Credit: Courtesy of Vang Family

My father is a warrior. He’s a fighter. He’s brave, courageous, and there’s no problem that he can’t figure out when he puts his mind to it. My father is my hero. He’s seen all men can do, from the evil  to the goodness in their hearts. He’s the strongest person I know, and when I’m confused and afraid, I look to him to help me find my path. 

But every time I’ve left my parent’s home this past year, he’s told me: “Be careful out there, we don’t look like them, and they don’t like us.” It always caught me off guard. Why? … Why would a man who fought a war for America, survived living in a refugee camp for more than 10 years, then relocated his family to a different country ( a country whose main language he does not speak), worked for more than 30 years, and put all his kids through college and grad school, why would he feel the need to tell me to be careful? Was he afraid?

Each time he told me that, I wanted to reply, “Dad, you’re the bravest person I know. I get my strength from you! You’re my shoreline when I feel lost in a sea of BS. You can’t be afraid.” This really troubled me, and as I thought about it, from a quiet place in my heart, I could hear a voice telling me, “Yia, he’s not afraid for himself … he’s afraid for you.” I suddenly realized that because of the hateful sentiments and violence towards Asian Americans in the last year, my hero is now afraid for me. Wow. 

Fear is an interesting thing. It’s like a double-edged sword. Fear not only impacts the victims of hateful rhetoric and actions, but it is also what fuels the perpetrators. 

To my Asian brothers and sisters who have been the targets of racist acts, those of you who have been attacked, ridiculed, shamed, and hurt, I say to you: You’re not alone. Fear just makes you feel like you’re alone. Hope breaks that lie, you are not alone! There are so many of us standing together, ready to stand with you, and for you. We hear you, we see you. This might be hard to believe right now, but there’s a force of great men and women of all creeds and backgrounds that stands ready to protect and fight for you! 

To the perpetrators of these hateful acts, I say to you: It is sad that you live a life full of fear and hopelessness. I wonder, who did this to you? Who hurt you and who instilled this fear in you? Whose lies are you believing? You’ve been sold the story that you have to be afraid of someone who is different, who might have a different ideology, opinion, or a different value system than you. You’ve been cheated and tricked into believing that these differences justify words and acts of hate. It’s actually heartbreaking because it reveals your own brokenness. You are so deep in your fear that you actually feel threatened by regular people who are just going about their lives, working to support their families, and creating a better future for their kids. Because you are afraid, you want to make others even more afraid, through threats, intimidation, and violence. In doing so, you spread fear, like a virus. 

But because I am my father’s son, I can’t talk about fear as a disease unless I also speak about the cure. The cure is hope. Hope of a better future, hope that the next generation will be better than we are today, and the hope that we learn from our mistakes. Those of you who have acted out of your fear and hurt others, I invite you to break the cycle. You can start over and choose a better path, for yourself and for the world around you. You are invited. 

Hope is the light that will expose the darkness of fear. Hope lights our path. I know because it’s what my mother and father built our family ethos upon. My parents brought us to this country with the hope that we would have opportunities here. They dreamed of a better place than the country they left behind. Their hope lit their path through many challenges, ones I can barely imagine. Hope gave them the courage to keep moving forward. And even though my father is afraid for me, because of his courage he’s passed along that legacy of hope. I can offer that to you! 

My friend Katie Steller asks, “If fear is contagious, why can’t kindness be?” I believe that we can make hope contagious, too. We owe it to our brothers and sisters, and we owe it to people like my dad.

Yia Vang is an award-winning chef and the founder of Union Hmong Kitchen. His new restaurant concept, Vinai, slated to open in summer 2021, is named after the refugee camp in Thailand where he was born.