My personal story as a first-generation Chinese immigrant
Happy AAPI Heritage Month! I want to take this opportunity to share more about who I am, the struggles I went through as a first-generation Chinese immigrant, and my personal experience with racism and discrimination. I never shared some of this publicly before because it’s deeply personal and painful to recall and remember, but I felt I had to say something and amplify other AAPI’s voices in light of what’s happening in this country.
My original and Chinese name is Min Yu (于敏), which means “smart” or “agile”. I was born and raised near Shanghai, China, and moved to Southern California as a teenager at the age of 14. My parents had always wanted to immigrate in search of the American Dream.
Those initial years were the toughest period of my life. I didn’t speak the language, had no friends, and had to help my parents who had a hard time finding a job. We rented a one-bedroom apartment on top of someone’s garage in a Chinese-immigrant neighborhood in LA; after a few months of searching, my mom found a job as a live-in maid & nanny and was away 5 days a week, and my dad took on dead-end gigs like factory assembly work.
I tried my hardest to blend in. I imitated others’ American accent, copied the round handwriting style that was popular in school, coveted the Jansport backpack, and started watching Hannah Montana. The truth is, I would not completely feel comfortable in my own skin until well after college, after many years’ of insecurity about my accent, how I look, and not knowing a particular cultural reference.
But how could I blend in when I look so different from the others? I struggled with this dissonance between desire and reality, which is a task doomed to fail. For a long time, I wistfully pretended that no one notices the differences and brushed under the rug any overt or subtle discrimination and racist remarks. I would find excuses, like “they meant well”, “they don’t know any better”, or, “it’s not that big of a deal”. These things happen unexpectedly, sometimes hitting me in the face, and sometimes gliding over but leaving behind a deep, searing scar, constantly reminding me that I don’t belong.
Life would go on normally and I’d forget that I’m different, until I made a new acquaintance, who asked “Where are you from, like, really from?” Life would go on normally until a random stranger from across the street screamed at me, “Go back to where you came from!” Life would go on normally until a boss who I looked up to caught a grammatical error I made and said, “You people always make this kind of mistakes.” And life would go on normally, until I saw in the newspaper, someone who could’ve been me was physically assaulted in broad daylight.
All these suppressed memories now came rushing back and can no longer be ignored. They must have hurt me so deeply that I still remember the tone of voice so vividly after all these years.
And I’ll no longer be silent and look the other way. My parents’ generation kept their heads down and worked hard to put food on the table, but it’s up to my generation to make our voices heard. I will share my stories, have an open conversation with the others in the AAPI community, and educate others on how to be a better ally.
That’s why I’m sharing my story with you now, working with my team to produce educational content on our website and social media channels, and hosting a candid panel discussion with three badass AAPI women who are powerful advocates and strong voices on issues that the community faces.
Check out the blog post we have just published on how to better support and champion for the AAPI community.
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