Lola. This is the word for grandmother in Tagalog, the standardized national language of the Philippines. My daughter’s Lola, my mother, is a small and quiet woman. Yet, she can give you a look that makes you stop dead in your tracks. That look immediately lets you know that you did something wrong. She fights fiercely for her children and grandchildren. She would invite a stranger off the street for Thanksgiving dinner. I am completely biased, but my Filipino mother is probably the sweetest woman you will ever meet.
Yet, there are people in this country who perceive her as a threat?
I have unfortunately experienced some racist comments growing up, but I generally never gave it a second thought. Hurtful at first, I always remind myself that I have better things to do and to worry about in life. My mother always taught me to be kind and courteous, even to the rudest of folks. Coming to this country as immigrants, there is a quiet bravery that is instilled in the generation that raised me and my other Asian classmates. Most of them came to this country for more opportunities for their children. Quietly and diligently, they worked hard despite language barriers, stereotypes, and willfully ignorant people.
Growing up, I was always told to follow the rules. This was the mindset of my mother’s generation. Don’t create conflict. Don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself. The generation that raised me taught me to be polite and to work hard. I continued living this way and to this day, I find that it’s sometimes difficult to break away from the constant need to be polite and to please others.
I am between generations; raised to be quiet and polite, but now raising a daughter to be confident and outspoken. I am raising the next generation. My daughter is anything, but quiet. In fact, she is the complete opposite of who I was as a child. Dainty and small, yet she has no problem at all leading the group of children in a playgroup. She loves to be in charge.
Mainstream media has recently started to portray Asian women in stronger roles and that makes me so happy. We are on day 25 of watching Raya and the Last Dragon. My daughter was so excited to see Raya on screen, yelling, “That’s me! I am strong and have muscle strength like Raya!” For her to recognize that part of her Asian heritage and to take pride in it, made me gleam. As a mixed-race child, she could pass as many ethnicities. But we talk about her Asian heritage in the books and movies that we watch. Her latest book obsession is A Big Mooncake for Little Star. She has a collection of dolls of various races. My husband and I don’t tell her to stay quiet; to blend in, but rather to stand out and be proud of her heritage.
As mothers raising the next generation, we are choosing the narrative for our children. The shift in mindset is to not just keep your head down, but to live proudly of who you are; to take pride in the differences. The recent attacks on Asian-Americans have deeply hurt me, as I know the victims are usually the least intimidating. Yet, they are a threat to people who don’t like change, who don’t seem to want to change.
So, as an Asian-America woman, raised by a generation who quietly worked hard in a new country, I can say that I won’t and can’t be silent about recent events. We, as a society, can and should do better. Stand up for the ones who need it most.