Facing My Childhood Bully

By Rupinder Singh

This post was originally published on The Mash-Up Americans. The Mash-Up Americans explores culture, race, and identity in America and what makes us who we are. Check out The Mash-Up Americans website, subscribe to their podcast, and sign up for their weekly newsletter.

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Compassion is contagious.

Every day we celebrate the raucous diversity that is Mash-Up America. One of our greatest joys is meeting people whose stories are foreign to us, whose cultures and traditions we know nothing about, and learning from them and sharing our own.But it takes strength to celebrate our differences, and sometimes, being mashy can be tough, especially for a kid. Bullying is real. Even years later, you can find yourself vulnerable to the same anger and fear you felt as a child. Our Sikh-American Mash-Up Rupinder Singh shares with us what happened when he faced his childhood nemesis, and the choice he made. [Editor’s note: It was a good one.Oh, and have you seen Rupinder’s best tips for turning anger into hope

Without warning, a routine trip to the bank threw me back to my childhood, and dropped me at an emotional crossroads.

Growing up, I was smaller than most boys my age. I was shy, introverted, and a bit nerdy. As a child of immigrants, I was constantly playing catch up with my peers in terms of understanding western culture, having to figure out for myself what that even was. I had brown skin, long hair, and wore a patka, a Sikh article of faith worn by children to cover our hair. Needless to say, I stood out.

The author and his patka.

The author and his patka.

My appearance didn’t do me a lot of favors at school. I dreaded walking the hallways, because that was when other students, at best, would call me all kinds of names as I passed by them, or at worst, would grab at my turban and sometimes even try to pull it off.  Given my size, I would try to silently ignore these kids instead of confront them, but that wasn’t entirely successful. I could only block so many hands, and my resolve could only be so strong in the face of constant harassment. I remember one day in the ninth grade when, in the midst of going through this torment in the middle of a class, I simply broke down and wept in front of my tormentors, who then lost interest in continuing to toy with their prey.

Fast forward to me as a grown man, walking into the bank for a simple errand. When it was my turn in line, I approached the teller. The instant I saw his name tag, I knew who he was. Let’s call him “Joe.”

I had a flashback to Joe grabbing my patka, and laughing. I remembered the shame and powerlessness I felt when he mocked me in front of my classmates. Joe never let an opportunity to bully me pass him by. As a kid, I was resigned to the fact that he would humiliate me any time he got a chance. And he did, every time. In fact, on his last day in our school, he made it a point to find me so he could grab my turban one last time. Shaming me was that important to him.

Now I stood in front of him in the bank, and he was serving me. I was taller than him. I wore a man’s full turban now, a beard and mustache.

As he helped me with my transaction, I could feel myself filling with anger.  I looked him straight in the eye.

I wanted to say something, but I also was curious to see if he would recognize me and say something first. Would he apologize for what he did to me as a teen? Would he laugh it off? Perhaps he thought so little of what he did to that boy so many years ago, that he wouldn’t even remember.  The thought made me more furious, and as Joe began stamping deposit slips, I felt my temperature rising.

I wanted Joe to know that despite how demeaned and humiliated I felt because of his actions back in school, I stood before him that day with my identity intact.  He, and all the others like him, did not break me.

And I admit: There was also a part of me that wanted to dare him to touch my turban now. I wanted him to try so I could grab him and pull him over the counter by the collar, and humiliate him as he did to me all those many years.

However, as the minutes flew by, I did nothing and said nothing.  I politely completed my transaction with him and left. I could have caused a confrontation, but what would that have even meant to him? I would have been the crazy guy with a turban who attacked him randomly in the bank and had to be thrown out by security. And what would it have meant to me? It would have changed nothing about our past. Even as I write this now, I can feel that anger welling up inside me. Joe’s bullying is probably not something he’s needed to come to terms with in his life, but for me, that damage was done, and indeed, it clearly lingers.

Whenever I see a Sikh child in this country, especially one wearing a patka as I did, I wonder about what that child might be going through in school. Is there a Joe in that child’s life? Are they facing what I did when I was their age? It’s enough to dampen my eyes.

Selfie-ing and campaigning against bullying in the nation’s capitol.

Selfie-ing and campaigning against bullying in the nation’s capitol.

And yet, I’m actually thankful that I went through the bullying. When as a child, I felt threatened to go to school, faced all kinds of abuse and yet still maintained my religious articles of faith without question, I know that today there is nothing I can’t face. Those experiences have made me a stronger, more confident Sikh, and a stronger, more compassionate man.

I can’t change the past. But I’ve learned to accept my own experiences and be constructive. I free myself from my anger by advocating for anti-bullying policies and laws, educating teachers and school administrators about Sikh children and the issues we face in their schools, and mentoring Sikh youth. I have found allies in these issues, and I hope that many find an ally in me. In some ways, my anger has empowered me to do what I couldn’t as a child, and has given me hope that together, we’re creating a safer, kinder world for our kids.

Love wins. We promise.

This post was originally published on The Mash-Up Americans. The Mash-Up Americans explores culture, race, and identity in America and what makes us who we are. Check out The Mash-Up Americans website, subscribe to their podcast, and sign up for their weekly newsletter.

The Power of Sharing Asian LGBTQ Anti-Bullying Stories

This #SpiritDay, we welcome GLAAD as a new supporter of #ActToChange AND STAND TOGETHER AGAINST BULLYING IN LGBTQ AND AAPI COMMUNITIES!

This post was originally posted on glaad.org.  

By Holly Wang, GLAAD Programs Intern

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….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. 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.”

Amazin LeThi, the founder of the Amazin LeThi Foundation which is an international charity organization to end LGBTQ bullying and HIV/AIDS discrimination in the Asian community, wrote in her blog posted on Act To Change. As the first Asian Athlete Ally Ambassador and a fearless fighter for anti-bullying in Asian LGBTQ community, LeThi has come a long way and realized how Asians stereotypes portrayed in media, the lack of exposure of Asians in media, and the short of support systems and a mirror image deepen the stigma for Asian LGBTQ community.

“Asian youth are bullied the most out of all ethnic groups, yet nobody talks about it. In the U.S., I’ve never felt so invisible, because we (Asians) are portrayed as this non-threatening, invisible model minority community that ‘nothing have ever happened to us,’” LeThi said when asked about what makes Asians anti-bullying issues so important and urgent. The invisibility of Asian community in day-to-day conversations and those in politics and media frustrated LeThi. Therefore, she decided to collaborate with the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). When Act To Change, a public awareness campaign working to address AAPI community bullying problems, was launched last year in October, she came on board as a supporting partner to share her stories with oppressed Asians.

“What lots of people don’t realize is that if you’re Asian LGBTQ, you’re suffered from racism and homophobia,” she said. These two layers, sexuality and racial minority, put Asian under double pressures. For example, Asian men are desexualized and demasculinized, while Asian women are seen as subservient. Then there comes the more known stereotypes people have on LGBTQ community. When one multiply those discriminations, Asian LGBTQ people are very susceptible to be bullied. What’s more? “Because of the racial stereotype”, LeThi said, “Asian LGBTQ are the victims of bullying within the LGBTQ community. They are not fully respected nor treated equally even in the community they belong to.”

“When I think of Act To Change and the issue of bullying in the Asian community, talking about coming out is not enough. We need to talk about the intersection as well because it’s so much about our culture, who we are as a person, how the media portrays Asian people, and how people see us.” — Amazin LeThi

When talking about other Asian cultures, LeThi said, “Because we are brought up to think about what kind of job we are going to have and if it is going to be a good job at the end of life to be able to support the family, the idea of coming out obviously brings on a lot of shame and pressure from our own community that encourages people to conform.” Because she sees Asians are conformists and such picture can be changed, LeThi wants to use more digital platforms to share the stories of Asians who can be the mirror images for those suffering from bullying or their intersectional identities. “We need to speak up,” as LeThi mentioned more than 3 times during the interview.

The problem that causes bullying can also be seen in Asian athlete community. Many Asians youth love to go into sports. However, due to the stereotype that “Asians are weak,” many have been discouraged and more so for Asian LGBTQ. LeThi said that we need more Asian athletes to come out or, at the very least, to publicly become an ally. “We need the support from both inside and outside of the Asian community,” she said.

Amazin LeThi has never given up, and she is still forging ahead. With Act To Change and Amazin LeThi Foundation, Asian LGBTQ’s voices have started to be heard. Nevertheless, we still have a long way to go. Go to Act To change (https://ActToChange.org/#about) and Amazin LeThi Foundation (http://www.amazinlethifoundation.org/) to learn about how to become an ally for and contribute to Asian LGBTQ community.

#ActToChange During Bullying Prevention Awareness Month

Among those who have taken the #ActToChange pledge are: Forrest Wheeler, actor (ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat); Hudson Yang, actor (ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat); Albert Tsai, actor (ABC’s Dr. Ken); Parvesh Cheena, actor/comedian (My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend); Jon Jon Briones, actor/singer (Miss Saigon); Ai Goeku Cheung, actor/singer (Miss Saigon); Deedee Magno Hall, actor/singer (Steven Universe, Miss Saigon); DAN aka DAN, alternative hip hop artist; The Filharmonic, a capella sensation (Pitch Perfect 2 and NBC’s Sing Off); Jennie Kwan, actor/singer (Avenue Q, Avatar: The Last Airbender); Megan Lee, actor/singer (Nickelodeon’s Make it Pop); The Poreotics (MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew); AJ Rafael, singer/songwriter, YouTube star; SETI X, rapper; Beau Sia, Tony Award-winning spoken word artist (Def Poetry Jam); Sam Futerman, actor/filmmaker (Twinsters); Perry & Danielle, singing duo; Minji Chang, Kollaboration Executive Director/actor; Mike Bow, actor (The Maze Runner, Comfort); Matt Almodiel, singer; and Lance Lim, actor (Independence Day, School of Rock).

 

This week during Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, join #ActToChange and take a stand against bullying!

One year ago, 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!

This week, join us in spreading the word about #ActToChange:

 

(1) Take the pledge against bullying

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(2) And share this special-edition badge on social media using #ActToChange

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Join the movement by visiting ActToChange.org.

Highlighting Bullying Prevention Efforts for the Asian American and Pacific Islander Community

Every day, kids of all ages experience bullying in schools across the country. In the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, this problem is often compounded by cultural, religious, and linguistic barriers that can make it harder for AAPI youth to seek and receive help. Anecdotal evidence has shown that certain AAPI groups – including South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Micronesian, LGBT, immigrant, and limited English proficient youth – are more likely to be the targets of bullying. And in some areas, bullying of AAPI students can be shockingly common.

To help address this problem, in November 2014, during the fifth anniversary of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the federal government formed an interagency AAPI Bullying Prevention Task Force (AAPI Task Force). The AAPI Task Force strives to learn more about the experiences of AAPI students facing bullying and how the federal government can help. The AAPI Task Force comprises representatives from the U.S. Department of Education, which includes the White House Initiative on AAPIs and the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and the U.S. Department of Justice. Through the AAPI Task Force, federal experts in civil rights, language access, education, community relations, public health, mental health, and data have worked closely with community stakeholders to:

  • Identify barriers to reporting bullying and harassment
  • Understand obstacles to full and equal access to remedial and support resources
  • Analyze data on bullying and harassment in the AAPI community
  • Improve the federal government’s outreach and resources

Today, during the fifth annual Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Summit, I’m proud to announce the release of a report highlighting the experiences of AAPI students facing bullying around the country. The Summit will convene federal officials and community members to discuss strategies to combat bullying particularly in high-risk populations, including Muslim, Sikh, and South Asian students.

Over the last two years, the AAPI Task Force conducted nationwide outreach to students, families, community members, advocacy groups, and community-based organizations. The AAPI Task Force hosted 29 listening sessions across the country, and conducted an informational survey that collected responses from 30 community-based organizations.

Through its outreach, the AAPI Task Force has gained key insights:

  • Students from all AAPI communities are subjected to bullying and harassment of all types.
  • AAPI students are bullied by a range of other students, including other AAPI students and students of other backgrounds.
  • Circumstances of bullying often include, but are not limited to: limited English proficiency, cultural stereotypes, national origin and immigrant generation, and religion and religious attire.
  • Many AAPI students and parents are not aware of resources and avenues of remediation available at the local, state, and federal levels.

The work of the AAPI Task Force has shed light on the important need to address bullying in the AAPI community and strategies to tailor outreach to this community. As we close out the AAPI Task Force’s work, let us recommit ourselves to continue working toward achieving real solutions to preventing and ending bullying for all.

Dour Thor is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, which is housed within the U.S. Department of Education. This post is cross-posted from the White House Blog.

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.