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

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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.

 

 

One Sikh Girl’s Struggle to be Accepted as American

My earliest memories of Louisiana are clouded by accents I barely could decipher and confusing Cajun dishes I had never seen before in my life. Even though I was born in the United States, moving from New York to the Deep South was a culture shock for both me and my classmates who were not used to seeing a Sikh girl walk into class with a thick braid past her hips every day. My classmates had never heard of Sikhi, and I was bullied for my faith and race. A girl in my sixth-grade class threatened to cut my hair off, and the other girls refused to talk to me during recess. I became reserved and quiet, convinced that my otherness meant I didn’t deserve their friendship; that I was in some way not an American.

 

UPDATEDAt age thirteen, I cracked. Cutting my hair for the first time and watching my poor mother cry as I, in her eyes, lost an important part of my identity and upbringing in a matter of seconds. But upon my return to middle school, my classmates marveled at my shoulder-length curls. One girl claimed, “Wow, maybe guys will actually like you now!” Others finally made an effort to talk to me at lunch.

Still, the difference in their behavior stung and it took me six years to fully accept my identity and move past what happened to me.  Even though I escaped by going to boarding school where I made friends who were genuinely interested in my Sikhi culture, I battled bitter memories and depression throughout my teen years, recalling the words of those who harassed me.

These seemingly “un-harmful” instances are sometimes considered a part of growing up, but they can have a long-lasting effect on how kids view the world around them and how they socialize with others. Bullying can cause mental health issues like depression and anxiety. As an Asian-American, I know about the culture of shame that surrounds mental health. Trying to uphold the “model minority” myth, it can be difficult for Asian-Americans to seek help and even harder to cope when one lacks a close religious or ethnic community.

Often times I hear desi aunties say, “This is not our country. We are seen as immigrants no matter what, and we have to deal with discrimination if we want to live here.” This is alarming because the community has accepted the discrimination and internalized it like how I did when I was little. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be broken in the Asian-American community. We deserve our place in American society. We are important. We are Americans. We are worthy.

 

Ravleen Kaur is a student at The Ohio State University studying public affairs and public health. Her hobbies include drinking over-sweetened coffee and doing Bhangra in public spaces. She is currently planning to run away from her home state in the Deep South and eventually work in the public health field.

 

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.

Moving Through the Storm: An Entrepreneur on Overcoming Bullying

Nobody should have to deal with bullying. It sucks.

My cycle started at home with an angry and abusive dad. It continued to church, with an abusive and frustrated older youth, and continued into school in a post-9/11 world when nobody was really educated on Indians in America. I got all the normal stuff – Osama, Apu, Terrorist, got a bomb?, plus a few extra because I wasn’t just Indian; I was fat and Indian.

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In high school, I turned to football and ice hockey as a means to release some of my frustration. It gave me a shared sense of team and identity, and I found leadership where I could serve other people. I found a lot of happiness in that.

I wish I could tell you that bullying is a thing of the past. It’s not. That it stops when you “grow up.”  It doesn’t.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t change the trajectory of how it affects your life. I wish I had grown up with the stories of those like me. Of those who had struggled and overcome. So let me tell you how I did it:

  1. Jiu Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts: Build confidence.
  2. Choose people who make you happy: Build joy/trust/
  3. Find courage: Let yourself love. Do what you love.
  4. Read: Learn new things. Find new hobbies.
  5. Change the world: Execute on something you want to see different in the world.
  6. Serve: Find yourself in service to others. The joys of giving are unparalleled.

The truth is falling into any minority group carries with it burdens that never seem to disappear.  In my world of startups, it could mean more challenges in raising capital, securing partnerships, or gaining respect/credibility for the same or more work of people around you who don’t look like you (read what’s happening to Asian Americans in Silicon Valley.) It won’t change unless we tackle them at an institutional level involving the C-Suite and ranking political office.

I strive to meet people who have more experiences and stories in effectively dealing with these adversities so that I can learn. I seek out and listen to the stories of people who deal with similar challenges or understand the struggle through a context of their own.

I hope to be that resource for others too. We’re all people. The key to humanity is remembering your humanity and recognizing theirs. Nothing and nobody is binary.

Your challenges are important and the resilience they form within you will support you for a lifetime. Choose to see difficulties as opportunities and find communities of people, individuals or small groups, whom you align and can confide with. Find ways to support them. Start by helping them and watch how you evolve past your situation. Every struggle is an opportunity, but there’s no need to tackle life alone.

 

 

Marvin Mathew supports innovation/entrepreneurship full time as the founder of MIG, supporting early stage entrepreneurs by building their products, marketing, and sales. Eager to support solutions at scale, he’s coauthored Innovation, Technology, and Youth, a United Nations publication released during UN General Assembly 2016 looking at how the UN, Industry, and Government can support Youth Entrepreneurs as they solve the challenges outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals or Global Goals. Find him at marvinmathew.com or @MarvinJMathew.

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.

A Better America: Rejecting Bigotry and Reaffirming our Values

 Summary: We must come together to reject bigotry, reaffirm our core values as Americans, and protect the rights that we fought so hard to achieve.
by Shekar Narasimhan
Ed. note: This is a cross post from the White House Blog.
Newly naturalized citizens wave American flags after taking the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony keynoted by the President at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., Dec. 15, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Newly naturalized citizens wave American flags after taking the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony keynoted by the President at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., Dec. 15, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Earlier this week, during his final State of the Union address, President Obama reminded the nation that “when politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or when a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. It betrays who we are as a country.”

This week’s address echoed the President’s words from a powerful naturalization ceremony last month. He reminded us of the country that we have been historically—and the country that we want to be.  Immigrants and refugees are part of the foundation of our Nation, and they “revitalize and renew America.”  Immigrants and refugees come to the United States with hopes that their children will have lives that are better than the ones they left behind.  These Americans have contributed to this country in every area of society—they start businesses, teach our children, and provide medical services. Their drive and aspirations fuel the American dream: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In today’s climate however, some immigrant and refugee communities, families, and children increasingly face discrimination, harassment, and attacks based on their race, ethnicity, color, national origin, or religion—to name a few. This is, unfortunately, not new.  In the aftermath of September 11, many Muslim, Sikh, Arab, and South Asian communities became the target of hate crimes, discrimination, harassment, and profiling. Places of worship were threatened and harassed, and congregants were attacked and in some situations, even killed.

A staggering number of students in middle schools, high schools, and universities have become the target of this senseless violence. In a 2014 report, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights indicated that more than a decade after the terrorist acts of September 11, students who are or are perceived as Muslim, Sikh, Arab, Middle Eastern, South Asian, or Southeast Asian still confront bullying and harassment. In more recent months, advocates report that hate violence against these communities is on the rise and attacks ranging from harassment to bullying to homicide have been reported by the media.

These acts are intolerable, they violate the civil rights and liberties upon which our nation was founded, and we must come together to reject this bigotry, reaffirm our core values as Americans, and protect the rights that we fought so hard to achieve.

Just as the U.S. Department of Education recently called upon our school districts, colleges, and universities to foster safe, respectful, and nondiscriminatory learning environments free from discrimination and harassment, we too must pledge to uphold compassion, tolerance, and acceptance in our communities and expect it of our society at large.

Last October, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), housed within the Department of Education, partnered with the Sikh Coalition and Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment to launch #ActToChange, a national public awareness campaign against bullying. Building upon the work of the interagency AAPI Bullying Prevention Task Force, ActToChange.orgprovides translated resources in common AAPI languages and empowerment messages. The campaign further engaged youth and AAPI public personalities in a live discussion about diversity and acceptance, and advocating for yourself and your community.

Discussions like these need to happen all across this nation. From our institutions of learning, to our places of worship, to our everyday behavior in our daily lives, we must ensure all of our children, families, and communities can live safely without the fear of persecution and with the freedom to practice their faith. The American experience is the immigrant experience, the refugee experience, the Hindu experience, the Christian experience, the Muslim experience. The diversity of experiences is the history and greatness of our country.  As the President said at the National Archives last month, “We must resolve to always speak out against hatred and bigotry in all its forms – whether taunts against the child of an immigrant farmworker or threats against a Muslim shopkeeper. We are Americans. Standing up for each other is what the values enshrined in the documents in this room compels us to do – especially when it’s hard. Especially when it’s not convenient. That’s when it counts. That’s when it matters – not when things are easy, but when things are hard.”

More Resources:

  • StopBullying.gov: This website provides resources, tools, and guidance to prevent bullying and harassment.

Filing a Complaint

Shekar Narasimhan is a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The Commission and the White House Initiative on AAPIs are housed in the U.S. Department of Education. This blog post was originally published on the White House Blog

 

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