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The Importance of Embracing Your Authentic Self

May 20, 2021

Fear. Anger. Sadness. Grief. Denial. These were the emotions that have been flooding my body for the past few months as I continued to watch and hear stories about the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes across the country. It felt like each day there was a new case being investigated with no hope or end in sight. The more I kept thinking about the attacks, the more I was reminded of my childhood and the trauma that took so long to suppress. When I looked in the mirror, I would see my younger self — a scared Asian boy who believed that if he did everything he could to fit in, he would not have to worry about feeling like an outcast. 

Little did I know that no matter how hard I tried, there was no turning away from my identity. The issue wasn’t about me believing that I needed to act a certain way. It’s that as a society we have allowed systemic racism to influence our behaviors. Instead of working together to fight racial injustice, racism is perpetuated by the acts of violence toward marginalized communities.

I still remember reading the story of Angelo Quinto’s death. He was a 30-year-old Filipino Navy veteran in Antioch, Calif. who died from complications after a police officer knelt on his neck. The incident occurred during a police intervention while Angelo was suffering from a mental health crisis. As I watched the horrifying video, I could feel these waves of emotions rushing through my mind as I kept thinking to myself, “that could’ve been me.”

According to Angelo’s mother Cassandra, her son pleaded to the officers saying, “Please don’t kill me. Please don’t kill me.” When you hear those words uttered by another human being, you would think your immediate action would be to stop what you are doing. For the days and weeks that followed, I kept thinking about Angelo’s death questioning why that same technique that killed George Floyd almost a year ago was used on another helpless victim.

As the countless acts of anti-Asian violence continued, I couldn’t help but to feel defeated. On top of that, the news of the mass shootings that occurred at three Atlanta spas on March 16 only compounded that feeling of defeat. According to a national report by Stop AAPI Hate, there were nearly 3,800 anti-Asian hate incidents reported in the past year. What’s worse is that the hate crimes reported represent only a fraction of the number of incidents that actually occurred.

While processing my emotions, I realized that feeling helpless wasn’t the solution to the problem. Instead, it was a reminder that we should not have to keep our heads down and hide in the shadows. If we expect progress to be made, we must fight not only for ourselves, but for those who are not seen or heard.

During Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, I am reminded of the many contributions and influence that the Asian community has had on the history, culture and achievements of our country. As a proud gay Filipino American, I am even more empowered to continue to embrace my identity and live a life where I can be my authentic self.