An Asian mother holds her child in a warm embrace


Are They Avoiding Us Because We’re Asian Or Because They’re Physically Distancing?

May 4, 2021

As a Chinese Canadian, the surge of anti-Asian incidents makes me feel on edge.

Although I’m fortunate to not have experienced violence or blatant discrimination, the uneasiness carries throughout my day-to-day, heightening my mama bear instincts.

It was in early 2020 when the news broke about where the first COVID-19 outbreak happened. Images and videos of citizens in Wuhan, China, plastered TVs, social media feeds, news sites and so forth.

Then we started to quarantine. As everyone stayed glued to their screens, I could feel the blame game starting. And at the end of that finger wasn’t the virus; it was the colour of my skin.

Staying safe at home and only travelling for essential purposes has made my family get creative in the way we spend time together. We started going on a lot of walks, rain or shine. We walked north, south, east and west from our house and back.

Khairoon Abbas writes that a lot of racist attitudes start at home. She believes we are all owed equality. Read that here.

'Can they tell we’re Asian?'

On one particular day, I was pushing my son in his stroller along a narrow path. There was an elderly white couple walking towards me. I knew we needed to physically distance so I pushed to the side and waited for them to pass.

I expected them to walk by us, perhaps give my son that “aww he’s so adorable” smile and say thanks for letting them pass. That’s what typically happens. I mean, who can resist not looking and gushing over a cute baby with their chubby cheeks and tiny little fingers?

However, they came about six feet from me, took one look at my son, glanced at each other like they had some sort of understanding, then turned around and sped off. I had never seen an elderly couple walk that fast in my life.

My first thought was: “Can they tell we’re Asian?”

Are they avoiding us because we are Asian? Do they think we have the virus?

I’m wearing a mask, hat and sunglasses but my son isn’t.

I started wondering about how I dressed, my height, the parts of my skin they could see, like my hands and neck, and the colour of my ponytail that stuck out of my baseball cap.

Are they avoiding us because we are Asian? Do they think we have the virus?

I felt dirty and ashamed; all those years of rejecting my culture came flooding back. I started questioning whether I needed to change my appearance, dye my hair, blend in, wear clothes that would make me look more white. But how could I do that for my son? He will barely keep a hat on, much less a mask.

I am sensitive for a reason

I didn’t give the elderly couple the benefit of doubt. There could be a million different reasons why they turned around.

Maybe they forgot they had an appointment to attend?

Maybe they just realized they were going in the wrong direction?

However, I immediately thought they were discriminating against us. I wanted to dismiss my feelings, telling myself that I was overreacting and being hysterical. But a feeling is a feeling and I am sensitive for a reason.

I don’t think my reaction is solely based on the elderly couple’s behaviour but rather the cumulative years of being stereotyped, experiencing various forms of microaggression and feeling an underlying sense that I don’t belong.

The surge of anti-Asian hate crimes

I’m not someone who watches the news often.

But it’s hard not to notice what’s been happening in my city.

In February 2021, the Vancouver Police Board released a report that found anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 717 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019. The rise of racist attacks and violence against Asians has made me feel more fearful and uneasy in public.

"I don’t want to become a hermit, suspicious of everyone."

Now, whenever I read or see a news story that took place in an area that I frequent with my kids, I either try to convince myself that that will never happen to us or I get overly paranoid and never want to leave the house.

But the reality that I face is neither; it’s living in uncertainty that makes it unsettling. I don’t want to become a hermit, suspicious of everyone. But I don’t want to make myself vulnerable, get caught off guard and put my family at risk.

Therefore, I’ve become hypervigilant and aware of my surroundings whenever we go out. It’s gotten to the point where if someone were to turn around instead of passing by us, I’m more relieved than upset. I’ve grown to ignore the reactions or lack of reactions from those who walk by us. All I know is that it’s different now than when I was pushing a stroller with my daughter five years ago.

Katharine Chan writes about why her immigrant parents thought it would benefit her to stay silent. But as a parent, she no longer feels it's the course she wants to take. Read that here.

Things will change for the better

I’m confident things will change for the better. It’s unfortunate that senseless acts of injustice are what’s making the news — that violence is forcing the world to finally pay attention to the years of discrimination Asian Canadians have faced.

However, I believe this is the turning point; the impact of this pandemic will shape generations to come. Although my experiences thus far have been relatively subtle, I think these are the stories that need to be told. Awareness brings courage for others to share their narratives, perspectives and context, even the quiet ones.

Opportunities for Asian writers and content creators will continue to rise and voices will be heard. It’s merely the beginning. I’m hopeful all of this will contribute to a kinder and more compassionate world for my children and future grandchildren.

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