Penny for Her Thoughts
Thoughts and News from Penelope Hsu
In medicine, we acknowledge 5 stages of grief. While this theory of behavior was originally applied to people facing their mortality, I feel like I’m definitely grieving for my AAPI community as the attacks against us escalate. I’ve been trying to put my volatile emotions into a coherent story, but that clarity eludes me. Instead, I’m just going to share the ramblings of my mind and the few steps I’ve started to implement.
When COVID first started to spread in NY in March 2020, there were rumblings that the virus came from China. The CDC guidance was to screen people by asking if they had traveled from China in the last 14 days. Aside from starting in Mainland China, though, there didn’t seem to be any other known connections to anything Asian or Chinese.
So when I started hearing about Chinese pharmacies and restaurants being vandalized in NYC’s Chinatown, I thought they were random acts of violence. Why would anyone target a pharmacy in Chinatown? They were 6000 miles away from China and these businesses had been Chinatown staples for years; clearly the owners and workers were based in NYC.
In my own day to day, I was able to live in denial about any hatred against Asians for months as I donned scrubs every day to go to work. People were clapping at 7pm for me, surely they couldn’t also hate me at the same time? The uptick in violence that I saw on the news didn’t really affect me directly, so I didn’t do anything about it. I’m not saying it was right, but I will say it was the easier road to take.
As the year went on, though, and the anti-Asian sentiment and attacks against our community grew, my anger also grew.
I was angry at every deviant who thought they could push us onto subway tracks or hit us with umbrellas. I was angry that people were so easily brainwashed by one loud White Male with a megaphone. I admit to being slightly angry that Olivia Munn was suddenly so Asian.
I am still angry that, like our BLM brethren, we have been experiencing these attacks and no one has been listening. Last year, I told colleagues of my patient’s mom who was beaten on a bus in broad daylight by a pack of teenagers. They said they couldn’t believe it. I am angry that, one year later, they probably now can.
Lastly, I am angry at myself that I thought I could avoid any of this.
There have been times this past year that I’ve thought, Couldn’t we go hide behind the model minority myth again and be the ‘good minorities who didn’t cause trouble’? Couldn’t I remind people that so many of the healthcare workers fighting this disease were Asian? Couldn’t the media EVER highlight all the amazing technology and science championed by Asians that were helping millions of people? I wanted us to be either fully seen and appreciated or not seen at all.
Oh, to bargain for our safety by parading our achievement and accolades. To actually buy into systemic racism as an illusion of safety. It’s a terrible bargain to make. If we hide behind the model minority myth, we choose our invisibility. If we don’t, we risk being seen as ‘just another minority’ and facing hate head on. It’s a Faustian bargain, of course, that yields no actual win.
My heart broke at the image of the Asian Grandma who was bloodied but ultimately not bullied by her perpetrator. I truly don’t even know how to process someone getting hit in the head by a hammer. As the attacks continue and become more and more gruesome, I feel the despair of just accepting that this has become our reality.
NY has been reopening slowly since the vaccines starting rolling out in early 2021. And yet I have no joyful anticipation of re-entering all the places that I used to revel in. I honestly don’t see my life changing too much when NY opens. I will still stay in the safety of my home, avoiding any possibility of being spit on, kicked in the stomach, or stomped on.
Anyone who knows me knows how much NY is part of my identity. To willingly choose to let life pass by in front of me out of fear literally drives my soul to the deepest depths of depression.
When Covid first started, no one at work checked in with me after any anti-Asian attack was reported. After the Atlanta attack, though, 3 of my white colleagues wanted to have a frank discussion with me about the issue. The look of surprise when I shared that the group furthest below the poverty line in NYC was Asian-Americans, showed me that the lightbulbs were going on. Explaining how the model minority myth precluded our community from being offered health, educational, and employment assistance, proved to be news to a colleague who had lived his whole life in Brooklyn.
I’ve attended so many forums since this all started and the simplest call of action has been to share our stories. And I think that’s right. I felt good that I had brought a nugget of information and education to a few people who would never have otherwise known the depth of our struggle. I vow to continue to do so going forward.
So yeah, I still feel all these things, often cycling through them all within the span of a few hours. And while I continue to process these stages, I will lean ever further into that which grounds and powers me-my faith and my purpose. I trust that God has strength for me when I don’t have it myself. I know in my soul I am called to help others during this time. And in so doing, I pray that my own healing from this overwhelming grief will come as well. Thanks for reading.