“On her 50th birthday, Xiaojie Tan would have gathered with her only child for a slice of strawberry fresh cream cake, her favorite.” I’m forgetting where I first saw these words — perhaps an aesthetic infographic that left me ruminating on the necessity of a pastel color palette slideshow to draw an audience around a fatal hate crime – but I remember how I felt reading them. In the sweet celebration of a successful violin recital, or A’s on my report card, my mom would drive her only child an hour or so (more an effect of traffic than distance) to the California coast for some strawberry shortcake, my favorite. Our destination was a certain bakery cafe situated in a seaside region of Los Angeles known for its immigrant Asian population — which includes a sizable Japanese community that sustains countless Japanese markets and other businesses my immigrant Japanese mother wished we lived closer to.
My mom would nudge me forward at the counter, reminding me I’d have to order for myself — and in Japanese no less. I’d shyly mumble my request before she’d follow with her own order of Mont Blanc chestnut cream cake. We’d then take our seats and possibly order some tea to pair with our midday desserts, over which I’d fuss without filter about my present trials. I’d tell her about having witnessed Sean at Japanese Saturday school peak at my paper during our kanji character quiz, about the timeout I felt I was unfairly charged with for talking too much during P.E. class and about the unbearable length of the weekly chapel services at school. She’d listen earnestly and assure me that everything would turn out alright, that she knew I possessed the ambition and fortitude to carry me through.
She’d be nearly finished with her cake before I’d begin mine, having spent all my breath so far on gossipping and grumbling. As I’d finally start to pick at my slice, she would ponder my trivial affairs with undeserved sincerity and tell me of her confidence in the unwavering command she truly felt I held over the shape of my own path. And so it pains me, incredibly, that her mighty little daughter, her invincibly strong and self-governing baby girl, has found herself pathetically powerless against many a weeb-ish white man — a concern the girl wouldn’t dare, or couldn’t bear, to share with her prideful mom.
It’s an intriguing thing, to know that I might be the muted actualization of some mediocre white guy’s pedophilic anime fantasy, and to be far more occupied by that awareness than by any sense of pleasure while I wait for him to finally locate my clitoris. My speculations are only supported by the abundance of comically typical comments. “I love how small Asian girls are,” and, “You remind me of an anime character.” Asian this, Japanese that, anime this, you’re so tiny that. For millennia, men, particularly white men, have adored the notion of the docile foreign girl awaiting domination, hauntingly reminiscent of western colonial attitudes and giving way to laughably dramatic or grotesquely predatory fabrications — extending from Madame Butterfly to hentai porn. Of course, I wish I could trust a male partner to perceive me as a mature and autonomous independent, but years of mild objectification and creepy fetishization have concretely proved that that would be asking for too much.
The Atlanta shootings on March 16 left eight adults dead, six of whom were Asian women. A hate crime likely motivated by a combination of racism, sexism and oppositon to sex work, the shootings speak to both the increasingly expressed anti-Asian sentiment across the nation and the sexual fetishization of Asian females. This is not a recent development, but a phenomenon long recognized yet rarely condemned by anyone besides Asian females themselves. Demonstrating an extreme that this fetishization can reach, where the life corresponding to an Asian female’s body is regarded as so negligible that six such lives might be eliminated so abruptly, and where these losses of life might be accredited to no more than a white man’s experience of a “bad day,” the shootings were jarring for many, myself included. A number of Asian women have now been shot for being Asian women, and countless Asian women have been assaulted on the street in the past year. My mother, my grandmother, my cousins, my friends, my heroes and my peers are Asian women. And I, myself, have repeatedly come face to face with far less acute but nonetheless damaging renditions of the very sentiments which motivated the Atlanta shooter. Thus, horror and heartache consume me.
Brat Baby is a student at Cornell University. Pillow Princess Diaries runs alternate Sex on Thursdays this semester. Sex on Thursday runs every Thursday this semester.