I have always proudly identified as an Asian-American woman. Anywhere in the world that I travel, at first they are confused. “But you don’t look American,” often addressing the slant of my eyes. Because all around the world there is a [black and] white image of what America looks like and I do not fit in that frame. But after a minute, (and yes, this has actually been told to me in several separate instances on this trip,) I am recategorized as “white”. Why? Because my skin is fairer than brown and I possess a strong, American accent. I’m basically as white as it gets here. It comes with a certain privilege and way of interaction that I am not sure I care for– even though people remind me time and again how lucky I am to be who I am wherever I go.
This election, I am truly learning that the world is always watching America. As I write this blogpost, I am overhearing key political names in local Tamil language conversations in small town India. Wherever I travel, even when it isn’t election time, when people find out that I’m American, political talk is always slipped into the dialogue. (Meanwhile, here I am standing around, looking like a doofus, apologizing for knowing little to nothing about Indian, German, Haitian, etc., politics.)
I know that I am relatively privileged in America. I am not Muslim, black, Hispanic, Native American, handicapped, LGBTQ+, or a refugee. Despite our many imperfections as a nation, I have been privileged to have never personally felt truly endangered by my identity.
I currently live in a world where the caste system can very explicitly define your worth and you bleach your skin because the fairness of your complexion defines your beauty. I am friends with businesswomen who are shamed by their hometowns for not following the status quo. For leaving home, for finding her own husband, for leaving him when he cheated on her, for being independent, for making money by building a business, for the way she raises her daughter, for having male friends, for having short hair, for driving, for going out alone, for wearing clothes that expose her knees. I live in a world where stereotypes are often considered truth and instill fear, idolizing certain cultures while alienating other people groups.
Slowly, the contrasting differences between India and America (and the progress between America today and America fifty years ago) begin to blur. This week, for the first time in my life, even being halfway around the world, I really feel threatened for being an Asian American woman in this undeniably heavy, oppressed way that so many people in the world have experienced for so long. Most of us cannot fully comprehend our responsibility as US citizens. This collective decision America has made has and will have a major affect not only in our little American bubble, but all over the world. And, by the way, the whole world is asking how we ever let this happen.
In this season of my life, I have grown most in empathy for all the different people surrounding me. In this week, I learned about negativity and hatred, but also optimism and love in a whole new light. To the devastated and hopeless, there is hope, and your fight continues. Don’t be so quick to judge, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Truly listen and love fully. To all my friends and neighbors in grief and fear, I feel you and stand by you. In spite of everything going against us, this is how we keep going: hand in hand, all over the world.
Love always always always trumps hate.