Working to End Bullying in All Forms

Graphic-Aditi

“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