Let’s show up for each other.
I came to Minnesota with all the things I could fit in a turquoise blue 1981 Toyota Corolla. I drove here from Connecticut, where I had abandoned a job as an editorial assistant at a small university press. It was located on the campus of an appropriately prestigious liberal arts college where I had also abandoned my dream of being an upstanding student and good daughter.
It was Oct. 1997. I thought I had come to Minnesota to shape my own future, away from the constraints of my well-meaning parents, who only wanted me to succeed in the name of security, stability and happiness.
“We just want you to be happy,” they often said. I was 23 years old. Not only did I not know what made me happy, I don’t think I knew that I would still be trying to answer that question 24 years later.
I was able to find a beautiful and affordable studio apartment in South Minneapolis with hardwood floors, built-in cabinets and lots of light. I also landed a publishing job at a small independent press located in the Warehouse District. They didn’t seem to care that I didn’t have my college degree. Things looked promising for me. My first winter was mercifully mild and I thought I had found a place I could call home.
I expected Minneapolis to be like the other cities I had been to in California and the East Coast. Before moving here, I had only visited once, in the summer. For some reason, I had not noticed how white it was. Perhaps it was because I had come for the wedding of a Vietnamese friend whose family owned a popular Chinese restaurant. Or maybe I had noticed, but didn’t think it would be such a big deal.
What I did not expect was that living in Minnesota would force me to reckon with my racial identity as a Korean American woman in a way that I had never done, even as an expat living in Malaysia during my high school years.
I’ve lived in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, in neighborhoods across both cities. I have worked for companies, large and small, from nonprofits to a multinational corporation. I have favorite places to get coffee, amazing tacos and have a well-established routine for my weekend errands. Even so, living and working here is like being a permanent visitor. I never quite feel at home or like I belong. Even after buying a home in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis 4 years ago, I still feel conspicuous walking my dogs.
Minnesota is home to the largest community of Korean adoptees in the United States – as many as 15,000, according to researchers. I didn’t know about the history of international adoption of Korean children to American families until I came to Minnesota. When I first moved here, I did not fully appreciate their unique experiences of growing up with whiteness constantly reflected back at them.
Until this year, I hadn’t paid attention to Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It never occurred to me that I needed a month to recognize my place in this country, this state. But in the last year and a half, like so many of us, I have witnessed and felt a visceral knowing of racial trauma because of the tragic inequities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, and the violence and hate inflicted upon Asian and Pacific Islander Americans.
For weeks (months?), I have been walking around in a daze, not knowing quite how to be in a world that looks at someone like me and spits, yells, punches, stomps, stabs and shoots a gun at. When I heard the news that six Asian women in Atlanta had been shot and killed by a white man, I felt my heart break – in the way that I thought heart break was supposed to feel like as a little girl before I knew what it really meant. I felt a hurt and anguish I had never felt before. It was an embodied and fatal othering.
I am every Asian elder who gets punched or spit on. I am every Asian kid who gets bullied at school. I feel every blow, every hateful word. It is happening to me. Even now, I still sometimes feel helpless in the face of such vitriol and animosity.
In a nearly one-year period ending Feb. 28, the country has seen about 3,800 cases of Anti-Asian related discrimination and hate crime incidents. What was helplessness has turned into anger. The anger is still there. I need to allow my anger to take up space. I need for all of me to take up space.
Asian Minnesotans, Asian Americans, AAPI people. Let’s all take up space. Not just this month, but going forward. Let’s take up space, however we show up. Whether we’re sad, angry, joyous or hopeful. Let’s not measure our actions or our feelings. Let’s just show up. For ourselves and for others.
What I know is that I am done wondering when I will finally feel at home here in the United States, in Minnesota, in Minneapolis, in my body. I am home. I am from here. This is how I am celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. By announcing that I am here. We are here. And we aren’t going anywhere.