Violence Against Our Elders: Unfinished Thoughts

About a week and half ago, while a 91 year old Chinese elder was walking in Oakland Chinatown, a young man came charging at him from behind, violently knocking him face down onto the concrete in broad daylight. That very day, the same was done to an 84 year old Thai elder in SF. He eventually died of his injuries. Both incidents just happened to be captured on video.

When I try to explain why these incidents hit people like me so hard, I say: It’s not just because our elders are so vulnerable, but because they are our most honorable. They are the best of us. They are the ones we bow to. Even after they die, we bow to them and offer them food before we even take our first bites.

And at least for me, when I think of Chinatown, I literally associate Chinatown with my grandparents. Back in the day before there was Ranch 99, we’d all drive up to Chinatown for dim sum and to buy Asian vegetables. I honestly didn’t like Chinatown as a kid. Great food, but it was loud and stinky. There were pigeons everywhere. But it was the only place my grandparents could be their happy and loud selves other than at home.

And so to see our venerable elders, people who are our grandparents, having their honorable faces knocked down onto the very streets where they’re supposed to feel most free to be themselves, that really hurt.

All that on top of the recent rise in anti-Asian hate, in the wake of COVID and Trump’s rhetoric.

But none of this is new. Violence and racism against our elders is not new. Dare I say it is endemic to their neighborhoods.

But at least for me, what made it hurt more this time around, to be bashfully honest, was the silence of the very BIPOC brothers and sisters whom we’d worked so hard to cultivate solidarity with over this past year. The only BIPOC person I saw speaking up was Oakland’s own, rapper Mistah F.A.B. (Gratefully, more are speaking up now.)

And even within my own Asian community, I’ve felt trapped. Caught on one hand, between the Asians who are responding with racist resentment and rage—feelings I’ve been trying to disciple people out of. But on the other hand, Asians who speak 10,000 words about Let’s not respond with white supremacy! Let’s look at root issues! We still have it so good—we’re Asian! All true. But almost no words about simply saying this was wrong. That our elders are legitimately scared. 

It just felt like a lot of pressure to center other people’s concerns in the midst of our own family’s fear and pain. It felt like pressure to just stay silent—like a good Asian should.

Now of course, when I finally mustered the courage to talk to my BIPOC family they immediately responded with solidarity! With sorrow and disgust. I never knew! Let me know what I can do! We’re with you! Everything you’d hope for, they said and did! Thank God! It’d simply never reached their radar.

And while I was relieved that it wasn’t that they didn’t care. I’m not sure what hurt more. Feeling that people don’t care. Or knowing that the lives of our elders don’t matter enough to make it on people’s news feeds in the first place.

I think Steven Yuen said it best: “Sometimes I wonder if the Asian-American experience is what it’s like when you’re thinking about everyone else, but nobody else is thinking about you.”

I’m gratefully in a much better place now. The solidarity of brothers and sisters. But above all, knowing that our worth isn’t defined by how the world treats our elders, but simply because we’re made in the image of God.

But I know there’s certainly a lot of work still to do. A lot.

Above is a picture of two store windows in Oakland Chinatown. And it’s a symbol of where I feel things are.

On one hand, these are pictures of beautiful solidarity; a community coming together. On the other hand, these windows weren’t boarded up for art, but for fear of violence and looting.

But we could also say it the other way too. On one hand, these windows are boarded up out of fear. But on the other hand, they are showing signs of a community trying to heal and come together.

Correction: I originally said both men died of the injuries. Fortunately, the 91 year old man, while seriously injured, survived.

This reflection was originally shared at PROCESS + RESPOND: ANTI-ASIAN HATE CRIMES, hosted by the Covenant Asian Pastors Association.

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