I write this letter with very a heavy heart, feeling discouraged yet hopeful for a better tomorrow. With all that has happened in the last couple months in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, and now with another death of a black man in Minneapolis that have caused major protests and riots across our nation, I feel that I need to write this letter to address all of you.
As a minority member of the community of some color, an Asian ethnicity – call it whatever color, tan, brown, or peachy (as my kids would describe me) – there are times I accept it as a joke. Then there are times that I take offense. Is color the right way of describing people? Is calling a black person a Negro right? Or would describing my kids as creamy be right? The answers to these questions is No! We should not distinguish ourselves as colors, but promote diversity, practice inclusivity, and understand that we can accomplish more things when we stand together as one.
As many people are marching in protest and exclaiming “I can’t breathe” or “Black lives matter,” we should bear in mind that all lives matter. This is not just blacks. Yes, we seem to see a lot in the news when we hear a black person was shot by or killed by law enforcement. But we need to bear in mind that there are also other races and ethnicity that also get hurt every day under the hands of law enforcement. Sometimes it’s an accident. Sometimes it’s a matter of split-second decision where an officer has to act and decides to pull the trigger, and very seldom, I feel, it would be on a purpose that leads to death.
Yes, there are good cops and bad cops everywhere. But I don’t think even bad cops have the intention to kill the innocent. I don’t have all the facts and details of why officers would place their knee to pin a person down, even more so on their neck. But I am appreciative that our local law enforcement agencies in central Wisconsin have agreed that such methods are not right. Seeing many videos online, many other law enforcement officers have also taken part in marches and exclaim “Black lives matter.” That is great; that is excellent. But I feel that sometimes all of us are missing the point. Yes, we should not stay silent, and action needs to be taken, the right ones.
Here in Marathon County, more specifically in the Wausau area, many businesses and agencies have continued to educate the community. Within the last couple of years, the community learned about inclusivity; what it means to be inclusive. There is a shift from diversity in a workplace to inclusivity at workplace. Hearing the voices from minorities and taking action. That is great and very encouraging. But how about others who are more introverted or reserved? No one would understand what’s on their mind.
Many people have asked me if I faced any issues in the past, if anyone was racist toward me or if anyone acted harshly or showed favoritism to someone else just because I was Asian. My response is no. Maybe sometimes people do look at me differently or stare at me to the extent I feel awkward, but it doesn’t bother me as much. I simply brush those instances aside. Maybe I’m thick-skinned, and need to be told directly if someone has a problem with me, but so far, no one has come up to me and acted harshly. Whenever I feel the need to approach someone and ask them a question or provide my feedback, often times, I do get a look/stare; a look of silence, or a look of confusion, a look that tells you that the other person is thinking why I’m asking such a stupid question. But I always explain my rationale for asking those questions … . When people understand where you are coming from, know the reasoning behind your thoughts/actions, people respond better.
Going back to my college days 20 years ago, when I first came to the U.S. to attend University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, I noticed that many Asian foreign students, more so the Chinese ethnicity, would be driving BMWs, Mercedes or even Porsches. Many locals say these students are rich and snobs, they drive luxury cars, they hang out with their own group, speak Mandarin in front of others and hardly mingle with locals. Was that the image I wanted others to perceive? The answer is no. Instead, I chose the path to be humble and share with locals the reasoning behind all these perceptions.
As foreigners coming to a foreign land, we see opportunity. Opportunity that we can’t reach for back in our own country. In Singapore, owning a brand-new BMW 7-Series, cost about U.S. $275,000, while it cost $90,000 in the U.S. That’s a fraction. Something they cannot afford in their country, they can afford here in the U.S., they feel the need to experience it while they can. As students coming to the U.S. to study, to be thousands of miles away from home, one tends to be homesick, lonely and feeling culture shock. So, they turn to friends who have the same ethnicity backgrounds, speak the same language, and help them feel more at home. It’s not that they have intentions to talk behind others’ backs. It’s simply something they have in common to share with one another. Is it rude to speak in another language in front of an English-speaking person? Yes, it is. It’s not only found to be rude in this country, but elsewhere as well.
For me, I chose a different path. I chose to be with locals. I chose to blend in and be a part of the local community. I chose to be humble, fit in, and try to be like everyone else. I always thought to myself, “If something were to happen to me, in this foreign land, who would be best to know what to do?” The locals. That’s probably why I fit in rather well with many groups in the community today. But all of us are different, and we need to understand and respect one’s chosen path and respect their decisions.
As Rotarians, many of us have had the wonderful opportunity to host foreign students, to learn about their culture, their ethnicity and their heritage. Some of us may have found some of these students reserved or eccentric. But most importantly, we were able to show our love, support, compassion and understanding, making their visit a memorable one.
Amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic, where all of us were in quarantine lock-down mode, many families, including mine, have at one point of time had a hysterical moment. But we learn to adapt, adjust and accommodate accordingly to the situation. And now, as many others are out in marches to protest “Black Lives Matter,” I want to say that “All Lives Matter.” It’s not just blacks. It’s not just the minority community, its everyone. We all need to come together as one. We should really stop using colors – blacks or whites, or even red or blue, but identify ourselves as a whole, for what we stand. We need to show patience, love, compassion, support and understanding toward everyone no matter what their backgrounds are. We must treat everyone as equals, and together we can achieve world peace.
Denis Tan, Rotarian – Rotary Club of Wausau
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