My Immigrant Mother Didn’t Have Time to Worry About Racism
I slammed my shovel through the dirt and finally felt resistance. I had reached the roots of the bush we were trying to unearth. Sweat slid down my face on the hot summer afternoon.
“Mom, I made it, can you pass me the shears?”
She handed me the rusty tool. I rolled my shoulders back and started chipping away at the strong foundation.
“Hey mom, have you seen the news lately?”
“The protests. What do you think of them?”
“I’m not sure yet. But I can understand why people are upset”
“I actually wanted to ask, what was it like growing up when Martin Luther King was alive?”
“I don’t really know. You know, the first time I was ever able to sit and pay attention to the news was after you were born”
At the age of 20, she started working hard to immigrate to Canada and it was in her mid-thirties that she had me in 1995. As we plucked away at those stubborn roots, she explained to me how she experienced racism every day as a young Filipino woman trying to make it here in North America.
She told me stories of how people would look at her when she couldn’t speak English properly, and even how my Dad’s friends thought she was marrying him just for money.
But the most profound takeaway for me was how she never had the time to worry about those racist behaviors because she was too busy working for a good life and helping others like her in the process.
It’s not like she didn’t care, she did feel that pain. But there was no time to sit and wrestle with the problem, she just had to push right through the adversity in order to accomplish the most important goal: providing for herself and her loved ones.
I was in the car with a friend of mine when the protests were in full swing. Videos of the packed streets were all we saw on TV and black squares with heartfelt captions filled our social media feeds whenever we felt the itch to scroll.
“Why do you think the George Floyd video impacted us more?”
“Hmm, I think it was because it was such a long video. You know, it took around 8 minutes and we could hear him saying that he couldn’t breathe. Remember how a lot of the other hate crimes were quick? Like how they usually get shot and the video lasts for a few seconds?”
“Yeah, that’s probably why”
We were far from it. It wasn’t only because the death itself was slow and drawn out, it was because we were struggling to fill up all this newfound time on our hands. We saw the anger in the echo chambers of our social media feeds and we reposted, commented, and read emotional articles that allowed us to feel a collective frustration.
Call it a harsh observation, but if you compare the different reactions to Ahmaud Arbery’s death and George Floyd’s, you begin to see why. Both murders were equally horrible and heart-wrenching, but one died when everyone led normal, busy lives, and the other died when we were all stuck inside with nothing to do.
As Julio Vincent Gambuto wrote:
“They are problems we ignore every day, not because we’re terrible people or because we don’t care about fixing them, but because we don’t have time. Sorry, we have other shit to do”
One’s response was limited to social media posts and a communal running event. The other’s response flooded the streets and shook the world.
What matters is that we were angry, and rightly so, and we had nothing else to do but show that anger. And the easiest way to do that was through our social media accounts.
When Donald Trump first got elected, a lot of my friends were shocked and voiced their anger online. They got in ‘debates’ but ignored other people’s opinions if they didn’t agree. They were angry because there was someone in power who spread harmful hate speech targeting minorities and lifted up white supremacist ways of thinking.
Someone like that at the top of the ladder led us to feel one thing: powerlessness. So we raged on social media and put our frustrations into the hands of old men with political power and hoped for the best.
But, as corny as it sounds, we really can be the change we want to see in the world.
In the midst of that anger after the election of Donald Trump, I wished I asked myself and everyone around me this question:
“How do your frustrations mirror your real life?”
You want everyone to be treated equally but how do you interact with the strangers in your life? Do you smile back when smiled at, or think it’s weird? Do you stand up for someone that’s being taken advantage of by other people even when you might get hurt? Do you feel fear when a homeless person walks up to your car window and asks for money? What’s your reaction like when your friend makes a misogynistic joke while you’re having drinks at the bar? Do you laugh, but then condemn Donald Trump for essentially behaving the same way? When someone messes up, do you ride the wave and jump at the chance to throw stones at them?
You want more kindness in the world, so show it.
It’s easy to blame the system. It’s easy to voice that frustration online.
But what if I told you creating a positive ripple effect of generosity in your local community was easy too?
Studies show that small acts of kindness can motivate the people around you to do the same. This in turn motivates the people around them and eventually reaches dozens of people. Real change. Coming from one small act on your part.
As I’ve mentioned, kindness can be contagious even when it starts out as a small act. A recent study has shown that throughout the pandemic, people were more likely to be optimistic if they noticed more generosity in their day-to-day life.
One question determined levels of well-being:
“If you had lost your wallet, would you trust your neighbors to return it to you?”
If the answer was yes then they were more likely to have been resilient amidst the stress and anxiety of the pandemic. This comes from kindness on a local level, not on a level unreachable by us.
It took me and my mom over a week to get rid of the bushes in the front garden. Each morning, we’d go outside and cut off a few branches. Her knees would start hurting so she retreated back inside after a couple of hours, and I would try and hack off a few more before tapping out too.
If I had done it alone, it would’ve taken me two weeks. If she did it alone, probably three. On the other hand, if I spent all day hacking away, I’d hurt myself in the process.
After putting in small amounts of effort consistently each day together, we managed to clear the roots with no lasting pain, and in a good amount of time.
“Well, all I had to do was show up and be kind. It worked because eventually people started seeing me for who I was”
“I couldn’t really get angry, well I was angry but I couldn’t show it. I just knew I had family back home waiting for me to bring them here, so I couldn’t waste time worrying”
Today, I see a lot of surprise coming from people who thought Asian hate crimes weren’t a thing.
But they’ve been around for a long time. My mom didn’t have time to worry about that type of behavior because she was too busy doing the good, hard stuff. You know, lifting people up instead of bringing them down. She even did that for the people who were trying so hard to bring her down in the first place.
She filled up her time with action. What’ll we do with ours?