Whenever we travel to a foreign country, we often find ourselves lost and frustrated. The simplest questions like “Where are the restrooms?” and “Which way do I have to walk?” turn into complex linguistic equations where we end up spending minutes and minutes trying to formulate our thoughts into the native language. We know deep inside what we desire, but we just cannot express our voice because we struggle to find the right words. The struggle of this scenario is just a marginal glimpse into the voiceless community of Asian-American immigrants.
For the past thirteen years, I have been the American voice for my immigrant family. Whether it be signing rent contracts, negotiating car loans, or working out bureaucratic issues for my parents’ businesses, I’ve been the go-to individual to help translate their thoughts in Korean into English. I’ve never really seen this role as anything too special and in the past, it just felt natural for me to take on this responsibility. Yet my perception of my role as the voice for my family changed as COVID-19 quickly changed the public sentiment towards Asian-Americans.
With the blame of the coronavirus quickly being pointed to Asians, the level of hate towards the group quickly rose as well. With many news media reporting attacks on Asian elderly, blatant hate encounters for young Asian adults, and passive-aggressive looks out in public, my parents’ experiences were no different. Yet, when I asked my parents about their encounter, it wasn’t the remarks that were directed towards them that affected them the most, rather the suffocating feelings of not being able to respond to the remarks and voice their thoughts in the situation was the factor that upset my parents.
Taking this into perspective, I got an understanding of the cruciality of an individual’s voice in society. The ability to put our thoughts into words and be able to challenge perceptions is a process that everyone should be able to do. In the context of racial justice then, I want to be the voice with the Asian-American immigrants, and use my upbringing to express our community’s opinions and support on racial justice issues. While this entails a huge and seemingly lofty goal, it is my reason for being involved in this project—to learn more about issues and strategies as it pertains to racial justice and apply those theories into practice for those sharing immigrant backgrounds. Hence, this area isn’t just another academic project for me. No, this is about my personal background and an identity that I share with thousands of other Asian-American immigrants living in the United States. That is why I don’t mean it lightly when I say whatever it takes.