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Fairfax County School Board Member Rachna Sizemore Heizer tells parents about FCPS's new resolution on anti-Asian discrimination, and why we are all just bubbling over with intrinsic hate if we ask "so where are your parents from?"

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Resolution to Condemn Anti-Asian Racism
Over the past year hate crimes against the Asian American and the Asian Pacific Islander (AA/API) community have increased by over 150% across the country. Women, children and senior citizens have been targeted the most. The School Board adopted a resolution condemning Anti-Asian racism and committing the school system to support our students who may experience anti-Asian racism in school or the broader community.

My Thoughts on Anti-Asian Hate Incidents:

I spoke to this briefly during the April 8th school board meeting but, as the first Indian American and the first Asian American woman on the Fairfax County School Board, these are the remarks I plan to share at our upcoming meeting:

As an Asian American child of immigrants with a name that is different than many are used to, I have encountered “othering” in many ways, from being told to “go home,” to the glazed over looks and dismissals lined in automatic assumption of “different” I get when stating my name, to being told if I wanted a job at a certain law firm I should change my name because no one wants a lawyer with a “funny name”, to constantly being asked “where are you from,” the puzzled looks I get when I say, “California,” which is so often followed by the “but where are you *really* from,” as if somehow there is no way I can be *from* California, and much more. I am proud of my Indian heritage but always wondered growing up why I can’t be both American and Indian? Why don’t my friends named “Stephanie, John, or Karen” get asked where they are from? How come it seems no one is interested in the “origin” of their names? After all, at the end of the day, aren’t most non-Native Americans from somewhere? This is what always goes through my mind in these encounters.

These often well intentioned questions, when constantly asked over the course of a lifetime, in the aggregate, have the effect of “othering,” of “separating,” of making foreign people who call America their home. I am proud of being both Indian AND American and I want my country to recognize those two identities are not separate but intertwined in a way that is uniquely American.

Most of the time, any individual person asking some of these questions has good intent and is just "curious." I respect people's curiosity but it is exhausting and othering to constantly be the subject of curiosity. I feel like an animal in a zoo just about every time I meet someone.

This type of automatic, often well meaning but at times unthinking “othering” can lead to a slippery slope to not seeing or even being okay to hate without even realizing it. After all, it's hard to hate those we consider our own.

I condemn with the strongest words any sort of hate, and I am glad my colleagues and FCPS have also strongly condemned the hate faced by Asian Americans. But I also challenge us all to think about the ways we can stop the othering of people, to be inclusive in all we do and say. I challenge us as a school system to make sure our curriculum, materials, and lessons accurately and respectfully reflect the history, culture, and experience of Asian Americans, work I am glad to be part of. And I challenge us as a society to stand in solidarity with those who have been the subject of hate and “othering”. After all, we are all human and we all belong here.

On a side note, I keep waiting for my husband to get asked a similar question about his German sounding last name but somehow he never does get asked, not once, where he is from nor has anyone ever been curious about his culture or his name’s origins. People have asked him where his wife is from, though. So there is that.

When talking about AAPI hate, please also talk about the minimizing, the uncomfortable implicit othering, the nullifying of Asian Americans.

We all belong here. We are all from here and from somewhere else. That is what makes us American.

Words matter. Mindset matters.

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Submitted: Apr 28, 2021