Am I ASIAN Enough? Am I AMERICAN Enough? (Hint: Yes! & Yes!)


One month ago, I posted the 3 gold slides that are throughout this post on my Instagram & Twitter account after the Atlanta shooting/murder of 8 people, 6 being Asian women, leaving one survivor in critical condition. Since that post, an Asian woman in NYC was attacked while bystanders didn’t intervene, an Asian market was vandalized here in Charlotte NC*-both events occurring within the same week(March 29 & 30th), shooting in Indianapolis, and 2 tea shops in Charlotte were vandalized (last week). So, I thought I would repost my words here.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that as much as I speak about how much my mother’s story/voice mattered back then (directly after atomic bombing) and matters now; it’s not as easy for me to feel that my story also matters. Although, I have opened up about my health issues with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), I have a harder time discussing my Asian American experience. Perhaps because I’m a mixed Asian. As you all know, my mom was from Hiroshima Japan, and my dad was a Caucasian American.  However, in light of recent events stated above (and of the numerous ones last year) I’m determined to use my voice even when it feels scary to be so vulnerable.  

I have mentioned before that my mother said she ‘Americanized’ our home. So no, we didn’t have many Japanese decorations. I couldn’t speak Japanese (unless you count a few phrases and the numbers 1-20) 😊 but I had a few records (45 rpm no less- if born after 1996-you may need to look that up-I’m really dating myself here) of Japanese children’s songs that I loved to sing with my best friend, Maureen, even though we had no idea what we were singing about. 😊  

My Japanese Children’s Song records

I loved the packages the woman I knew as my Grandmother, Miyako, sent us filled with senbei (rice crackers), green tea, pretty magazines (that I couldn’t read but my mom cherished),ramen noodles, Hello Kitty Sanrio items, dresses for me, and beautiful Licca-chan dolls.

Sara with my Licca-chan village

I looked forward to hearing my mom speak Japanese once a month when she called my grandmother and her close friend in Japan. I loved the sound of how she spoke and laughed with them. I remember hearing my name mentioned and wondering what my mother was saying about me. My mom didn’t make Japanese food very often (except for rice), but when she did make some Japanese dishes it was delicious. I remember how she would put a bowl of rice and cold water daily in front of her favorite picture of her Papa. I remember feeling special because my mom was from Japan and so happy to also be Japanese.

Me with some Sanrio gifts & outfit from my grandmother

Of course, it wasn’t until I went to school that I quickly realized that being Japanese may not be something to brag about after kids started using racial slurs when referring to my mom or myself.  I quickly realized that blending in or the wish to blend in might be better for me. Something shifted by middle school and I didn’t focus on my Japanese side very much.

When I was a teenager, high schools and colleges didn’t have Japanese language courses (as my daughter took in college). And there were no Asian clubs or Asian American magazines, Facebook groups, or podcasts(so many wonderful ones exist now and that I’ve been guest in/on) 🙂 **. If there had been, I don’t really know if I would have sought them out or if that would have encouraged me to embrace my Japanese side sooner. I’m leaning towards the latter.

I do know that I didn’t check off Asian on my college application or FAFSA because my mother vehemently forbade it after what happened to Vincent Chin a few years earlier. So, I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t fully embrace my Japanese heritage until after I had my daughter. Don’t get me wrong, I was always proud to be Japanese, but just didn’t know at the time that I could embrace it without looking like I wasn’t proud of being an American.  So, during this past tumultuous year, the thought of maybe I don’t have a reason or a right to speak about the recent Anti-Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) racism had crossed my mind. Although, I would have been Japanese enough for the internment camps in the US during WWII-a pretty darn good reason to be considered Asian enough now.

I know that when I wrote The Last Cherry Blossom (TLCB), I struggled with what lens I would use to tell the story because people (including my Dad) kept asking ‘Whose side of the story are you telling?’ My father worried that there might still be prejudice against the Japanese and didn’t want me to get hurt. More than once he had told me, ‘Perhaps it would be better not to write the book.’. But I thought of the strength my mom had to not only persevere after the most horrific day of her life, but to also share those memories with me. The one and only clear answer came through-to proudly push forward and tell the story through the lens of a 12-year- old girl-the only lens that mattered.

Interestingly, as I began to query possible agents and editors, they didn’t realize I had a connection to the story because my name wasn’t Japanese (even though in the intro paragraph I wrote that it was based on my mother’s family in Hiroshima and all she lost in the atomic bombing.) Although, I do realize my name couldn’t be any less Japanese-but it was a barrier I hadn’t thought about. It again made me question if I was Japanese enough to tell the story.

Like mother, like daughter…

As a mother and a MG/YA author, I can’t help but think of the children that are too young to understand why or to know the long history of anti – AAPI racism (probably because it wasn’t taught in school), yet they are old enough to sense the fear, sadness, or anger of their parents or other loved ones.  And tragically, some are dealing with the loss of their loved ones to senseless violence solely for the fact that they were born Asian.

I feel for the middle and high school age kids not understanding why the same people who called the pandemic “kung flu” under the guise of being a joke, were surprised when AAPI’s said attacks against them had risen, and then refusing to see any correlation between the two (I know as an adult I don’t understand it).  They see the current endless social media feed on the hate incidents against Asian Americans, as well as the difficulty in labeling or prosecuting them as hate crimes. My heart breaks for them. I want them to have a safe space to discuss their emotions that are cycling through them. I want them to know that their emotions, their voices, their (our) stories matter.

I hope to tell my readers/students that even if we think others are not listening or haven’t listened to us in the past-we still have the right to tell our story, and for others to understand our hurt is valid. Fear and ignorance can be deafening, so we have to work even harder to have our stories, our messages heard. I’m holding on to my hope that through prayer and in solidarity we can cut through that noise(of racism) to find a song of peace.

Whichever way we choose to express our story(spoken or written word, art..) or stand against hate crimes, it doesn’t have to go viral, doesn’t have to change the world in a day for you to be considered as making a difference-it ALL matters. I’ve listed some resources at the end of my post.

I’m grateful to be a member of Asian Authors Alliance . They had set up an amazing network of AAPI authors and bookstagrammers to bring awareness, to have fundraising events through their Kidlit Against Anti-Asian Racism(back in March) and #StandUpforAAPI(late March on Instagram). They are also setting up author panels for AAPI month in May and I will be participating in one with some amazing authors on May 28th.

I’m incredibly grateful for all of my families’ and friends’ love and support from my childhood to the present. I’m grateful for my husband, (who gave me the second half of my non-Asian name😊), for always being here for me. I’m grateful for my daughter who fully embraces her Japanese heritage and encouraged my journey of writing TLCB because she felt the students would have empathy for the victims once they understood that they were people (like us) under those mushroom clouds (she was right).

Sara &host family at summer festival

It is my hope that by telling our stories of our AAPI heritage and teaching the history of Asian Americans, people will no longer see a ‘foreigner’, but the eyes of a mother, a child, or a grandmother, or father; they will see the common bond that we all have as human beings living in America.

Me with my Mom at 1 yr old & Mom,Sara, &I

*Many people came to the aid of the Korean family that owns the store after this latest incident (sadly not the first time this has happened to them). Seeing this outpouring of compassion and generosity makes me feel very hopeful.

I’d like to send out my deepest condolences to the families of the Atlanta shooting victims: Soon C. Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Yue, Xiajoe Tan, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Ashley Yaun, and Paul Andre Michels. My prayers to the family of Elcias Hernandes-Ortiz who is currently in the ICU as result of his injuries from this shooting. As well as to ALL the recent victims of senseless violence this past month.

Resources:

A few weeks ago, I attended an Asian American Federation virtual event “ A Year of Asian Hate: Where do We Go from Here?” which is also on their Facebook Page. This poignant program featured an Asian American that was attacked in NYC, as well as highlight various groups/people that are (and have been) working together in NYC.

Ways to support Asian American Pacific Islander Community: These are just a few, this article on NBC.com by Kate Ĺy Johnston has more.

**Asian American Magazines/Newspapers (Not a full list)

HAPA Magazine(soon to be Mixed Asian Media)

Mochi Magazine

Asian in the Arts

The Cre8sian Project

Plan A Magazine

Rafu Shimpo

Pacific Citizen

AsAm News

Borderless Journal

**Podcasts (Happy to say that there are many in the US, so I can’t list them all. Some I’ve been on and others I’d like to be 🙂 So please check out Potluck Podcast Collective or Asian American Podcasters for a more complete list)

14 thoughts on “Am I ASIAN Enough? Am I AMERICAN Enough? (Hint: Yes! & Yes!)

  1. Thank you for writing this Kathleen! Your story does make a difference and helps many people journey through Asian American experience. I am inspired and admire your courage.
    Danielle Rose

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  2. Wow, Kathleen, this an excellent post. My father and maternal grandfather were both tortured and killed by Japanese soldiers in the Philippines, but my mother made sure that we didn’t attribute that cruelty to all Japanese. And, in 1915, my paternal grandfather had sent my father to a Japanese school when they were in Hawaii because he could see that if we didn’t learn more about the Japanese culture we would end up in a war with them. The point of this is to say that not all Americans are as black-hearted as the ones who denigrate Asians and Blacks and Latinos and Native Americans. I can’t imagine the pain and fear such evilness causes. Thanks for such a thoughtful post. Hugs and love to you.

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    • Sarah, my heart breaks for what your father, maternal grandfather endured and died under the Japanese soldiers. And the grief and pain that it caused for you and your families. Your mother had such compassion and strength(now I can see where you have gotten yours) 🙂 to be sure you didn’t attribute that to the innocent citizens(and if anyone had a reason NOT to do that it would have been her). Thank you for your kind words, and your friendship and support-they mean a lot to me. Sending hugs and love back to you, my friend. ❤

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  3. laurashovan222 says:

    This is such a powerful post, Kathleen. Thank you for being open about your experiences and for speaking out against hate.

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  4. I can’t imagine having such loss through words and actions inflicted on myself and my family over decades. It makes me sad. I’m so sorry this has been your experience. It seems you’ve come out of this strong and that your story can be used for good. I don’t understand the hate against any of God’s creation. I think your story, heritage, and face are beautiful! My family has been caring for an Asian girl this past year. We live in a rural area. Everyone is kind here to her. Yet, I wonder how things will change as she grows up and if she moves to another location. Keep sharing and may God give you courage, boldness, strength, and protection!

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    • Dear Amy, thank you so very much for visiting and for your very kind words. I agree with you, I don’t understand the hate against God’s creations either. I’m very grateful for your prayers and your support. I will keep the young girl in my prayers. God bless you and your family. ❤

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  5. carolbaldwin says:

    Thank you for sharing so much in this post, Kathleen. Your heart, your history, your struggles, your desires. I think about Paul writing to the Galatian church: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) Makes me wonder if the only way for true unity is to be found in the church–although that entity is not without sin and prejudice too. Sigh. The world is a sin-filled difficult place to live. Thank you for making us aware of this particular type of racism.

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    • Thank you so much Carol for your friendship, support and faith insight. I didn’t expect it to be as difficult to write as it was. The phrase from Galatians definitely touches on the heart of this issue. Each day I just keep on leaning on His grace. Sending love ❤

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  6. Joanne Viola says:

    Kathleen, this is such a vulnerable post and I am so grateful you shared it! We need stories told so that we come to understand one another. My husband has worked for an Asian family for over 30 years now and their generosity and kindness to our family has been overwhelming. I have been blessed to know and have heard the story of a Japanese woman from our church (now in her 90’s) who came here to go to school and married and remained here. She is truly the kindest, most loving, wise and godly woman I have met. May we embrace one another for we all are made in the image of God. May we not view anyone as foreigners but as people who have been called to live together in this country. So grateful you shared this post at my linkup! Blessings!

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    • Dear Joanne, thank you so very much for your kind words. It was such a difficult post to write and one of the few that I actually felt nervous hitting the publish button. So lovely to hear that about your husband and your friend at your church. That is my prayer as well. Praying you and your loved ones stay well and safe. So grateful for your support and friendship ❤

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