I’m writing today to help me deal with my anger over a look that I got yesterday from an Asian woman with her family at the gym. I was with my kindergarten age son and preschool age daughter, and we were heading in for my son’s karate class. He was dressed in his gi, and looked awesome. My daughter was happy and cute with her sparkly dress and wild curls. And I, for once had on makeup. We were all happy and smiling as we headed from the car to the front doors of the facility. As we were about half way down the long pathway to the entrance, an Asian family was walking the same way from the opposite direction. I’m originally from the Pacific Northwest, so my natural instinct as I pass people is the make eye contact, smile and even say “hi” to strangers. I’ve learned to tone that way down since moving to Southern California. But, I guess I’ve become comfortable at this gym, so I tend to let my guard down and slip into my over friendly mode.
As this young family approached, I noticed them because they looked so cool in their super colorful workout gear from head to toe, and sipping on their water bottles (even their very little girl). I noticed the mother looking or should I say, staring at us, we made eye contact and I was smiling, but in return she just gave me and my kids this look of contempt. It was like a slap in the face, and it threw me off so much I just immediately looked down. They reached the front door a little before us and I watched her saunter in in front of us like she was a big boss. The whole scenario infuriated me. I held it inside and kept a smile on my face and my voice upbeat with my kids on either side of me. But inside I was a wreck. It honestly took me all the way until we got into the dojo before I was able to feel unshaken. Throughout my son’s lesson, and even after putting my kids to bed that night, I was filled with rage towards that woman. I was also mad at myself for looking down. I questioned why this stranger had such a powerful effect on me with only a look and a saunter. I questioned why my immediate response was to look down, as if I was feeling shame. Maybe I was feeling shame in that moment. I’ve felt a lot of condemnation, rejection and shame growing up, so I guess that is a familiar emotional response for me. But, what I was really interested in, was figuring out the root of my rage towards this random stranger. It just didn’t make sense to me. A friend once told me “if it’s hysterical then its historical,” meaning that there is something deeper causing the emotional response. I realized late that night that her look was the physical representation of what I feel from my Korean in-laws, and many of the Asian strangers that I encounter, especially when I’m with my kids or my husband. What I feel from them is: “You are beneath me. You cannot be with us. We don’t want you around.” If I had never married an Asian man, I probably would never have noticed this racism, and I certainly wouldn’t have cared so deeply about it. But now, my children’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins are Korean. My husband is Korean. My children are part Korean. As a mom, I’m terrified for the day that my kids start noticing and experiencing some of what I am experiencing. Maybe they already are. How does this relate to my title? Through out all of these many negative experiences, I’ve been surprised and encouraged by a number of Asian people that have gone out of their way to talk with me, be kind to me, and befriend me over this past year. And they are all positive, beautiful and loving people both inside and out.