Home is Where the Heart Heals: A Letter to My Daughter
I’m writing you this in the hopes that you will read it one day when you are older and that you will understand this moment in time.
Last week, news broke that amidst a global pandemic and a growing tide of anti-Asian sentiment and violence, six Asian women were shot and killed in Atlanta, Georgia. There is no way to make sense of this tragedy in my mind. I find myself fixated on my phone, scrolling through news articles and commentary pieces—as if absorbing more information will somehow help me understand.
Amongst all of this, I also watched the video of an attack in San Francisco on an elderly Chinese woman named Xiao Zhen Xie. Although this horrific video is one of many that I have viewed over the last couple months, something about this one struck particularly hard. Her face is bloody and beaten by a young white man, yet she fights back; she wails in anguish and screams out in my mother tongue. Watching her pain sends an arrow through my heart. She reminds me of my own grandmother (your great-grandma); I’m certain she would’ve fought back, too. As graceful as she was, she was equally feisty. Your Chinese name, Oi Ming, is inherited from her.
I scroll and scroll on my phone as I try to process all that is going on. When I look up from my screen at you, the life is drained out of me, my eyes vacant. Being the empathetic child that you are, you sense the heaviness and ask, “Are you ok, Mama?” My automatic response is, “I’m ok sweetheart.”
You are five years old right now. There’s a big gap in your smile where your two bottom teeth are missing, and it reminds me of how quickly you are becoming a big kid. You tell your father and me that you want to be a superstar when you grow up. I’ve never met anyone as bold, confident, and fearless as you.
I don’t know how to tell you how I’m really feeling without breaking your spirit. Because the truth is, I’m not ok right now. I’m far from it. I feel nauseous, hollow, sad, and furious, aspainful flashbacks from my own life come rushing back to my mind.
I remember, in Grade 1, being teased by a boy on the playground for having Asian features. He said the white girl next to me was prettier than me. I was one of two Asian girls in a predominantly white class, in a predominantly white school.
I remember, in Grade 7, my face turning red-hot with shame, anger, and sadness during a friend’s sleepover. We were watchingDude, Where’s My Car?, and everyone was laughing at the scene in which a Chinese woman is portrayed as dumb, her accent the punchline. That scene seemed to go on forever. I thought of my own parents, struggling to learn English as their second language in order to provide a better life for my brother and me.
I remember, around the same time, constantly hearing the pop song “Summer Girls” by the all-white boy band LFO being played on the radio and on MuchMusic. The chorus had the lyrics: “New Kids on the Block had a bunch of hits, Chinese food makes me sick.” I thought about the food that my grandma would prepare for us every week when we would visit her at her home—each dish painstakingly prepared, each ingredient soaked with so much tenderness and care. My grandma expressed her love and devotion to her family through her food. Her cooking brought health, nourishment, and comfort to our souls.
I remember, in high school, a white boy yelling, “Fucking ch*nk” at me because I stood up for a friend who was being slut-shamed. Many peers saw this incident—and I’m sure some teachers, too—but no one came to defend me, and no one checked in on me.
I remember countless times being harassed on public transit and in other public places in Vancouver:
“What ARE you?”
“Where are you from?”
“Where are you REALLY from?”
I can still see the disturbing smirks on these stranger’s faces when they asked the questions—their entitled attitudes and complete disregard of my clear discomfort.
I remember the countless men saying, “Ni hao,” or, “Konnichiwa,” and expecting me to greet them back or smile.
I remember, in university, a man stalking me for nearly a month. He would show up at my school, follow me to the bus stop, call my work and ask for me (I wore a name tag and worked at a cafe, which is where he first saw me), and wait outside my work for my shift to be over. It was terrifying and confusing, and it haunts me to this day.
Despite these experiences, as a cis-gendered straight woman who grew up comfortable, I am acutely aware of and acknowledge my own privilege. And that is partly why I minimized and swept my memories under the rug for a long time, telling myself it wasn’t so bad. But it is bad—it is all bad.
The patriarchal white supremacist system in our country continues to oppress Black and Indigenous communities, and now has failed to protect the Asian community in the face of this pandemic. We cannot destroy a system that harms and endangers everyone by staying silent, so I refuse to stay silent any longer.
As your mother, I vow to do everything I can to prevent passing down my intergenerational trauma to you. So I take care of myself. I talk to family, and I commiserate with the close circle of Chinese friends in my life who you know as your aunties and uncles. We send each other messages of hope and solidarity. My brother and sister-in-law (your Fufu and KK) leave a meal outside our door with a note. I collapse into your father’s arms each night; he holds me in close as I sigh. I write out my pain and it feels like a release. I scan my body and remember to breathe. It is all healing.
I remind myself to stay present. So I stop scrolling and put down my phone. I sit and watch as you dazzle on our living room stage as a superstar. You belt out a song and twirl in a cheerful dance, the colourful lights of your karaoke machine shimmering across your vibrant face. My heart feels a little less broken. I close my eyes briefly and pray. I imagine a kinder world that you will inhabit in the future. I send a wish out into the universe that the confidence and power that I admire in you will never be extinguished. I am always your biggest fan.