What I Need From the World As an Asian Woman and What You Can Do

My 4 year-old daughter and I made this together as I continue to process what’s happening in the Asian American community. She chose the colors and helped color the hair. She chose blue for the hair because she said it looks like ocean.

Three weeks ago when I learned about the Atlantic shooting in which six Asian women were killed, my whole world was shaken. Actually, I lied. I felt numb and then I tried to pretend that it didn’t affect me. I buried myself in work the next day. After a busy day in which the non-profit I work for organized a vaccination day to help close to 400 people with limited English proficiency in the local Chinese immigrant community get vaccinated, I passed by the vigil organized for the victims in Atlanta outside of the community center where I work. I got home. I felt tired. I felt physically tired. And I felt tired of not facing my pain. I felt tired of being so afraid of my feelings. After two hours of lying on the couch pretending to be asleep, I slowly walked into the bathroom. I shut the door. And I cried. Maybe that’s what it feels like when one’s world is shaken. “Who knows,” I thought. Everything feels like a fucking imposter syndrome. Even my own feelings, my grief, feel like they ain’t mine.

After my brief crying session in the bathroom, many feelings surfaced and resurfaced. I thought about the victims of the mass shooting, and the lives of so many Asian women in my life—the similarity of their experiences—their invisibility, their labor, their love, their pain. I thought about a comment made by a male volunteer during the vaccination day: “How come most of the volunteers here are (Asian) women?” “How come?” I thought. “How come nobody bothers to ask their names? Their stories? Their passion? Who are they anyway?” Then I cried some more.

As I was/am trying to make sense of the interlacing of feelings, lived experiences, histories, memories, and the dying of hope that the Atlantic massacre invoked in me and many in the Asian community, I have been torn between taking care of myself and those around me—a very familiar battle for many Asian women and caretakers. Many came to me for guidance. They asked me what they can do to help. They came to me for education. They wanted me to give them a job. They asked me to tell them a solution. But honestly, I was simply feeling emotionally depleted and exhausted. I just don’t want my life to feel like a battle all the time. I just don’t want life to be so fucking hard all the time. 

After three weeks, I have mustered up some courage to write some things down. Here are what I need from the world as an Asian women and what you can do to give me that: 

What I need as an Asian woman: time to process what happened, time for self care, time for self reflection, time for self compassion.

What you can do: if you have Asian women in your life, take care of them in concrete/useful ways. Make it easy for them to receive your love and care. If you want to buy them food, have the food deliver to them. If you want to send them a gift, let them know they don’t need to go through the emotional labor of thanking you and making sure that you feel comfortable and valued. 

What I need as an Asian woman: space to get in touch with my feelings and to sit with my grief.

What you can do: it sounds kind of a no-brainer, but let us be ourselves. You’d be surprised how much pressure the world has put on us to be “sweet”, “cute”, “cheery”, “happy” all the time. I once met a Vietnamese old lady who would smile every time when she was in physical pain when I was working as a medical interpreter. She would smile to the male nurse who scared her. Do not make us smile at you or for you. We are not your expectation. Let us be human. Let us be angry, numb, and have negative thoughts. Let us be. 

What I need as an Asian woman: folks to know that the everyday experience of being an Asian woman sits at the intersections of the systems of oppression of sexism, racism, and more.

What you can do: educate yourself. It is not our fucking job to give you an education about how racism impacts our lives. It’s re-traumatizing for us to talk about our own racial trauma, which is embedded in our identity and ancestral history. If I can read about Asian American history, so can you. 

What I need as an Asian woman: folks to center on our narratives right now and to give us space to tell our stories on our own terms. 

What you can do: learn to shut up sometimes. I often tell my students and mentees that there are specific times and spaces to talk. Likewise, there are other times and spaces we should learn to just listen in silence. If you walk into an Asian-centered space, let us talk (this include non-Asian POC; and I’ll do and encourage others to do the same for you in your space). If you are an Asian man, let an Asian woman talk in this space. And when she talks, you listen. You validate. You try your best to understand. You respect.

What I need as an Asian woman: to be seen, to be heard, to be believed, to be humanized, to be loved.

What you can do: See us. Hear us. Believe us. Humanize us. Love us. 

Many Asian women spend a lot of time taking care of other people with little recognition—a reality that is shaped by our intersecting identity. Make a point to honor the Asian women at your workplace and in your life. Let them know that they are valued. 

Many of us struggle to be heard or taken seriously. After earning a PhD in Sociology, I still often encounter people (especially men) who might have attended a DEI training try to explain some basic sociological terms to me. In other instances, people would try to dictate the way I give a speech or run a workshop. It’s humiliating and offensive. It’s exhausting. Don’t do that. 

Men don’t get to experience sexism just like white people don’t get to experience racism. As an Asian woman, we experience these two systems of oppression in a unique way (in ways different from how Black women experience them for instance). Believe us when we share our experience. Hold our truth. 

We are humans and therefore we are complex. We are not simply your expectation. Not your “China doll” or “cute Hello Kitty”. Cut that crap. This kind of objectification is offensive and insidious. It contributes to our poor mental health. As we try to fight against the world from objectifying us, we are also fighting against ourselves from self-objectifying. This constant process of objectification makes us lose touch with our own feelings. 

Love us. Take care of us. Check your privileges. And I’ll do the same for you.  

#stopAAPIhate #stopAsianhate #endracism #AsianAmerican #AAPI #socialjustice #racialjustice 

Published by pandamotherly

I am Dr. Esther HioTong Castillo. I am Panda Mom. I'm a biracial sociologist mama with a 4 year-old daughter. Four years ago, my complicated birth and the sea-change in my career and family had thrown me into the downward spiral of depression and anxiety. Now, I'm sharing my story and writing my way to health and wellness at the intersection of trauma, intergenerational trauma, family, and parenting.

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