Hoi Chan for #StopAsianHate Medium

The Emotional Toll of Enduring Anti-Asian Attacks

Enough is enough.

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It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon for a walk at Ocean Beach in San Francisco when a white man came running at my elderly father and me. He waved his arms, gesturing at us, and started shouting.

“Oh no,” I thought. “He’s going to try to shove my father.” I reached out for my father’s arm. My father is 88 years old and disabled due to spinal stenosis combined with a childhood bout of polio. He needs two canes to walk.

I tried to hurry my father back to the car, but the white man followed us, shouting, “Yes! Lift those legs! You’re already moving better!” Then he shouted at me, “Do you understand?”

Although there were other people at the beach that day, none were in earshot. No one saw us being accosted by this crazed white man. No one came to our aid.

Fortunately, we made it back to our car, and I was able to drive away to safety.

But the incident shook my father’s nerves. He began to suffer from nightmares and panic attacks. I had to take him to the hospital for an EKG once because he thought he was having a heart attack. It turned out to be a panic attack, and his doctor prescribed a low-dose anti-anxiety medication for him. But one of the side effects is drowsiness — never great for an elderly person.

I learned to internalize the othering as shame, as though we somehow had not projected our trustworthiness hard enough, earnestly enough, strenuously enough. As though we had done something wrong merely by existing.

This incident infuriated me because I realized how impossible it would have been for me to protect my father if that man had tried to harm him physically. He was a big, tall, strong, fast able-bodied man. My father is frail, a survivor of cancer and open-heart surgery, a former refugee whose childhood was marked by 12 years of war. When he was four, he and his family had to flee their hometown of Nanjing during the Japanese invasion of China. As a child, his family faced near starvation as they fled across the country, trying to stay one step ahead of the invading army.

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May-lee Chai
#StopAsianHate

Author of Useful Phrases for Immigrants: Stories, winner of the American Book Award. Bylines in Kenyon Review Online, Paris Review Online, Seventeen +