The Hyper-Sexualization, Fetishization and Mockery of Asian Women: My Ode to Breaking the Silence

Amidst a severe increase in Asian hate crimes across North America, on March 16th, 2021, a series of mass shootings occurred in Atlanta. Eight people have been murdered, with six victims identified as women of Asian descent. May the Spirits of the victims and their loved ones find peace and may their legacies reign eternally.

This massacre is not a sole product of the rising cases of xenophobia across North America, nor does this murder originate from the racist Asian rhetoric vocalized publicly by political leaders. This deeply rooted hate is a manifestation of the exploitation and plunder that Asian peoples, our bodies and our lands, have been subjugated to throughout history. This hate crime results from intersecting systemic issues that permeate throughout every crevice of society. We become entangled in a world where imperialism, colonialism, misogyny, neoliberalism, and classism dominate every aspect of the lives of Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour.

It is critical to note: Anti-Asian racism does not exist in a vacuum within the United States—this tsunami of prejudice is also widespread and severely increasing across Canada. A recent Al Jazeera news report states, "Anti-Asian racism has reached a "crisis point" in Canada." A 2020 Government of Canada report indicates 1150 cases of racist attacks between March 10th, 2020, to February 28th, 2021, with women representing 60% of all reported cases. Moreover, 40% and 44% of all racist incidents were reported from Ontario and British Columbia, respectively.

Since time immemorial, Asian women have been disenfranchised by western society. Under the perpetual "Othered" gaze, our bodies are defined as objects to consume, another means to maximize profits. We are told to fit the rigid mould that society has made for us in order to succeed, in order to survive. Under the tropes of Asian women, we are told, "You better be smart, not too loud, stay docile, stay dismissive, you need to be sexy, but quiet, be whiter, be fragile, don't speak out." Throughout history, men have fantasized and hyper-sexualized Asian women, reducing us to another item to cross off their to-do-list. Far too many times have I been fetishized by men for my Asian ethnicity, with others attaching my identity to yellow fever and exoticism.

Growing up in a predominantly white, suburban, middle-class neighbourhood as a first-generation Filipina immigrant was difficult, to say the very least. As an adult, I’ve become conscious of the fact that so much of my childhood was centred around upholding classism, white supremacy and the patriarchy (amongst other forms of dominant social identities)-- A rich white man's world comes at the expense of the oppression of racialized, poor women.

As a child who wanted to belong, western assimilation was easy for me. But coming home to my beautiful Filipina family was when my two lives conflicted, what I now see as a haven of Filipina delight and bliss; I once used to demonize for being "backwards," "poor," and "uncivilized." The harmful rhetoric that I associated with my culture as a child was a projection of the racism I faced in my community. Everything around me shouted, "white is better," and thus, the fear of alienation led me to reject my roots and my heritage. Wanting to be like everyone around me meant suppressing my culture to fit in a society where I would never physically belong. Never being white enough, never being Filipina enough-- I put so much of my energy towards assimilating rather than building agency and honouring the sacrifices my family has gone through to give me a livelihood. Like many immigrants, my parents uprooted their lives, leaving behind their whole world, and risking everything to move to a foreign land in hopes of better opportunities for their children. I hope one day I will be able to repay even a fraction of the unconditional love and support they have given me in this lifetime.

The Philippines was colonized for over 400 years. The impacts of such plunder and looting transcend beyond the borders of the archipelago; it conquers our land, our people, our bodies and our minds. The neo-colonialization of land in the Philippines is embodied in policies such as the 1995 Philippine Mining Act, which incentivizes transnational mining companies to own 100% of mining operations and lands. With over 60% of mines operating in ancestral territories, clashing worldviews on land ownership have driven violent conflict between Indigenous and local communities, national governments and mining corporations. Due to armed conflict and environmental disasters, 359,941 persons remained displaced in Mindanao, Philippines.

Like a shadow, the impact of colonialism is felt and seen wherever we go. Overseas remittances make up 10% of the Philippines ' GDP. Thus, the nation actively seeks to increase the amount of foreign overseas workers through the Philippines' Labour Export Policy (LEP). As a result, the Philippines is recognized as the largest exporter of human labour, with 1/10th of the population working abroad due to the increasing poverty and stagnant economy in the nation. Do not forget that the poverty and poor working conditions forcing Filipinos to work abroad are a direct result of colonial forces destabilizing the nation for four centuries. Today, Canada and the U.S. look upon the Philippines’ LEP and the associated mass Filipinx migration as a means of cheap labour, leading to the vulnerability of foreign overseas workers to human rights abuses, and psychosocial issues related to family separation and isolation.

Beyond its ubiquitous presence within societies and economies, our bodies and our minds become colonized by white settler mentalities. Growing up and to this day, I am frequently told to stay out of the sun because I am too dark, or the classic back-handed compliment, “You are beautiful for a dark-skinned girl”. Eurocentric dominance is ingrained into South-East Asian society, which is evident in the pervasiveness of colourism, the internalized racism that privileges light-skinned individuals over those with darker skin.

But what is colourism, if not colonialism persevering?

White supremacy is also illustrated through the model minority myth, where Asian people are known as the most "successful" ethnic groups. The model minority myth mentality is not only rooted in pinning racialized groups against each other but is highly damaging to the psyche. It assumes Asian people are a monolith. This ideology is exclusionary and renders the heterogeneity of Asian identities and the diversity of lived experiences non-existent. Need I remind you; Asian peoples are a multi-faceted and diverse demographic who embody various discrete social identities across individuals and ethnicities.

For as long as I can remember, I've always been the "token" friend. In most groups growing up, I'd be the only Person of Colour, which made me an easy target for racist "jokes." Cringing at the thought of it now, I can remember every time someone has directed a racist remark or microaggression to me, and my intrinsic reaction was to disengage and pretend to "let it go." Let me rephrase that, letting go of a life's worth of built-up microaggressions is nearly impossible. These are moments throughout your existence, simple and explicit reminders, that you do not belong here, that you will never belong here no matter how hard you try— and these instances remain with you for a lifetime.

Sitting in silence while micro-aggressions build one on top of the other for decades—do not mistake such silence for complacency. Silence is being deprived of the energy to explain ignorance, exhausted in spelling out why actions are so intrinsically harmful, scared of having your reality washed away by weaponized tears used to mask racist guilt and shame. I'm tired of nurturing feelings before my own and creating spaces for others to feel comfortable in their racism at the expense of my own safety and wellbeing. Microaggressions are dangerous. They lead to the normalization of Asian racism; the conglomeration of Asian peoples as a monolith demographic; the dehumanization of Asian people; and the murder and harm of our community members and loved ones.

I've spent so much of my life sitting in silence. Although these past weeks have been profoundly upsetting and traumatizing, it has led me to be mindful of the racism I have suppressed throughout my life and how it's shaped me to be who I am today. This piece is written in activism and solidarity to the urgent action that needs to be taken to ensure safety and justice is upheld within Queer, Trans, Intersex, Black, Indigenous and People of Colour communities facing racism, prejudice and discrimination. Sharing my lived experience means fostering a safe space for People of Colour to know:

You are heard, your experiences are real, your feelings are valid; Strength comes in numbers and you are not alone.

It’s time to speak up against the growing issue of anti-Asian racism and to take action in abolishing white supremacy. It is time to reimagine and work towards a world that ensures the safety and wellbeing of our racialized communities and loved ones.

This is my ode to breaking the silence.

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