2022 Scholarship Winner: Jady Chen
What do you think needs to be done to address anti-Asian hate?
Stop. I wish they would stop. Why don’t any words come out of my mouth? Why isn’t anyone saying anything? Why aren’t I saying anything?
How deeply I wish I had more anger twelve years ago as my classmates pulled their eyes slanted at me, snickering. There were only two Asian students in my class: a boy and myself. I made desperate eye contact with him, but his expression reflected the same discomfort I felt. My family prepared me for many things before the start of elementary school, like raising my hand for the bathroom and memorizing emergency phone numbers. But nothing to prepare for what to do when your new classmates bully you for how you look— for being Asian.
The teacher was next to me when it happened. She was white; all my teachers were. I turned to her expectantly. “Why are they doing that?” I asked, visibly upset. Deep down, I already knew the answer, but I wanted to see what explanation she would offer me.
She said they didn’t know any better and left it at that. So I didn’t press on. I didn’t realize how traumatizing her dismissive attitude, coupled with the actions of my peers, was for me until years later. Even now, it pains me to recount their names, laughing faces, and eyelids squinted over their blue eyes. A part of me wonders if anything would have been different if I had told anyone else. Perhaps another teacher? Or even the principal? Or my parents, or my siblings? Why were my feelings so easily cast aside? Why didn’t the five-year-old me have a little more anger?
Why didn’t I fight for myself?
Looking back, I realize that even if my classmates were scolded, it wouldn’t have changed anything. I would have received an insincere apology, and the teacher would have forced us to shake hands or hug. I wouldn’t have felt any better, and the bullies would have targeted me for tattling. Confiding in my immigrant parents probably only would’ve made them more concerned and insist I save face by staying out of trouble.
Sometimes I’ll try to comfort myself by re-imagining the scene, only with a better ending. In my fantasy, a group of older Asian kids would march in and angrily yell at my bullies to stop. I wanted my classmates to realize their wrongdoings, not because their white teacher gently told them, but because these Asians intimidated them into never doing it again. That would have turned the situation from a traumatic event into an inspiring memory. Even if just that one other Asian boy in my class had stood up with me, I would have been more inclined to put up a fight. A team of Asians is more powerful than just one.
Over time, I searched for that neighborhood group of Asians who would have defended me without hesitation. I pursued a stronger connection to my community. I assisted local AAPI-owned restaurants during quarantine with SavingTakeouts, interned for Stop AAPI Hate, and volunteered with ASPIRE: a nonprofit focused on uplifting AAPI women in leadership.
Community building and education are not complete solutions to stopping hatred; they merely reassure Asians that they aren’t alone in the fight. I’ve learned it’s more than hatred we need to fight against, but also dismissal, mockery, and erasure. Every time I get looks on the subway that scream you started the virus or when I hear about Asians brutally assaulted in broad daylight, my heart sinks. While infographics and peaceful protests help strengthen community presence, these could not have rescued me all those years ago in kindergarten. Only passion-fueled anger can truly combat hate, and this notion is difficult to accept for a population that has long suppressed their rage in favor of bleak survival. We struggle to embrace anger— instead, we swallow it. We are bystanders to our own suffering because it is easier to accept and normalize violence than confront it. Rather than use invisibility as defense, we must equip ourselves with knowledge and a desire to retaliate.
Back then, I didn’t know how to use my anger to fight. But if I could go back, I would have done anything to protect five-year-old me. Not only would I be standing up for myself but also my family, my heritage, and my community. We cannot combat anti-Asian hate if we do not channel our anger to confront our perpetrators face to face. Being angry does not mean I want to punch my bullies. It means I want to speak up and share my story. I want to write more about the anger I feel and then shout it from the rooftops. Our outrage will empower our future children to fight back, pass down their stories, and feel pride as Asian Americans.