Which Asian Are You?

When I meet other Asian Americans, I always wondered which Asia they are, but I could not ask. I am not sure what would be the right question to ask. “What type of Asian are you?” That sounds horrible. “Where are you from?” I know many Asian Americans have an issue with that question, especially those who were born in America. “What is your ethnicity?” They are obviously Asian. It often felt awkward when I tried to ask their Asian origin.

I would only bring up the question if I think they are Vietnamese American. I just speak in Vietnamese, “Chị là người Việt hả?” (Are you Vietnamese). If they answer in Vietnamese then yes. If not, they would tell me that they have no idea what I just said and they would tell me what type of Asian they are.

If you have any suggestion on how to ask Asian Americans what type of Asian they are, please share. I would love to know. On the contrary, I wouldn’t mind if anyone asked me any of the questions above. I would not not be offended. In fact, I would be glad that they are interested in my exact background.

Forgetting My First Language

Jenny Liao shares her personal history in the New Yorker:

The struggle to retain my first language feels isolating but isn’t unique; it’s a shared pain common among first- and second-generation immigrants. This phenomenon is known as first-language attrition, the process of forgetting a first or native language.

Unlike Jenny who was born in New York City, I came to the U.S. when I was 11. At that age, I have learned a good deal of Vietnamese. I spoke Vietnamese with my mom at home, but I had to put the first language aside to learn English. As a result, my Vietnamese was slipping away from me. I misspelled almost every other word when I write. With Vietnamese books from the Fairfax public libraries and my blog, I read and practice writing Vietnamese again. It is such a joy to be reconnected with my first language.

Stop the Asian Mockery Already

In the past few weeks, my nine-year-old Đán started talking with an Asian-mocking accent. He stressed out the syllables, especially the last word in his sentences. It irritated the fuck out of me. I asked him to stop, but it was already stuck in his head. I explained to him how Americans use that racist accent to mock Asian-Americans and I had to endure it throughout my life living in America. Hearing it from my own son brings back those painful moments.

Last night, I asked him how he picked up that accent and he pulled up YouTube videos made by a Vietnamese-American named Nathan Doan. I could barely watch one of his clips without cringing. He played a character named Ging Ging who adorned a conical hat, spoke with a fake Asian accent, and closed his eyes the entire time. I don’t know his purpose for creating this character. I don’t give a fuck if it is a satire. I don’t want to find out.

He needs to stop selling out his culture for cheap laughs. They are laughing at him, not with him. When kids picked this up without knowing the reference or the history and started to emulate it, that’s not a laughing matter.

White Silence

R.O. Kwon writes for Vanity Fair:

For now, until and unless more changes, the attacks will keep happening: I hear about new attacks on Asian people almost every day. And as long as our gun laws are as lax as they are, there will be more mass shootings; most likely, there will be more hate-based atrocities targeting marginalized groups. In other words, we need one another.

The entire essay is worth reading.

Ill-Informed in Vietnamese-American Community

I went to the Vietnamese temple to burn a few incense sticks for my mom on Mother’s Day. After praying and chanting, the monk took a few minutes to talk about COVID-19. He gave logical reasons for masking and vaccination. Masking protects ourselves and others from getting infected. Vaccination prevents the virus and stops the spread.

From what we had been through in the past year, I thought he was preaching to the choir. I estimated that of the twenty plus people attending the service, most, if not all, had at least one dose of vaccine. Then a guy (probably in his early 50s) interjected. He asked if the monk had been vaccinated even though the monk just said he had. He advised the monk that he should not have been vaccinated. The monk asked if anyone else didn’t believe in vaccination. No one raised his or her hand. The monk should have asked how many had vaccinated already.

The guy then explained that he had done thorough research on this topic. He claimed that the media had created this virus in China and they had taken over the White House. If we continued to listen to the media and get vaccinated, we would be influenced by the Chinese and the Democrats. The monk responded to the guy’s conspiracy theory that he didn’t take vaccination as political. If he got sick, he would take medication. He trusted doctors and scientists. He was vaccinated to protect himself and the people around him.

The monk then pointed to the older monk who is 83 years old. He said that the senior monk didn’t want to be vaccinated at first due to his age, but he decided to do it because he wanted people to attend the temple. I cheered, “Thank you, thầy” and clapped my hands. Some people joined in.

As folks gathered around the altar to pray for their loved ones, I took off because the anti-vaxxer didn’t wear his mask. Even though I was fully vaccinated, I didn’t want to catch his stupidity.


Nguyễn Minh Bích writes in the New Yorker:

I’ve tried to inhabit the name Bich. I used to add the accent over the “i” to show the correct spelling: Bích. The sound is somewhere between a question and an exclamation. But how can I get away from the gaze? It is one of my historical facts that the name is steeped in shame, because living in the United States as a refugee and a child of refugees was steeped in shame. America made sure I knew that, felt that, from my earliest moments of awareness. I cannot detach the name Bich from my childhood, cannot detach it from the experience of people laughing at me, calling me a bitch, letting me know that I’m the punch line of my own joke, too stupid or afraid to do anything but take it. When I see the letters that spell out Bich, I see a version of self I’ve had to create, to hide from trauma. Even now, typing the letters, I want to turn away. America has ruined the name Bich for me, and I have let it.

Bad Days at the Nail Salon

After the mass shootings at the massage parlors in Atlanta, I worry about the nail salons run by Vietnamese Americans. I have friends and family members work at the salons. I have also seen disturbing video clips of angry customers beating up the workers and destroying the properties. In her recent op-ed, Lý Trần recounts her bad days at the nail salon:

Like the time when, after a long day of work, a man brandishing a knife walked in, pushed my mother hard against the wall, the tip of the blade at her throat, and demanded that she empty her pockets, robbing her of the little money that she’d worked so hard to make. That was a bad day.

Or that time when a customer wrecked our salon, breaking nail-polish bottles, throwing chairs, and flinging acetone in our faces because she didn’t want to pay for the service she received. That was a bad day.

That time when, on the evening of the Fourth of July, after a long day of painting red, white, and blue nails for our customers, explosive fireworks were suddenly and violently thrown into our salon by a group of boys jeering racial slurs, our carpet catching on fire, and my mother and I scrambling to put it out. Since then, Independence Day, a day of supposed freedom, holds a different meaning for me. That was a bad day.

And those times when I had to stand by while a customer berated my mother, treated her like a subhuman servant instead of the kind and beautiful person that I know her to be. Those were bad days.

That time when, coming home from the salon, at the age of 13, I was sexually assaulted by a man who believed he was entitled to my body. That was a truly horrific day.

All the times we’ve been called racial epithets, denied our basic humanity, and feared for our lives in the presence of bigots.

The history of violence in these salons concerned me deeply. If we don’t #StopAsianHate, it is just a matter of time that some racist lunatics will shoot up the nail salons. Let’s be pro-active just in case someone has a bad day.

Protect Ourselves

After reading about the rampage shootings that killed eight people including six Asian-American women, I was devastated. I needed to talk to someone and I knew the exact person to call. I reached out to my cousin who is a gun owner to seek his advice on how to get one for myself.

We talked for an hour. As he explained the laws and the mechanical details, I furiously took notes. From the sound of the gunshots to the smell of the gun smokes to the type of Glocks to the design of Critical Defense ammunition, the knowledge he passed on me filled with passion and enthusiasm. He often reminded me to “respect the gun.”

Although we have completely different perspectives on politics and policies, we have tremendous respect for each other. Over tequila shots and delicious Vietnamese dishes, we discussed openly about our positions during our late-night gatherings at our in-law’s annual family reunions. We could never convince each other, but we agreed to disagree.

Unlike him, I hate guns and I had never thought of owning a weapon, but I feel the need to protect myself and my family in this critical moment as violence against Asian Americans is rising and deadly. I urge all Asian Americans to do the same. If you’re qualified and eligible to own a gun, give it a shot. Asian-American women, in particular, need to protect themselves and guns give them the equal power in these life-and-death situations.

Let’s face the reality. Asian-American communities are one of the most vulnerable minorities in America. Even after eight lives were murdered, the cop said that the killer was just having a bad day. He was just a poor white guy with sex addiction. Get the fuck out the here. Sex is part of American culture as apple pie. From music to movies to media to magazines, sex is everywhere you turn to. In fact, most American men suffer sex addiction. There was an incident in which a writer at a respected publication caught jerking off during a Zoom staff meeting. Even a famous athlete had to seek therapy for his sex addition. For poor sex addicts, Pornhub is freely available 24/7. If you can’t control your sex addiction, get help. Don’t use sex addiction as an excuse to murder innocent people.

Let’s call the senseless killings for what they were—hate crimes. They were the results of white privilege fueled with sexism and racism. Until America can come together to #StopAsianHate, we need to continue to raise our voice and protect ourselves.

Asian-Americans Voice on Anti-Asian Violence

Jiayang Fan writes for the New Yorker:

A senseless massacre can be painfully clarifying about the state of a country. As the killing of George Floyd and countless other African-Americans have made clear, structural racism has become simultaneously mundane and pathological. The incendiary rhetoric of a racist former President combined with the desperation stoked by an unprecedented pandemic has underscored the precariousness of a minority’s provisional existence in the U.S. To live through this period as an Asian-American is to feel defenseless against a virus as well as a virulent strain of scapegoating. It is to feel trapped in an American tragedy while being denied the legitimacy of being an American.

May Jeong writes for the New York Times:

[T]he Asian woman became an object of hatred, and lust, a thing to loathe, then desire, the distance between yellow peril and yellow fever measured in flashes.

Việt Thanh Nguyễn and Janelle Wong write for the Washington Post:

Still, history tells us something important: The experience of racial discrimination does not happen for any group in isolation; white supremacy depends on pitting people of color against one another so they do not see their shared cause. Racial profiling does not stem from the same stereotypes for Asian Americans, Black people, Muslims and other groups, but it serves a common purpose — to define who is essential and who belongs to the nation. The case of Asian Americans shows the varied ways in which the boundaries of belonging are enforced through old ideas that circulate over generations. The best way to keep Asian Americans safe is for the United States to improve its economy and promote global equality for everyone, without fearmongering about the countries their ancestors left.

Jennifer Ho writes for CNN:

To be an Asian woman in America means you can’t just be what you are: a fully enfranchised human being. It means you are a blank screen on which others project their stories, especially, too often, their sexualized fantasies—because US culture has long presented Asian women as sexualized objects for White male enjoyment.

This happened when Chinese immigrant women first came to the US in the 19th century, kidnapped or bought for sale in China and shipped to America, or tricked into sexual servitude when the domestic worker jobs they were promised disappeared and the only job they could get was to have sex with men for money. They did not get to keep the money. That went to the men who bound them, sometimes in cages—forcing them to have sex with men. Many of these women died of disease, malnourishment, and abuse without being released from their sexual servitude –that’s the founding story of Asian women in America.

Christine Ahn, Terry K Park and Kathleen Richards write for the Nation:

Shortly after the mass killing in Georgia—including six Asian women—earlier this week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken denounced the violence, saying it “has no place in America or anywhere.” Blinken made the comments during his first major overseas trip to Asia with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, where Blinken warned China that the United States will push back against its “coercion and aggression,” and Austin cautioned North Korea that the United States was ready to “fight tonight.”

Yet such hawkish rhetoric against China—which was initially spread by Donald Trump and other Republicans around the coronavirus—has directly contributed to rising anti-Asian violence across the country. In fact, it’s reflective of a long history of US foreign policy in Asia centered on domination and violence, fueled by racism. Belittling and dehumanizing Asians has helped justify endless wars and the expansion of US militarism. And this has deadly consequences for Asians and Asian Americans, especially women.

R.O. Kwon writes for Vanity Fair:

We’ve had to yell so loudly to even get national media and politicians to begin to believe there might be a real problem. I wept, as many of you did, the day last March when the previous president started calling it a “Chinese virus,” because we knew exactly what would happen as a result, the hatred those paired words would incite. We have been told this is new, that we haven’t really experienced racism, all while our entire existence in this country has been twisted, shaped, and contorted by forces like the 1875 Page Act, which halted the immigration of Chinese women on the stated pretext that they, we, were immoral. Were temptations. All while the Asia–ravaging forces of white supremacy, imperialism, and colonialism drove our people here, to this land our ancestors would not recognize.

May-Lee Chai writes for the LA Times:

The fact that Asian women are punished for the ways white supremacy hypersexualizes our bodies is not unfamiliar to me. I was 13 or 14 years old when white veterans first started coming up to me to tell me stories of the sex workers in Asia. When I complained to my mother, who was white, she would get angry at me, for complaining. “Oh, they like you!” she said. When I shared this story with other white women in college, they reacted with envy, “It’s not fair! They think you’re exotic.”

Pawan Dhingra writes for the Conversation:

There is a long history of suspecting Asian Americans of carrying disease into the U.S., which made it seem natural for people to avoid Asian American-owned businesses. President Donald Trump’s repeated public declarations that the “Kung Flu” virus came from China reinforced those feelings.

This race-based and erroneous assumption has resulted in Asian Americans having among the highest unemployment rates in the nation, though they had among the lowest before the pandemic.

Người Việt cũng bị họa lây

Lúc trước khi những người Việt hùa theo dùng những từ miệt thị như “China virus”, “Vũ Hán virus,” và “kung flu,” tôi đã lên tiếng phản đối vì nó sẽ ảnh hưởng đến cộng đồng mình. Những kẻ kỳ thị người Á Châu sẽ không phân biệt người Việt, Tàu, Hàn Quốc, Nhật, hay những dân tộc da vàng khác. Trong ánh mắt của họ chúng ta đều như nhau cả.

Mấy hôm trước bác Phạm Ngọc đã bị một thằng kỳ thị đánh chấn thương đầu, gãy sống mũi, và gãy xương cổ. Bác đã sống sót sau 17 năm học tập cãi tạo vậy mà giờ đây ở tuổi 83 lại bị hãm hại trong lúc đi chợ. Con ông đã tạo ra trang GoFundMe để giúp cho ông phục hồi.

Đáng lẽ ra tôi không muốn nhắc đến kẻ đã thua trận và không còn quyền lực gì nữa. Vì nhắc đến chỉ mất đi tình cảm gia đình và bạn bè nhưng hy vọng những người Việt sáng mắt ra khi ùa theo những lời lẽ xem như ghét Tàu nhưng có hại cho cộng đồng của chúng ta.