Your Silence Is Deafening, My Asian Friend.
To share a thought is to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Because once you’ve decided as Pandora once did to lift the lid, what’s unveiled could be overwhelmingly haunting and terrifying. And if you’re not considerate and thoughtful and obedient, well… it could very well be the death of you.
I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit, and it’s got me wondering. How do you suppose this lesson from the ancient Greeks, dating back thousands of years, became so prominently etched in Asian American culture? Why is it that us Asians are so hesitant to speak up, to lift that proverbial lid?
To figure this out, I’ll need to take you back.
On what I imagine to be a warm, humid evening along the banks of the Mekong River, my father fled the land upon which he’d constructed his entire life. And in the pursuit of something better, he left behind his family, his wife, and his newborn son. Me.
The war had ended a few years back, and as fate would have it, the ruling darkness of those troubled times betrayed its original purpose, serving as the very shadow that protected him and his younger brothers, as everything they’d ever known was about to give way. It was the most irrational of hopes, you know. To think they could ever escape, much less survive a journey of unwieldy proportions.
And yet they made it, all the way to California, onboard a distressed cargo ship hopelessly floating across the gulf, a first-ever plane ride that took them far away, into the suburbs of Detroit. And ultimately, by way of a Greyhound bus headed West, to the sunny shores of the Bay, where a new life was awaiting.
Here in California they traded their native tongue for broken English, if you could even call it that. They traded heartwarming family gatherings and comfort food for walks to the local grocery store, rightfully hesitant about the frozen food, unknown deli meat and generic cans of yellow corn.
Worst of all, they traded civility and respect from others, for the privilege of being refugees, in a world they knew nothing about. And ultimately, they learned to keep to themselves. Because if you would’ve experienced the blatant dismissals, the unapologetic smirks, the demeaning moments that occurred each and every day, you would’ve kept to yourself as well. You’d shelter yourself from the possibility of being treated as a lesser human being. From any interactions, with anyone, that would reach into the depths of your soul and crush your already weakened pride, forcing you to ask yourself why. Why did I even come here?
I read once in college that “through harsh winters come beautiful springs”. And I know my father would agree because the last four decades have incrementally treated him well. Fortunately, our family was reunited, my brother came into this world, and the two of us have worked to bring our parents the stability they’d always dreamt of, going all the way back to the night they’d purposefully said goodbye, leaving it all to chance.
Which leads me back to my original point about Pandora.
What my father learned during his time in America was that in order to succeed you just had to shut up and work, and suffer the daily consequences that were impossible to avoid, yet manageable if you practiced obedience and submissiveness. It became obvious to him that the more inconspicuous you were, the less likely they’d fuck with you. And the better off you’d be.
Who could blame him? We went from dirt poor to lower middle class. They bought a house. My brother and I went to college. We now have multiple degrees, beautiful families and homes of our own. That was the dream.
Put your head down and study hard, he always said. Work even harder to make money when you’re grown. Pay no mind to what’s out there, and whatever you do, just don’t cause trouble.
Thing is, I stopped listening to my father’s advice years ago. I threw that immigrant shit out the window and have been striving for better days, embracing this country ever since. This is as much my home as anyone else’s, and I’ve defended it with my life.
Unfortunately for us, to say that today’s society has quickly changed for the worst is an embarrassing understatement. As a community, we’re facing an inflection point unlike any other in Asian American history. Not only is racism and discrimination a factor, but many of us are literally scared for our lives, afraid to simply be ourselves within our own communities.
I’ll be damned if I keep silent and hide in fear. The time has come to lift that lid, my friends. To be courageously vulnerable. To understand that a good life is not one spent looking inward, but rather one that allows you to embrace the land upon which you live.
Like I’ve said before, on behalf of our Asian American community, I’m lifting the lid to Pandora’s box, and I’ll bear the weight of whatever comes from speaking up. No longer willing to hold back, no longer keeping my heartache to myself, no longer avoiding the fear.
And guess what? I’m intending to keep that box wide open. Because what most of us don’t realize from ancient Greek mythology is that not everything escaped from Pandora’s box that day. Unlike the evils of human nature, something beautiful was still trapped inside, suffocated without the chance to flourish and grow — because that lid was so hastily closed.
That something was HOPE.
P.S. If this essay resonated with you, continue to read more, and please share with others as we further develop our communities, one reader at a time.