My family and I recently visited the 9/11 Memorial Waterfront Park in Port Angeles.
A steel beam retrieved from the site of the World Trade Center in New York sits as a centerpiece in a majestic park that overlooks the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Originally known as Francis Street Park, it was renamed in 2017 to honor the sacrifices that were made and those who perished on Sept. 11.
A group of young white adults were hanging out at the park; one of them was taking a piss in the bushes.
“Hey. This is America,” one white boy said as we walked past.
“‘Merica,” echoed his white friend.
Their other friends said nothing. My family and I ignored their taunts and kept going, but the further away we got, the louder those two became. “I love Kim Jong Un!”
I hoped my parents didn’t hear any of it.
But if they did, I hoped they wouldn’t understand what it meant.
My parents are smart people but I wanted them to be ignorant… just this once.
They came to the United States over 30 years ago as refugees from the Vietnam War and in the decades that followed, learned to navigate language and cultural barriers while raising a vibrant family. In fact, I draw strength from their experiences in my own professional work advancing social justice and undoing racism.
Yet for all my organizing and advocacy, I regret not being able to shield them from these random acts of violence.
Even though this incident spanned about ten seconds, racism has a sick and nasty way of lingering. I am still thinking about it days later. What could I have done differently if I were to relive that moment?
1. Punch those white boys in the face.
2. Insult and belittle them in return.
3. Outsmart them with my logic, reason and wit.
4. Punch them in the face (there were a lot of faces to go around).
The two white boys who tried to make my family feel unwelcome clearly did not think through the irony of the situation. I pity them. The white boy who was literally pissing at a 9/11 Memorial thought he was more American than us? The other white boy who yelled “I love Kim Jong Un,” thought he was a patriot?
One of my friends told me later, “This should NOT be happening and even though we, people of color, constantly bring these things up and shed light on them, it still happens.”
My friend is right and I was reminded it’s not my responsibility to fix a white person’s racism. The only way for our country to sincerely address racism is for white people to stand up and call it out. Those two white boys had friends who were silent through it all. And through their silence, and lack of courage, they allowed racism to persist unchecked.
Make no mistake, my family and I were terrorized at the 9/11 Memorial Waterfront Park. They tried to intimidate us with a few trite words but my words are much more powerful. I descend from a family of refugees and we’re resilient as fuck.
The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Vietnamese Friendship Association.