On Tuesday night, six Asian women were murdered in Atlanta. It was another horrifying violent incident following weeks of news reports of other Asian Americans being killed, attacked, and harassed. But for many Asian Americans, this hatred isn’t new. From the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which prohibited Chinese immigration to Japanese incarceration during World War II to the murder of Vincent Chin in 1982, anti-Asian racism has been a part of American history. What feels new, to me, is how I’m seeing increasing numbers of the Asian American community share and mobilize their grief and anger.
Sharing grief feels foreign. Expressing anger feels foreign. There’s an irony in using the word “foreign” because for so long that’s the word lobbed against Asian Americans, the perpetual foreigners who never truly belong. But the word is apt because grief and anger are not emotions I’ve allowed myself to experience much less share. The process of speaking aloud the hurt and anger is a difficult, terrifying, and exceedingly vulnerable act. It runs counter to every bit of advice I’ve been told about anti-Asian racism my entire life. Stay silent, do not draw attention on yourself or share your pain. Keep your head down and you’ll be fine. Except I’m not fine. I’m grieving. I’m furious.
This grief manifests in different ways. On Tuesday night it began with horror and anger before settling into overwhelming sadness as my friends and family checked in on each other. Yesterday morning, I scrolled through the news with anger and a renewed sense of purpose of supporting my community by sharing charities like Red Canary Song, which supports labor rights for Asian migrant workers and sex workers, and #StopAsianHate, which redistributes funds to local grassroots organizations and those affected by violence. And last night it turned into something softer, a desire to cook something delicious and experience Asian joy as a chance to heal.
That need to cook and eat shows me how much I am my parents’ child. My mom is ethnically Chinese by way of Burma, entering the country as a refugee. My dad is from Hong Kong. Neither of them were great at saying I love you or I’m sorry. Instead it was, “Have you eaten yet?” or “Go get yourself something delicious to eat.” Those statements served as my parents’ way of apologizing or expressing love. It was their way to heal and nurture. And that’s what I did last night, finding comfort through a bowl of steaming rice and plate of tangy, spicy larb.
In my fridge, I have several packets of Omsom, an Asian American female-owned brand of sauces. I originally planned on writing a more straightforward review. I would have praised the packets as being delicious and easy: Open one up, add them to your protein of choice, and in 30 minutes, you have larb, sisig, bulgogi, etc. I would have ended the review with something like how they make dinner easier than ordering takeout. But that’s not why I needed to open a packet last night or write this story today.
Omsom’s tagline, which pops up when you Google them, resonated with me last night as I reflected on the lives lost in Atlanta: The brand calls themselves “proud, loud Asian home cooking.” They believe in no more diluted dishes or cultural compromise because real deal Asian cuisine and communities are too damn delicious to deny. After the sorrow I experienced in the last 24 hours, I want proud, I want loud, I want all of the exuberance that I’ve lost in my years of silence. I want that sentiment reflected in the spicy, savory, sour flavors I’m eating and I want to shout it from the rooftops so loudly that no one can deny my community again. I want to feel at home and safe. And I want everyone else to feel that way too.
Tuesday’s attacks showed us how deadly it can be when misogyny, classism, and racism intersect. My way to heal from this toxicity is to support and amplify Asian businesses, especially female-owned ones. It could be Omsom, it could be my local mom-and-pop who doesn’t have internet-savvy to market themselves on social media, the list goes on. But last night I took a moment to quietly grieve. I used my mouth not to speak out but to eat. And today, I’ll use that same mouth to share my voice and amplify the ones in my community.
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