When my family moved from Florida to Southern California as a young child, I felt a renewed sense of community because there were more people here who looked like me, who ate the same food, spoke the same language and were living a shared immigrant experience. However, as I got older, that bubble burst and I had to confront that although I moved to a more diverse area, there were still people who were never going to accept me.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent discriminatory behavior was a game-changer to many Americans of Asian descent who were unfairly targeted and sometimes violently confronted due to the virus’ origins. Today, even as the country has started to open back up, Asian Americans here and across the country are reckoning with the aftermath of a new strain of hate that we can no longer ignore. For generations, we’ve been the ‘model minority’ or been led to believe we had to conform and turn the other cheek in the face of racism against us. That survival strategy is no longer viable and needs to stop so the hate against us will come to an end
Because of childhood bullies, I grew up being ashamed of my own culture, and only learned in adulthood that the beauty of America lies in its cultural diversity. As parents, we need to show our kids that beauty at an early age. With that being said, I want to encourage other parents to let their kids explore non-Western cultures at an early age by trying different foods together, immersing them in second-language classes, watching movies made outside of Hollywood, and reading children’s books by non-Western authors.
My husband and I are currently teaching our son, Atlas, English, Chinese, and Vietnamese. We celebrated Lunar New Year with him dressed in traditional Chinese attire. Unlike me, he will not grow up ashamed of his culture. If we want others to accept him, we as parents must teach him to first love and accept himself.
It’s also not just our parenting style, but also the influence and guidance of others, such as teachers, neighbors, friends and strangers, that will help him and others like him grow into a thoughtful and generous person who treats others with kindness and respect. We want to take this time to shed light on what we’ve experienced so that others who are in his life and the lives of others in his generation know how to respond to micro-aggressions and bullying when they see them. We want to ensure that our children here in the Los Angeles area and across the country can enjoy a childhood that is free of shame, insensitivity or exclusion. A lot of these feelings are a part of growing up, of course, but we as parents know that we can always do our part to help our kids treat other children better and foster an atmosphere of cultural acceptance and mutual respect.
I’m often angered, even enraged, when I see so many people of Asian descent being treated with such unprovoked intolerance and non-sensical prejudice because of COVID. The hatred that has arisen from the fear of the pandemic also allowed me the chance to talk to other people in a way that I didn’t think was possible a couple years ago. It’s been refreshing to speak to other parents during this very difficult time in our collective pandemic experience and share our fears and uncertainty. We found that we’re on the same side and all want to protect each other and our children. This speaking and sharing with other parents also filled me with hope. I’ve seen an overwhelming amount of support these past months from all parts of the city that have made me feel we can turn a corner and stop discrimination against people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. If we can all treat each other with compassion and respect and help raise our children with the passion for change I’m witnessing now, I will be most grateful and relieved. I believe this is possible – especially after seeing how other parents in our community have rallied and supported me, my family, and my culture.
Dr. Dagny Zhu is an Asian American ophthalmologist and practice owner based in Rowland Heights who is a first-generation Chinese immigrant. She is an accomplished eye surgeon who has experienced hate and discrimination against AAPI people both personally and professionally. Even though AAPI Heritage Month has come to an end, which is held every year in May, Dr. Zhu wants parents to know how to speak to kids on anti-Asian hate with a story of how she and her husband (also a first-generation immigrant) are raising their son.