Asian American Hate, pt. 1
By: Chandarith Moeun
Chandarith Moeun, a Cambodian American who grew up in Mexico, Maine and helped found the Mountain Valley High School Civil Rights Team, is an illustrator and voice actor. We've divided his narrative into five sections and we'll be sharing them daily for the next five days. We hope you'll join us as we listen to Chandarith speak his truth. And follow him on Twitter @chadouken and IG @chad0uken! Throughout this series, Chandarith has embedded links within the narrative to provide readers with more information. Please use them! Please note this piece contains triggering content, including racial violence and language.
Illustration by Chandarith Moeun
One of my most vivid memories growing up was from when I was a freshman in high school. I had just gotten home, and my mother told me that something had happened to my father. I could see the pained look on her face as she struggled to tell me. "He was outside, and… he was attacked. Some of the neighbor's kids threw stones at him. Don't worry, he's okay." At first, I was stunned. I almost didn’t believe it. But then, slowly, I could feel the fury boiling in my chest as it rose to my face. "Why? Why would they do that?" "..." She didn't have to say anything. We both knew why. We were one of the only Asian families living in town, surrounded by white people. I'd be lying through my teeth if I said that I had never encountered racism before that. I had grown up somewhat used to the casual racism that many of us minorities suffer; the micro-aggressions that people gaslight you about, or love to tell you to just shrug off. In a sense, they're kind of right. As a minority, you can't really afford to expend energy on every single racist interaction that's inflicted upon you. I had to pick my battles. Some I ignored, others I grew numb to. The snickers and contempt that I saw on some of the faces of people I grew up with became like background static. 'It's...whatever,' I thought. Until it wasn't.
The horror of what those kids had done to my dad was like a bolt through my chest. The world around me seemed to cloud over. Nothing else mattered. I could only see red. My anger only allowed for one question: WHO DID IT? I had to make sure that they knew that they had made the biggest mistake of their lives. It was going to be the last time they hurt anyone. I quickly went to put on my shoes. It was GO time. "Where are you going?" My mom asked, voice full of concern. I ignored her as I started opening the door. "WHERE are you going?" My mom's tone froze me in my tracks. "I'm going to find who did it," I replied. "You don't even know who did it. If you went out to hit someone and it wasn't the right person, what would you do? What would happen to you?" "I don't know, I would make sure it was them." I said defiantly. "Go sit down." I flinched. I couldn't believe her. How could I just let this go? Why shouldn't I go beat the crap out of some snot nosed racist kids? If nobody teaches them not to mess with us, what's going to stop them later? I mean, the AUDACITY of these kids. Do you know how safe and comfortable you have to be with your racism to think that it's okay to hurt someone? Would they like it if I threw rocks at THEIR parents? The thoughts raced through my mind, as my mom watched me, eyes gentle and caring. Her voice was calm, but strong. "I understand you're angry. I am too. But just because you're angry doesn't mean you can go out and hurt people. Your father is okay, and he made sure to have a word with the parents of the children that hurt him. They'll handle it. YOU are not going to hurt anyone." It felt like a slap. I could feel the anger and frustration choking me as I processed what she said. Their PARENTS? You mean the people that probably taught them how to be such hateful little monsters? They're just going to keep walking all over us because we let them know it was okay! My mother could tell she wasn't getting through. I wanted to yell, and it was written all over my face. In a firm voice, she told me about the nature of hatred, and how it feeds into itself. It becomes a self destructive cycle, leaving nothing but pain and regret in its wake. One act of hatred in a moment of anger could ruin your life, forever. A life of good deeds would be undone by cruelty and foolishness. Anger shouldn't be the guiding emotion in how we make decisions. She knows a lot about anger. About injustice. She was a survivor of the Khmer Rouge decades before in Cambodia. Men, women, and children were slaughtered in a genocide. Many of the people responsible escaped justice. Millions died, and their killers got to live relatively peaceful lives next to the people they had abused. It wasn't fair, and of course they deserved to be brought to justice, but if she spent the rest of her life focusing on the hatred she had for those people, what kind of life would she have? As she spoke, I felt the thoughts of vengeance leave. I was still upset, but the logic got through. At the time, I was so consumed by the anger, hearing her words felt like poison. Like weakness. A refusal to recognize a clear threat. Ultimately, I didn't go seeking retribution. I honestly didn't know which kids had done it, and after talking with my dad, he seemed grateful that I hadn't done anything rash. That had made me feel a little bit better, but it still didn't sit right. I remember seething in the anger long after it was over. to be continued...