A fixation on asphyxiation.

Andrew Loh

Apr 16, 2020



Without any ask, order, or subliminal messaging directed towards me, I submit myself to the power of words and narratives showcased by my Twitter feed or in mainstream media that make my heart yearn and my brain tick. The inequities of American exceptionalism know no bounds or borders; they enter classrooms with brown children who don't yet know how to multiply, who read at third-grade levels as eighth-graders. The blame is put on the person whom the system has failed. Asians shouldn't raise their hand to wait and be called on; we should just go back to China.
What is this that I am seeing sprout up in the numerous group chats that I am in? Over the past six weeks, every few days my dad would send a link to a news article reporting another case of racial discrimination against an Asian in America. It's certainly not just happening in America, but when it's in the country you've called home for forty years, it enters the soul a little deeper. I feel the urge to, but hold off on, sending the other reports I'm seeing in group chats with my cousins, friends from college, or the group of AANHPIMENASA teachers I have deep solidarity with. The danger of a single story doesn't apply here. My parents feel unsafe; I can do nothing to change that.
My family's grocery store remains open for business. People need food. When the panic began, sales were significantly down, with Saturday and Sunday traffic comparable to Wednesday's, the lowest of the week. I wonder if our usual traffic of non-AAPI customers (which is not insignificant) has either packed for the winter or chosen a different grocery store altogether or if it's just Asian-on-Asian discrimination, but something tells me it's the former. My dad continues to go to work to keep procurement and payments up, to keep morale amongst the workers up, but he lives in uncertainty like us. My family got creative in retaining its usual customers while giving back to the community, offering free toilet paper to seniors aged 65-and-up, but the parking lot remains the emptiest I've seen it in twelve years. On the upside, Kroger is doing just fine.
The doors to mom's bakery have remained locked, other than a short venture we took to grab glutinous and all-purpose flour for my sister to rekindle her inner Next Great Baker. Without work, my mom floats around the house, stretching out her downward dog when she's not watching the latest news update, sewing facemasks from old fabrics, playing Animal Crossing, or cooking. "You don't know. During this time you don't want to bring home food from other people." She's afraid of the virus. I ask if she wants to join me for a walk later that day. "Not today, too many people will be at the park, so if they pass by you and they get it, they will remember you." She's afraid that we are the virus.
My lack of privilege affords me a different privilege of shedding equal parts humor and criticism on the behaviors of some of my people -- that right is reserved for us, for me. Though I can't help but feel like my mom is overreacting, I catch myself remembering that I am not an epidemiologist or a doctor -- I'm barely a master of eighth-grade science. I don't know what this virus is capable of, but I do know what other people are capable of, and to an extent, what I am capable of.
Later, when my mom, my sister, and I take a walk through the park, I tell my mom to take off her mask, that it's unnecessary. In reality, I am just afraid of the spectacle of an older Asian woman with a face mask in a town where 4.4% of people are AAPI. I, too, am scared of people. I submit myself to the power of words and narratives showcased by my Twitter feed or in mainstream media that make my heart yearn and my brain tick. Meanwhile, I'll stick to my capabilities to keep commenting on what I see from my pair of slanted eyes, hear from my perfectly in-tune ears, and breathe from my pair of healthy lungs -- at least I think they are.
Inhale, exhale, repeat.