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What It's Like To Live With The Growing Fear Of Being Asian-American

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The Growing Fear Of Being Attacked As An Asian-American In NYC

This weekend, I met up with a friend in Flushing, Queens, for lunch and to run a few errands at Target.

Flushing is considered the New York City borough's very own Chinatown. It’s also a place where a number of Asian-Americans have been attacked in a pandemic-obsessed world.

On March 18 of this year, a 13-year-old Asian-American boy was attacked at a playground by a group of teenagers. They allegedly shoved him to the ground and threw basketballs at him, shouting, "“Stupid f––g Chinese. Go back to your country,”

On March 23, an Asian-American man’s cellphone was slapped out of his hands as he was called racial slurs. He was physically unhurt but his phone was damaged. The perpetrator escaped.

And on March 24, a man started shouting anti-Asian remarks at a woman on the subway. When she started recording the incident on her phone, the man slapped it out of her hands and broke it. She fled to another car and the man who attacked her got away.

This is just in Queens. And just in the course of one week.

I moved to New York from the Philippines at age 14. For as long as I can remember, I’ve never felt like I was in danger being out and about.

Not to say that I didn’t experience my fair share of racism then. But most of the time, they were just words and insults — and I’ve learned to just let them roll off my back and move on.

Now, though, things are different.

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The racism and anti-Asian hate experienced by the Asian-American community have not only increased recently, according to statistics, due to the misconceptions about the pandemic, but it has escalated so much that it dominates the news and sparks social media conversations on a regular basis.

After the shooting in Atlanta, Georgia that claimed the lives of eight people, six of them Asian women, there was such a loud outcry that celebrities of Asian descent used their platforms to speak out on this issue.

Olivia Munn went on the Today Show and spoke about how the pandemic has been used as a weapon against Asian-Americans.

"And we have a target on our back and for some reason right now, it feels like it's open season on us," she said. "And we need help, and we need people to care about what's happening to us."

As I scroll through my Facebook feed, there are so many posts from my Asian-American friends sharing their fears — for themselves, for their family, and for the community as a whole.

Just the other day, my mom told me about how her co-workers have been asking if I go to the city for work (not recently, as I’ve been working from home) and if I’ve been safe.

It's gotten so bad that a local watch group was established by volunteers offering to walk with anyone who feels unsafe being alone as they go about their day.

But, for some reason that I couldn't comprehend, I haven't been afraid. Or, rather, I haven't been afraid on the level that I think I should be.

I can’t help but wonder about my own feelings. Have I been under-reacting? Or is there more to it?

Because I know that I’m definitely outraged by the violence.

I’m terrified for the elderly who are seen as easy targets. I’m terrified for the children being bullied and shunned in playgrounds by other kids and their parents.

And, for the first time, I’m terrified to be Asian.

But, at the same time, I also feel so detached from it.

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I reached out to my Facebook friends to get their perspectives. Most are Filipino-Americans and New Yorkers.

One of them told me that at the beginning of the pandemic, he would joke about how he had so much legroom on the train now because no one wanted to sit next to an Asian man.

Meanwhile, his mother worried about his brother, an essential worker who drove all over NYC.

“I personally believe Asian violence has become more visible but it's always been there, to begin with,” he told me. “I feel safe going out because I know how to defend myself. I'm lucky.”

But, he also shared that he worries for his female Asian friends, who are constantly harassed and even groped.

Another friend told me that all the violence has made her anxiety much higher.

“I’m scared, I don’t feel safe,” she said. “I commute twice a week. I hide my hair, wearing a face shield to hide who I am to avoid being someone’s target... It’s terrifying. I try to be OK, but I keep seeing these incidents and it makes me upset ”

Her fear has been so amplified that she actually bought a self-defense kit, something she never thought she'd ever need.

As I’m writing this, I’ve come to a sort of revelation. I can’t help but wonder if my under-reacting and detaching are some kind of trauma response.

Am I so traumatized by the attacks on my fellow Asian-Americans that my brain just refuses to dwell on it?

And with everything that’s occurred in the past year surrounding minorities and social movements, are we a generation of traumatized social crusaders?

Are we continuing to fight for our right to live and exist while also dealing with trauma surrounding our ethnicity?

Honestly, that’s a lot to handle. So, perhaps, I am afraid, after all.

Everyone responds to trauma differently.

Some people's fears become amplified. Others become even more anxious. The brave ones go out there and fight back. And some, like myself, detach themselves.

Is it too optimistic to believe that once the pandemic ends and life returns to normal, the anti-Asian rhetoric and racism would stop?

I don't know.

But, what I do know is that, right now, I'm dealing with it in the best way I can and, for sure, my fellow Asian-Americans are, as well.

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Caithlin Pena is a writer and editor for YourTango. Her work has also been featured on Thought Catalog, Huffington Post, Yahoo, Psych Central, and Brides.