“I am a Queer Vietnamese American, But Not Always in that Order”

By Viet Tran 

Originally published on the Human Rights Campaign blog.

The diversity of our nation is what makes us stronger and more connected, and immigrants are a part of the beautiful fabric of this country. Throughout history, immigrants have enriched the foundation and culture of the U.S. with our resilient narratives, colorful traditions, and innovative contributions. This Immigrant Heritage Month, let’s celebrate immigrants, their journey and stories.

As a queer Vietnamese immigrant and the child of refugees, during Pride Month and Immigrant Heritage Month I recognize that I am a queer Vietnamese American, but not always necessarily in that order.

The Vietnamese diaspora carries a heavy history marked by war-torn stories, unspoken trauma and unfamiliar transitions in new homes and customs across the globe. My own story starts with my parents.

After the fall of Saigon in 1975, my father was incarcerated in so-called “re-education camps.” My mother, the only daughter out of seven children, worked to support her family while also pursuing education. She eventually became one of Saigon’s most respected educators and teachers.

It was in the early 1990s when my parents sought asylum to the U.S. However, after enduring years of austere conditions and trauma in the incarceration camps, my father would not make the trip abroad with my mother and me.

They named me “Tran Hoai Viet,” after my father, but my name also translated to “Eternally Vietnam” — a powerful reminder to always remember the country we left.

Immigrant, Vietnamese, Viet Tran, queer

Though I was born abroad, I grew up in the U.S. and, like many other immigrants and first-generation folks, I struggle to navigate and reconcile my Vietnamese roots and my American upbringing.

When I first came out as gay, I was afraid of the ways it would further complicate my multiple identities and two distinct cultures and traditions.

To me, being a queer Vietnamese immigrant means that my coming out experience is a lifelong and ongoing process and oftentimes a two-front battle. In 2008, I came out to my friends in English. In 2018, I came out to my mom — yet this second time was entirely in Vietnamese. It was important to me to come out to my immigrant mother in a language that she understood best.

Heavy cultural expectations and language barriers made my coming out process even more challenging as someone who was navigating at the intersections of being queer, Vietnamese, American and an immigrant.

Many LGBTQ API immigrants will often share similar experiences and challenges. Many of us are at the cusp of two hemispheres, two generations, two tongues and, in many cases, two lives. The process to reconcile our multiple identities and experiences sometimes extends a lifetime.

As I honor Immigrant Heritage Month and my own story, I recognize that there is still a need for more representation and visibility across the spectrum. This Immigrant Heritage Month and Pride Month, I encourage you to explore your own heritage and history, honor the contributions of your communities and share your story to take on the challenges that we still face today.

For more information about the unique experiences of LGBTQ API youth in the U.S., click here. To read more about navigating the intersectional experience of coming out as LGBTQ for API people, click here.

Commemorating the First-Ever AAPI Day Against Bullying and Hate

Cities, elected officials, and advocacy groups rally around a day to fight hate in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and honor the legacy of Vincent Chin

Today — May 18, 2019 — marks the first-ever Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Day Against Bullying and Hate. This day is led by Act To Change, a national nonprofit dedicated to ending bullying in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. May 18 is also the birthday of Vincent Chin, who was brutally murdered in 1982, catalyzing a national Asian American movement. Cities and other municipalities across the country have officially declared this day. Act To Change is also partnering with elected officials, influencers, and other nonprofit organizations to spread the word and reaffirm a commitment to standing up to hate and bullying.

“We’re seeing an increasingly anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and xenophobic political climate, and kids are facing hate both in and outside the classroom,” says Act To Change Chairman and Co-Founder Maulik Pancholy. “That’s why this inaugural AAPI Day Against Bullying and Hate is so important in highlighting the urgency to act to change this.”

Half of Asian American studentshalf of Muslim American students, and two-thirds of Sikh American students report being bullied. And in one report, over two-thirds of Chinese-Vietnamese, Laotian, Iu-Mien, and Indian American youth said they had been bullied at school. Additionally, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups is at an all-time high, and the death toll tied to the radical right has increased.

Supporters of AAPI Day Against Bullying and Hate include:

  • Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC
  • Boston City Council
  • City of Hoboken, New Jersey
  • City of Miami, Florida
  • City of Seattle, Washington
  • City of San Francisco, California
  • City of Torrance, California
  • Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus
  • Congressman Frank Pallone
  • County of Burlington, New Jersey
  • County of Passaic, New Jersey
  • Georgia State Representative Sam Park
  • Governor Phil Murphy
  • Japanese American Citizens League
  • Los Angeles City Council
  • Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago
  • National Council of Asian Pacific Americans
  • New York City Council Members Margaret Chin and Peter Koo
  • OCA — Asian Pacific American Advocates
  • Senator Bob Menendez
  • Sikh American Legal Defense & Education Fund
  • Southeast Asia Resource Action Center
  • State of New Jersey Senate and General Assembly

To join the conversation on social media, use #DayAgainstBullying and #ActToChange. Through its website ActToChange.org, Act To Change offers anti-bullying and anti-hate resources including in multiple Asian languages.

Pancholy states, “This day is part of a larger movement of uplifting communities across the country, promoting a culture of tolerance and safety, and celebrating our differences.”

Questions? Contact info@acttochange.org.

Related links:

U.S. Department of Education Release Joint Fact Sheet about Combatting Discrimination against Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) and Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian (MASSA) students

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights Newsroom

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Educational Opportunities Section, and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders issued a fact sheet that includes examples of forms of discrimination that members of the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) and Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian (MASSA) communities commonly face.

  • The fact sheet in English PDF and in other languages about combating discrimination against Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) and Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian (MASSA) students.

Working to End Bullying in All Forms

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“Boys will be boys.”

“It happens to everyone.”

“It builds character.”

Unfortunately, these are considered legitimate defenses to bullying in our society. Bullying is pervasive in communities across the country; however, bullying in Asian American and Pacific Islander communities can stem from an entirely different motive. Subtle microaggressions stemming from anti-immigrant sentiments or white privilege can quickly stem into physical, sexual, or emotional bullying. Bullying of children in the AAPI community, no matter the perpetrator, can substantially impact the well-being of children and their views about their place in society and sense of belonging.

I was lucky in my childhood – I wasn’t bullied, but plenty of my peers were. As my generation was becoming known for the use of social media, the internet was becoming the new venue for online harassment, on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Formspring. In Iowa, the development of technology was not reflected in our legal system. If a complaint of cyberbullying was brought to school officials, the administration had no legal jurisdiction to protect the victim or punish the perpetrator, because the bullying occurred online and outside of school property. This created a huge gap in the frequency of bullying and the extent to which school administrators could protect their students’ emotional and educational well-being. Through my involvement in the Iowa Youth Congress, a mock congress of high school students, we proposed a bill in the Iowa State Legislature that would close this gap and protect students from being bullied online.

In the summer of 2015, I was an Advocacy Intern at the Hindu American Foundation. Dr. Murali Balaji, our Director of Education and Curriculum Reform, approached me with a project, analyzing bullying among Hindu students across the nation. While conducting this research, I reflected on my high school work on bullying.  I realized that my experiences helped me empathize and work with other victims of bullying. By talking to friends and victims of bullying across Iowa, I learned that those defenses to bullying, the “boys will be boys”, are a part of a rhetoric that works against our youth and it defends harassment as an inherent part of our society. That facet of our society is incredibly detrimental to our children. Bullying leads to worse performance in school, and has mental and emotional effects that can even lead to self-harm or suicide. Treating bullying as normal perpetuates a system that normalizes harassment. Breaking down this system is integral to boost the well-being of children who are bullied, especially minority and AAPI children. Working for legislation and conducting research and reports on bullying, are all work that contributes to awareness of bullying, and recognizes that it should not be tolerated by our society. Campaigns like Act To Change play an integral role in empowering youth, educators, and lawmakers to treat bullying as a serious problem. That’s why we can no longer sit on the sidelines: we have to Act to Change.

Aditi Dinakar is a rising Junior at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. She is studying Marketing and Health Administration and Policy. She hopes to work in government affairs, advocacy, and public policy arena.  Last summer, she was an intern for the Hindu American Foundation, where she worked on the intersection of faith and bullying among Hindus in America. Aditi is passionate about women’s rights, Asian American rights and representation, and new ice cream flavors.

Hindu American students continue to be bullied and feel socially ostracized for their religious beliefs, according to results of Hindu American Foundation’s nationwide survey of middle and high school students.  Download the report here.

This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org

A Transracial Girl’s Struggle in Finding her Identity between Two Different Cultures

Act To Change Amazin

As a transracial adoptee, I suffered a double layer of bullying because I was Asian, especially as an Asian in an all-white background. I always felt like an outsider living in limbo between my adopted white world and my lack of Asian identity and heritage.

The Asian stereotype of the invisible model minority  never applied to me growing up as I was always seen. I stood out like a sore thumb and that difference made me an easy target for bullies. I’ve been called every Asian slur that you could ever think of and, because of my Vietnamese ethnicity, I’ve been told to row home more times than I can remember.

As a child, I found a sense of solace in sports and started weight-training at six years old with some rusty dumbbells I found around the house. I participated in every sport I could possibly do from tennis to horse-riding. Sports gave me a sense of purpose and self-worth; it gave me a sense of community as I became part an of athletic team. Nowadays most gyms will not allow children without parents. But when I started bodybuilding, chain gyms didn’t exist and anyone of any age could go to the gym as long as you could pay the entrance fee. I thought I would find solace from being bullied when I started going to the gym around the age of 12, but I had no idea that racism would turn into sexist bullying by grown men.

Growing up as the “other”, I thought that to be successful, I needed to fit in by erasing my “Asianness” because that’s what being bullied had always reinforced. Being constantly bullied as a child into young adulthood didn’t give me the confidence to dare to stand out and be different as it stripped away my sense of self. I had no Vietnamese or Asian friends, nor were there any Asian role models in the media. So I didn’t know what it meant to unapologetically stand in my truth and embrace my Asian heritage while also acknowledging my Western identity.

Without a mirror image of myself in the media, I had to create my own narrative as a child. As an adult, this helped me stand in my own truth: to be brave and unapologetically Asian.

The one question we ask ourselves when growing up is “Who am I, who am I to me?” Story sharing is so important to provide us with a mirror image of ourselves and to remind us we’re not alone. This is why Act To Change is such a powerful platform within the Asian American community not just to empower those that are feeling marginalized by being bullied but to remind us all that our story isn’t singular. We are part of a larger community that shares a common bond with similar experiences.

Amazin LeThi is the founder of the Amazin LeThi Foundation, a New York based international organization that inspires Asian youth who identify as LGBTQ and those affected by HIV/AIDS to find their voices through leadership and mentoring, and provides social advocacy for everyone to actively participate in the advancement of equality. She is also an ambassador for Vietnam Relief Services and is the first Asian female Athlete Ally ambassador. On top of all of this, she is also a former competitive natural bodybuilder, qualified fitness trainer, author, and TV / film star.

This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org

How a Hindu American’s experience being bullied in school still lingers today

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Kids. They pick on each other for such ridiculous things. One of my most distinct memories from 5th grade is my classmates snickering about how much I clicked my pen, and commenting about how it made me “gay” (a word en vogue at the time as something bad that none of us really understood). Although it’s almost funny in retrospect, it was quite troubling at the time, and led me to go home in tears. I had to buy a new pen to stop my classmates from teasing me with a slur I didn’t even understand.  While this was a  minor trifle, easily solved, a lot of the other bullying I faced in middle school was more insidious and damaging – not to mention much more difficult to “solve”. I’m a Hindu American, and I grew up in Texas with textbooks that represented my religion in a way that inspired an inaccurate, misogynistic, exclusivist understanding of Hinduism. The kids in class asked what caste I was, why I worshipped cows, and confidently told me that I was going to hell. I could throw away a malfunctioning pen, but the impact that the snickering, insolent questions, and sarcasm from my teachers had on my understanding of who I was and what I believed was something that actually shook my sense of self. That took far more work to repair. I understood my faith to be grounded in pluralism (a step beyond tolerance), and the basis for my moral values (essentially, who I was). To be told that Hinduism was actually the source of discrimination, that it didn’t value me highly as a woman, and that its ancient practices were too weird to accept in our modern American classroom made me feel small and almost deserving of the thinly veiled disdain I received from even my friends. Bullying is a terrible thing in every form, but when attacks come at who a person is… the wounds cut deeply, and infection is a great threat. This experience isn’t mine alone, and not just one faced by Hindus; it’s one that so many Asian Americans face, and why the Act To Change campaign is such an important movement towards empowerment.

As an adult, the only balm I’ve found is in remembering that a textbook, a teacher, or a confused friend can’t define who I am, or what my faith is. I define my narrative. The prouder I am of that, the easier it is for my siblings, for my nephews and nieces, for the kids I’ve mentored, to own who they are as well.

Hindu American students continue to be bullied and feel socially ostracized for their religious beliefs, according to results of Hindu American Foundation’s nationwide survey of middle and high school students.  Download the report here.

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Kavita Pallod is a graduate of the University of Texas and a current doctoral student pursuing her Psy.D in Clinical Psychology at Rutgers University. She is an Executive Council Member of the Hindu American Foundation, a participating member of Act to Change. She hopes to use her  passion for her faith and her former teaching background to create fair, accurate, representative resources on Hinduism for teachers to use in their classrooms. She is also invested in mental health, and bridging the gap between the Hindu American community and mental health resources.  

This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org

6 Month Anniversary: The #ActToChange Movement Against Bullying

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YouTube stars AJ Rafael, Timothy DeLaGhetto, and Travis Atreo; rapper MC Jin; The Voice’s Dia Frampton; and American Idol’s Andrew Garcia are among many who have taken the #ActToChange pledge against bullying.

Six months ago today, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in partnership with the Sikh Coalition and the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE) launched the #ActToChange public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Backed by a diverse coalition of now more than 60 supporters, including media platforms and national organizations, #ActToChange aims to empower AAPI youth, educators, and communities with information and tools to address and prevent bullying. Check out ActToChange.org, which features video and music empowerment playlists, translated resources, an organizing toolkit and more!

Today, join us on #ActToChange’s six-month anniversary:

  1. Take the pledge against bullyingPicture1
  2. And share this special-edition badge on social media using #ActToChange.FinalPublic

One Brown Girl’s Struggle to Keep Her Indian-American Identity

Growing up, I always felt like an outsider, like I wasn’t a real American despite being born and raised here. My black hair, dark skin, thick eyebrows, and twig legs on a short stature—stood out painfully amongst the sea of blonde and brunette white peers. Fob. “Go back to India.” When kids would come over to my house, they would laugh at the “strange” Indian gods and goddesses and tease me for my parents’ accents. I was taught at an early age to hide my culture as best as I could – to renounce my Indian-ness and continuously “defend” my America-ness.  I became ashamed of my heritage.

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By the time I was a teenager, I had become “practically white” to my friends—a label I wore proudly. By being “practically white,” I felt like I made it. I was a real American. I was not an “other.” The “other” Asians only had Asian friends. They only listened to “Asian” music and gossiped “rudely” in their native languages. Those “other” Asians weren’t American enough.

Little did I know that at the University of Virginia, I would join the Indian Student Association and the Asian Student Union and find myself thrown into the largest group of Asians I had ever been exposed to. Turns out I wasn’t as different from my Asian American peers as I thought; I often had more in common with my Asian and South Asian friends than my non-Asian friends, despite being “practically white.” As a teenager, I navigated my world as a hyphenated person: two halves of a single identity that were always separate. Embracing my undesirable racial identity as Asian meant inherently giving up my desirable “Americanness.” I had spent too long defending my Americanness, too long trying to fit in with the white majority, to give it up by embracing my “fobby” Indianness.

Having other Asian friends showed me how my perceptions of race, of what it means to be “American,” were misguided. Our identities do not fit neatly into clearly defined boxes; there are no clean dichotomies where if you are one thing, you cannot possibly be another. The Asian American community introduced me to others that shared my struggle with a hybrid identity. We shared our experiences of having racist taunts hurled for being brown in a post-9/11 world. Of being stereotyped as being “good at math” and made to feel inadequate if we weren’t. We felt the blunt of ostracization for expressing any “un-American” part of our heritage. The stereotypes that led others to call me a fob were the stereotypes I had been reinforcing by refusing to accept the other half of my identity; in my desperation to be accepted, I was widening the very racial gap that hurt me as a child.

Too often, “Americanness” is equated with “whiteness.” Too often our social constructs allow us to be ignorant, to let racial stereotypes and dynamics define our own perceptions of self.  Do not allow yourself to be pigeon-holed by the perceptions of what society thinks being Indian, Asian, or even American, means.

Being a South Asian-American does not fit neatly into any preconceived notions. It is not about choosing between two halves of a hyphenated identity; it is an intersection as nuanced and complex as each of our individual identities. None of us are inferior Americans just because of the color of our skin. Embracing my Indianness does not deny me any part of my Americanness.

Mayura Iyer is a graduate of the University of Virginia and a current Master of Public Policy student. She hopes to use her policy knowledge and love of writing to change the world. She is particularly interested in the dynamics of race in the Asian-American community, domestic violence, mental wellness, and education policy. Her caffeine-fueled pieces have also appeared in Literally, Darling, BlogHer, and Mic.com.

This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org

Take Pride in Your Parents

When I was 16 years old, I found my hero in a brash, loud and unapologetic Korean-American comedian: Margaret Cho. In her stand-up special, she imitated her mother’s reaction to Cho’s sitcom All-American Girl getting picked up by a major television network on Mother’s Day. Cho scrunched her face, nearly closed her eyes and tilted her neck back and started speaking in a heavy Korean accent, “This is the beeeeesst Mother’s Day ever!” She paused then said, “Oh, there was another Mother’s Day that was a little bit better.”

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Comedians doing impressions of their mothers is nothing new. As a teenager who was “fresh off the boat” from Japan, I was astounded by how truthfully, graciously, and hilariously Cho captured the struggles and celebrations for the children of Asian immigrants in America today.  Many of us struggle with having Asian parents with a heavy accent and relentless chutzpah, but our parents’ accents are not signs of failure or incompetence. They are symbols of bravery. I found my stories of being a child of immigrant parents mirrored in Cho’s storytelling.

While I was born in Los Angeles to a Japanese mother and a biracial Japanese/African-American father, I spent the majority of my life in Japan as a striking anomaly in a largely homogenous Asian society. I never felt fully Japanese, nor fully American. I am one of 1.8 million Americans who identify as multiracial but also part of a larger demographic known as “third-culture kids,” living “in-between” two or more cultures.

When I was in high school, my parents divorced and my mother uprooted us to Hawaii. She wanted a better life and education for my sister and me; no plan, just a sheer will to “make it” in America. A product of decades of Asian immigrants coming to work as farm laborers in the Aloha state, nearly every one in four Hawaii residents identify as multi-racial. My mother hoped that in multi-racial Hawaii, her children could be accepted as Americans without having to sacrifice their Japanese identity.

This was not the case.

Within the first week there, my mother left a restaurant in an emotional storm after being overcharged by almost a hundred dollars. This wasn’t the first time this had happened.  “We moved here and still they just see me as some stupid Japanese lady.” My sister would come home crying over being picked on for her strong Japanese accent. We were tired and homesick; crossing 4000 miles to make a new life as Americans only to be seen as nothing more than Japanese tourists. But my mother wouldn’t quit. “I didn’t fly all the way here to mope,” she would say. Uttering the Japanese word for resilience “Gaman” and resolving to “Never apologize. You just got to work harder.”

As shown by Margaret Cho, Bobby Lee, and even Constance Wu from ABC’s sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, there is a blinding truth of strength, tenacity, and fearlessness exhibited by Asian immigrant parents that come to America to make a better life. Even with exaggerated accents and a tone-deafness to American culture, this is not their detriment nor does it encompass their entire identity; it is part and parcel of what makes them fearless.

In a video celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander artists in media, actress Amy Hill confessed, “I was totally embarrassed by (my mother) as a child. I think many of us have immigrant parents who we might have been embarrassed by as children,” she recounted. “She was never embarrassed for having an accent…An accent is just one aspect of who they are. It is part of who they are.”

So let us unabashedly celebrate our parents who had the audacity to believe in a better life to move to a new land. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are now the fastest-growing racial group in the United States. Accent or not, cultural difference or not, the fabric of who we are as Asian Americans is the product of the parents who never gave up.

My sister is in a new school and has friends who think it’s “super cool” that she had come from Japan. My mother is remarried. I am in college working in Journalism and exploring a new passion for the Middle East. I called my mother the other day to share an exciting recent development in my life. She listened and said in a heavy accent, “Good for you. You worked hard and now you’re succeeding.”

The words of Cho stay with me still: “The fact that I can be successful means, (to my mother), that on a very fundamental level, America works and things are getting better in her lifetime. It’s such a beautiful thing to share.”

 

Anthony Berteaux is a Journalism junior at San Diego State University. On campus he is the assistant Opinion editor for his campus newspaper, and the Campus Editor At Large for the Huffington Post. In his spare time, he runs a radio show on KCR College Radio and is a co-founder and web editor of his publication, ProgressME. He also acts as the Vice President of Public Relations for Students Supporting Israel. He was a previous participant in the Israel Project’s Tower Tomorrow Fellowship. On campus, Anthony cares about progressive politics, East Asian politics, and Israel. He has had pieces published in the Huffington Post, Tower Magazine, the Daily Aztec, the Union Tribune San Diego, and the Times of Israel.

 

Bullying is targeted aggression or hurtful behavior towards someone that’s aimed at creating a sense of isolation. This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org.

(3/8) From Colaba to Carteret: Bullying Rooted in the First-Generation Experience and the Unexpected Redemption that Ensued

Graphic3It is the course of actions that precede us that ultimately define our future. My life’s path was paved well before I was born. In fact, it was paved almost two decades prior in 1965, with the passing of The Immigration and Nationality Act.

Through my mother’s foresight, my parents and two sisters left Bombay (or what is present day Mumbai) for the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” trading in mangos and fresh coconut juice for pizza and coffee. They landed in Carteret, NJ, a humble, industrial, working class town in the central part of the State.

But as the third South Asian family to move into Carteret, my family was greeted by a petition to bar them from purchasing a house and racial epitaphs viciously spray-painted across the front entrance.  For the sin of our ethnicity, my sisters and I were targeted and attacked in school — frequently physically and sometimes violently.

Taunts and bullying began well before I even understood their meaning and progressed in their viciousness from verbal assaults to physical abuse. There was the eighth grade boy who broke a glass bottle on my head to the sixth grade teacher who announced in front of the whole class that I should “go back to where I came from.” The consistent thread weaving everything together was the herd-like mentality among my peers. I was never just bullied by one person – it was always done with a leader followed by those cheering the bully along while I was tormented.

But this isn’t a story about the impact of being a first generation American. It is a redemption story. A story that illustrates life doing a full circle and bringing closure – closure you thought you’d already taken care of.

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A little over a year ago, I reacquainted with a bully from my formative years. He did not remember me or the past that we shared, having been more of an engaged participant than a lead tormentor of my childhood. As often is the case for the bullied and oppressed, I had to let bygones be bygones in order to move forward with my life with a positive attitude. Our similar professions led our lives to intersect regularly, and our interactions were always very pleasant. We even worked together a project for the Boys & Girls Club of Newark, securing funding to directly impact the nutrition and health of over 300 children in Newark.

It was astonishing that an individual who had held such a painful place in my mind had – without even knowing it – completely redeemed himself. The type of proactive kindness he’d demonstrated is not a trait of a racist bully, but of one who cares about the welfare of others. The unexpectedness and unusualness of my experience with this individual left me wondering…

Is it fair to judge a person on the worst of experiences? Would I want to be evaluated when I am not my best self? Is redemption possible if the person being redeemed is unaware of it?

As I continue to reflect on this deeply felt experience, I see so many lessons within it. Lessons in redemption’s timetable, in letting go and moving on, and the many layers to forgiveness. Lessons in what time is capable of doing. Lessons that only the pain of adversity can deliver.

And that there is the American way. Overcoming adversity. When the American way is going on as intended, it’s something we’re all doing together — bully and bullied, forgiver and forgiven, redeemer and redeemed, arm in arm. Aware or unaware. But overcoming.

 

Kavita Mehra is the Chief Transformation Officer for the Boys & Girls Club of Newark, the first and only individual to occupy this title out of 4,200 Boys & Girls Clubs across the Country. In her role, Kavita works directly with the Chief Executive Officer to grow and manage all aspect of the organization. Kavita has blogged for the Huffington Post, and has been featured in leading media outlets including NY1 and Meet the Leaders. In 2015, Kavita was featured in “Roshni: Emerging Indian Global Leaders” for her work in the not-for-profit sector. Kavita completed her Bachelor of Arts from New York University with a double major in both History and Gender Studies. She also holds a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, with a concentration in South Asian Studies, from Columbia University.

 

Bullying is targeted aggression or hurtful behavior towards someone that’s aimed at creating a sense of isolation. This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org.