We met Staten Island-based college student Katie in an Asian grocery store on May 29 and had a more-than-merry time discussing her upbringing, frustration with anti-Asian attacks, and “biting the shit” out of a sixth-grade bully mocking her race (at the cost of a two-day suspension).
Samantha: Hey! Okay, so if you’d like to start off with where you’re from, as well as your cultural background? And then tell us about how connected you are to your culture as an American citizen.
Katie: Yeah, I’m from Staten Island. My parents are both from Hong Kong, my dad’s over there actually, slowly approaching us (laughs).
So, I think I’m pretty connected? I will say that I cannot read or write Chinese, but I can speak it, so...
Serena: It’s fine, I can barely speak it (laughs).
Katie: Yeah, since I do Chinese mixed with English like a lot, my parents are always like, “God, that’s so white.”
Samantha: Cool. So in terms of when you were growing up—for instance, I started in a relatively white town? And then I moved to here, which, if you know anything about, has this huge Asian population—what was it like for you growing up where you did? Was it hard for people to accept you, or were you fortunate to live in a pretty welcoming town?
Katie: No. No (laughs). They’re Italian. So what I realized early on was that people are assholes?
Katie: But the easiest way for people not to be a dick to you is if they’re scared of you. So, like, I literally just harassed people. Or not harassed them, but with guys, I would throw hands so, yeah, I’d get into fights with them.
Samantha: Oh, my god. I wish that could be me.
Katie: No, but like they’re not going to listen if I’m like, “Stop being mean.” So, like, if you’re threatening them, they’re like “Alright, word.”
Samantha: (laughs) Yeah, like a ten year-old Asian girl just…
Katie: Dude, I got suspended in middle school. In the sixth grade. Because some kid was like, “Oh, I’m going to shove your hair up your ass, you fucking ch*nk,” so I bit the shit out of him and started swearing. And he was the fucking [inaudible] president’s son.
Serena: (laughs) Oh, no.
Samantha: As you should, I guess?
Katie: So they tried to get me fucked, and I was like, “You know, they called me a ch*nk—that’s racist as hell.” And they gave me a two-day in-school suspension so it wasn’t anything that bad. Because the dean actually was like, “I mean, I’d do the same thing. I’d want my daughter to do that.”
Katie: So, it worked out.
Serena: Yeah, for sure.
Samantha: Oh, my god. Wow. I mean I couldn’t relate to any of that because I just went home and cried all the time? But honestly, good on you. I wish that could be me.
Katie: I think the other thing is that I’m, like, my family’s always like, “Oh, you’re the female version of my dad.” Because my dad’s an aggressive guy, so, like personality (laughs).
Serena: Runs in the family, I guess.
Katie: It really does (laughs)
Serena: Okay, so, our next question is with all the anti-Asian violence going on, how does that make you feel and how has your family reacted to it?
Katie: Okay. I’m, like, hyper-angry about that. Because I get that there is so much, like, dissent in between races, I want to say? But the thing is, people are going after elders, and that’s where I’m like, that’s so fucked up. Because you can’t even pick on someone your own size, your own age—you’re literally going after people who genuinely cannot do shit back. So it’s like so frustrating to me because it’s like, if you’re picking on people your own age, at least they can retaliate?
Katie: And I remember seeing in San Francisco or something, where some guy tried to swing on this old Asian woman—
Serena: And she fought back, right?
Serena: I saw that too! You go!
Katie: Fuck it up! (laughs) But, like, most people can’t do that, right? Also, the other thing is, like, I was always taught to be more passive, just like, let them say whatever they want, “words can’t hurt you,” that’s what my mom said (my dad was just like beat their ass). So, I’m glad I was raised in, kind of my mom would have that passiveness…
Samantha: Which is like the stereotype for Asians.
Samantha: And that’s so frustrating.
Katie: It is! But the thing is that’s how they were always raised, I think? Like focus on yourself, do your own thing, work your own hustle. But the thing is, now we’re kind of known for being more passive and now it’s like, shit, we need to fight back. We need to actually…
Serena: Challenge that stereotype, right?
Katie: Yeah, we need to make it clear that we’re not gonna stand for that. It’s just frustrating, like the other day I was like, “Oh, I might not want to take the subway anymore. Because if some shit happens, like, I might catch a charge.”
Samantha: I kinda want to see you fight back though (laughs). I feel like you could take it. If someone jumps you on the train you just go at them?
Katie: Literally, that’s like my thing! I was talking to my mom, and she was like, “If they’re saying words, just put in your airpods.” And I was like, no. The reason why they’re doing that is because they get joy out of essentially bringing, it’s like the whole bullied and bully thing. If you actually say something back, that’s when they don’t know what to do. So if you put them in their place, make them fucking learn, like, if you just ignore them, that’s not going to do shit for anyone.
That’s where I’m like frustrated now. Even now, I’m like to my mom, “Let me get you pepper spray, let me get you some form of a weapon”? And she’s like, “No, adding weapons escalates the problem…” And I’m like, well, what’re they going to do?
Serena: Yeah, and if they’re creating the problem…
Katie: Yeah, exactly. I don’t know, it’s just like frustrating.
Serena: So, our last question is, with regards to your ethnicity, what does equality mean to you?
Katie: Okay, so, my thing with equality is essentially just don’t be a shitty person. But the other thing I think is unfair to everyone is when we all tend to generalize and say, “This race is this, this race is that.” But it’s not. It’s like that person. And I think some people are just shitty. But that doesn’t mean that everyone in that group is shitty. And I think that’s an important thing to distinguish? When there’s this kind of stuff going on. Because when you’re generalizing everyone, it just adds to the issues already there, and that just makes it worse for everyone.