hey, there’s a reason that women of Asian heritage, ages 65-to-84, have the highest suicide rate for females in their age bracket.
We can guard against this kind of future despair by staying loved and relevant. To maintain communication and hopefully bond, we MUST sit and truly listen. Try it. The results are worth the torture because we’re sending the message it’s safe for the kids to be their true selves in front of us. It means that we embrace change.
Declaring support for #blacklivesmatter might even shock and amaze our kids. They will see us as cool moms.
Asian faces: good, bad, ugly
But of course, our support goes far beyond acting cool. We want to take our seats at the table. In the past, the national debate on police brutality and misconduct focused on Black-versus-White, with occasional mention of Latinos. Today, Asian Americans are definitely a factor, for better and for worse.
As an example of the worst, we have the New York City controversy following the 2014 fatal shooting of Akai Gurley. A bullet from the gun of Chinese American cop Peter Liang ricocheted off a wall and killed Gurley, an unarmed Black man who was simply standing in a stairwell. Instead of trying to save Gurley or calling for help, Liang argued with his partner over whether to call a supervisor. During the trial, Lee said he “panicked.”
Asian Americans protested, passionately split between two opposite, generational views of justice. On the TV news, Chinese immigrant parents charged racism against Liang. Meanwhile, college students and activists turned to the Internet, calling out anti-Blackness in the Asian American community. In April 2016, Liang, poster boy for a complex set of issues, got off with no jail time.
The judge in the case was Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun, a Chinese American. Which brings us to this past week’s headlines and a chance do to better.
If you want a direct Asian connection to the latest fatal police shootings of Black men, we have it in the Minnesota case of Philando Castile. We watched him die on Facebook as his girlfriend calmly livestreamed the horror on her cell phone while a police officer pointed a gun in her face and her four-year-old daughter watched.
In the video, she mistakenly thinks the cop is Chinese and says so, which had some of us worrying about a backlash. (The police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, has been identified as Latino in some reports.)
But going forward, there is an Asian American face to watch. He is John Choi, the nation’s first Korean American chief prosecutor. As Ramsey County’s chief attorney, he is the law, with a staff of 325 and a $39 million budget at his disposal. It’s his job to take Yanez to court. Let’s see how he does.
Do the math: Population = Power
So let’s embrace #blacklivesmatter as yet another chance to show how far we’ve come.
We have the authority to lead this country because Asian Americans are the fastest growing race in the U.S. — 21 million strong, accounting for 6.4% of the entire population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 population estimates.
Asians are also the largest group of new immigrants, with nearly 74% of all Asian American adults flying here from dozens and dozens of countries.
Chinese American moms have an important place in these numbers. Among the top 10 largest Asian groups, nearly one quarter are Chinese Americans, which means a lot of Chinese moms.
We are mighty and many. But even with this proof of our power, you might still be like me. I often waffle between hiding within the routine of life’s familiar cocoon and busting out to take on an evil world.
Moms with super power
First steps can be the hardest because they can be awkward. So let’s get out there, little by little.
- Obsessively follow the latest news stories. Easy, since 95% of English-speaking Asian Americans use the Internet. This step is a no-brainer.
- Listen to our kids and friends talk about #blacklivesmatter without interrupting them or changing the subject. Tough but you can do it, girl!
- Experiment with sharing your feelings publicly. Try posting something on Facebook or sending an email to friends. I would be honored if you shared the link to this blog post: http://bit.ly/29HpKNj
The goal is to join the conversation instead of letting everyone else do the talking. You can succeed because you are a Chinese American mom. In the end, what makes us special is our intense love and guts. We got this one. We can do it. xo