Every night since February 13th, whether I’m at a hotel or at home, I check under the bed before I go to sleep. I don’t how I expect to defend myself if I find a boogeyman hiding underneath, but I still do it regardless. I feel like a little girl again, when I used to stay awake until the light of dawn—my signal of safety—began to stream through my curtains. Somewhere between my preteen years and adulthood, I stopped being so afraid all the time. It’s only now, that I realize I took all those years of feeling invisible—and by extension, safe—for granted.
On February 13th, Christina Yuna Lee decided to take a cab home after a night out. Even though she lived steps away from the subway, she didn’t feel safe, because just weeks before another young Asian American woman—Michelle Go—was pushed in front of a train. Still, Lee’s smart decision paid no reward. She was followed into her apartment by a man who then hid under her bed and stabbed her more than 40 times.
The other night I go on social media to try to escape the onslaught of news about Ukraine. Instead I stumble upon a video with a trigger warning. I can’t help but watch it. A 65-year-old Asian woman is followed into her apartment building by a man who beats her more than 125 times.
40, 125. Eight—the number of Asian women murdered in the Atlanta spa shootings a year ago. These numbers keep playing over in my head. Numbers that, to me, serve as evidence of hate; that prove these are not mere coincidences, or “freak accidents.” This is targeted, strategic violence against women who look like me.
I find myself behaving like my mother, whose OCD propelled her to repeatedly check the door was locked every night before bed. I never leave the door unlocked now. What a liberty that was, to leave it unlocked, an indication I felt I belong in my neighbourhood; evidence of trust towards the people on the other side of my door.
Every day, when I feel my emotional state switch from calm to afraid, I immediately judge myself. “There’s Indigenous and Black children who feel this way every day, who fear the police; Ukrainians who are living with the constant fear of their homes being bombed; Afghani women facing the threat of the Taliban,” I remind myself. My fight-or-flight response to nothing at all is then followed by shame; embarrassment that I would be so self-involved to fear my safety based off a few violent acts targeting Asian women.
I don’t dare express my daily fears to the people in my life. I love them but they’re white, and as much I don’t think they would go so far as to gaslight me, I anticipate their skepticism; their judgment that I’m being just a bit too dramatic. I gaslight myself before anyone else gets the chance to.
How do I fix this? How do I stop random acts of hate? How do I change the perception of Asian women as easy victims? It’s a societal problem rooted in a history of xenophobia and the sexualization of Asian women in North America. I can’t change people’s biases; their fear of—but also attraction to—difference, overnight.
This is the circle of thoughts I deal with every day: fear, followed by shame, followed by loneliness, followed by helplessness.
And as good as it feels to get this off my chest, to project these feelings out into the dark hole of the internet, I feel myself judging my own words as I write them. So, I’m sorry, if this all reads as hyperbole or some desperate plea for help. I swear I’m not asking for your sympathy. I just need a place to let it all out.
“47% of transgender people and 34% of Native Americans are survivors of rape,” Quinn Fitzgerald and Sara de Zaggara, founders of the safety bracelet Flare, tell me.
The stats are staggering and yet we have so few options when it comes to personal safety devices. Tired of our only options escalating, rather than resolving a bad situation, (think, pepper spray and rape whistles), Quinn and Sara created their own innovative safety device—a bracelet. A discreet button inside the bracelet connects to your phone to initiate a call from a voice actor, alert your friends or call the police.
I interviewed the founders on their invention and the importance of talking about safety.
“We hate that a product like Flare has to exist, and our users feel the same way,” says De Zarraga. Fitzgerald adds, “We don’t believe our products solve safety, real safety will be solved by cultural, social and political change.”
👩🏻 Why we need to keep talking about anti-Asian racism.
“One of the most jarring experiences is when something bad happens to Asians and I go to an all-white space, and someone asks me how I feel and I say ‘sad’ and they say, ‘Oh no! Why?’” -Youngmi Mayer.
🗣 On the pathologizing of everyday behaviours—from “gaslighting” to “love bombing.”
🌍 If therapy speak is the new norm, so too is climate-anxiety.
👨⚖️ Why Americans should be concerned about Dr. Oz running for Senate.
“This perhaps is the deeper, more primal appeal of what Dr. Oz is selling — the idea that if we can find the right guru, buy the right products and strive hard enough to manifest our best selves, we might just cheat death.” -Annaliese Griffin.
“Yanagihara remains at heart a travel writer, if not an unreconstructed one. She seems to sense that wealth can be tilted, like a stone, to reveal the wriggling muck beneath.” -Andrea Long Chu.
👘 Tracing the history of the Korean hanbok.
🎤 Britney is free, and expecting.
🗞 Even magazines can’t get the right Asian person.
👨🍳 A few years ago I wrote and photographed a story on since-closed Japanese restaurant Autre Kyo Ya. So I’m thrilled to see the Times do a profile on the owner Tony Yoshida (I just wish it wasn’t because of his businesses shutting down).
🚊 I’ve been reading too much news about the Brooklyn shooting. This helped me feel a bit better.
“Sarah Jessica Parker really missed the subway: ‘To me, being on the subway with a book, heading toward a meal, I honestly can’t think of anything better.’”
I’m not one for horror movies but I love Sandra Oh, so I can’t not be excited about her new thriller, Umma (the Korean word for “mom”). I’m convinced my mother is haunting me, so I’m equal parts afraid and eager to see this.
25,000 to 49,000 children who were legally adopted by U.S. citizens between 1945-1998 may lack citizenship. What does this mean? They’re at risk for deportation, even though they were raised American.
I didn’t know this until watching the movie Blue Bayou on my flight home last week. The indie flick tells the story of Antonio LeBlanc (played by Justin Chon), a Korean-American adoptee living in the Louisiana bayou with his pregnant wife Kathy (played by Alicia Vikander). After an altercation with the police, he’s thrown in jail, where his illegal status is discovered and he’s quickly transferred to ICE custody.
Reminiscent of other humanizing artsy films like Moonlight, what director Justin Chon does so beautifully is make us empathize with the protagonist by framing his acts of crime as desperate attempts to provide for his family. He captures the complexity of abandonment, both as an adoptee but also as an exoticized “other” in a racialized setting.
It’s at times overdramatic and hard to watch, but the climax still brought me to tears—which says a lot given I watched it on a cramped airplane.
Everything Ocean Vuong writes is gold, so naturally, I devour any chance I get to hear him verbalize his thoughts. In these two interviews—one with NPR’s Fresh Air, the other with Glennon Doyle—Vuong talks about grief, his late mom’s immigrant experience and what it means to be an Asian American writer. I related to so many quotes, here are some of my favorites.
“Grief is perhaps the last and final translation of love. You realize that it will never end. Her absence is felt every day.
Ever since I lost her, I felt that my life has been lived in only two days. There's the today, where she is not here, and then the vast and endless yesterday where she was, even though it's been three years since. How many months and days? But I only see it in - with one demarcation. Two days - today without my mother, and yesterday, when she was alive.”
On watching his mother die…
“Death was such an incredible thing to witness, because it was the closest thing I saw to truth. It’s not even honest, because honesty is a vehicle for truth, but death is truth without a medium. It’s truth as is. You don’t get to say when or how you get to experience it, whether you’re ready or not.”
On the immigrant experience…
“Nobody survives by accident. We often see the refugee as a victim or a passive condition who is pleading for universal help. But in fact, the refugee is an incredibly creative artist. I would even go as far as to say that my elders around the world who survive geopolitical violence are survival artists.”
On being an Asian American writer…
“What does it feel like to be relevant only when Asian women die? Why do you have to read our stories in order to value us enough to not kill us? It says a lot about the project whiteness has with empathy, that it has to be worked towards rather than just simply deserved. What does that feel like, to be valuable or deserving of empathy and love only when you’re brutalized? That’s the Asian American plight. If we’re visible at all, we’re visible as a corpse.”
On how being othered informs his identity as an artist…
“This hyper-vigilance became actually a practice, a way to be an artist. I’m turning these limitations into assets. But how sad and exhausting to live your life, and constantly have to see if you’re wanted in any certain space, space that you have the right to be in.
It’s so important to be an Asian American artist, because when it comes to Asian American prodigy or talent, we’re often perceived as conduits. You’re the musical prodigy holding the violin to play Eurocentric masters. But when you decide to make your own story… as an Asian American artist, you’re up against hundreds of years of erasure. People are going to see you as inconceivable, but that’s okay.”
Instead of snacks, this week I’m sharing some of my top wellness picks from my active lifestyle gift guide for Forbes. It’s a couple months belated, but it’s cold here in Canada so I’m still wearing cozy base layers to stay warm.
Some of my favourites:
🏋️♀️ A Classpass membership that gets me into classes in 30 countries.
👕 A breathable but warm base layer.
🧘♀️ A waterproof yoga bag that fits all the things.
💆♀️ A self-massage device that really works.
🚶♀️ A sleep and activity tracker that monitors all the health signals.
👯♀️ Leggings that wear like a second-skin.
👟 Sneakers made of merino wool.
👙 A plant-based bra.
🪢 Adjustable scrunchies made for athletes.
🛏 PJs that prove comfy can be stylish too.