from blindness towards light of discrimination
I was a Taiwanese growing up in Salamanca, Spain in the late 90s. I went to local schools, hung out with Spanish kids with no sense of an outsider. I wasn’t treated differently even though there weren’t so many Asians there at that time. Or at least through the child’s eyes, I fitted in perfectly.
After the age of 7, we moved back to Taiwan with yearly summer trips to Spain. I still feel the connection with the land. I enjoy the surprising looks people show when they find out I speak fluent Spanish with the Salamanca accent. I consider myself welcomed in this south European country that I have entangled relationship with. So when I decided to enrol for a master course in the Netherlands, I wasn’t worried. I thought, comparing to my Taiwanese peers, I have more “European experience”. I didn’t expect much cultural shock. Most importantly, I wasn’t aware of my ethnicity in any way.
And then the virus hit Europe. The Netherlands entered the so-called “intelligent lockdown.” Trump started to call it the Chinese virus and the alarm in my head went off. Despite the resentment I have towards China as a Taiwanese, Chinese virus simply doesn’t sound right. Moreover, we east Asians are commonly categorised as Chinese. I began to become quite aware of my surrounding while walking on the streets. I worried that wearing a mask would make others think I was sick. I made detours when I saw teenagers gathered.
I told my mother, who had studied in Spain for more than a decade, about this concern of facing racism and she said, as she has been telling me for years, that if people have enough confidence, they wouldn’t be harmed by racism. And she was right, at least partially. I took her advice to the bone. I built up this armour around me and protected myself firmly.
Until I started the thesis for my master course a couple of months ago.
I read about micro-aggression. I dug into the notion of identity and the discrimination that sadly often comes along. I reflected back to my memories and revealed the wounds that were covered by this self-protective armour of mine for years. The time that this kid in the neighbourhood jokingly said my Taiwanese name sounds just like “ching-chong-chung”. The girl working in my building using “you Asians all have similar names” as an excuse of not being able to find my package. The guy in the bar asking me why I wasn't wearing a mask in early March because I’m Asian.
These incidents started to float up to the surface. The bubble that had kept me unharmed has started to crack. Up until now, I still can’t decide if this ability to see racism is a good thing or not. Perhaps one thing that I’m certain of is that ignorance is indeed a bliss. But I also realise, in order to make actual change, one must be able to see the problem first. If it were not for this “epiphany”, this painful awareness, I would still be staying in my safe castle guarded by the moat around it and looking out the window as if the world is a haven for all.
In short, what 2020 has been doing is reinforcing my racial identity, in both positive and negative ways, but certainly (and hopefully), it will make me stronger.