Sarah Javier: Erased

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Sarah Javier (Courtesy of Sarah Javier)

Racism thrives on ignorance of the history that isn’t taught is history erased. Sarah Javier has this Perspective.

Patriotism was plentiful in my childhood as a Filipino-American U.S. Navy brat. But despite how American I was, I often felt like a foreigner in my conservative Southern hometown. I thought things would change once I moved to the Bay, where I was finally surrounded by people who looked like me.

I realized I was still an outsider.

The United States has erased Asians from its past. History books gloss over the estimated 200,000 Filipinos killed during the Philippine-American War. The horror of Japanese internment camps was hastily covered in my high school American History class. I learned about the Chinese Exclusion Act from young adult fiction books. And although AAPI representation is improving in Hollywood, progress is slow.

On a personal level, anti-Asian racism has led me to grieve the lack of knowledge I could have had growing up. I was never taught about the role that Filipino-American labor leader Larry Itliong played alongside Cesar Chavez in shaping modern day labor unions. I knew nothing about racism perpetrated by White men against Filipinos in 1930s Stockton, or how legislation made it impossible for Filipinos to have interracial marriages. I would guess that many other Filipino-Americans like me are also in the dark.

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The events of 2020 and 2021 have exposed the dark reality of being Asian in America. We enter conversations with non-Asian colleagues to come out feeling othered. We feel at a loss for words when non-Asians ask, “What are you?” then quickly defend themselves when met with blank stares. We must wade through the vast expanse of the Internet to find information about our ancestors’ experiences in this country stated in their own voices. We are subjected to dismissive excuses (e.g., “bad days”) for violence against us.

I say all of this to affirm that the Asian experience is the American experience. The historical trauma we are experiencing is very real and, at this moment in history, will not be erased.
With a perspective, I’m Sarah Javier.

Sarah Javier is a postdoc and health equity researcher at Stanford Medicine.