This too is an American experience.

Cathy Lee
5 min readApr 27, 2021


The earliest memory I have that isn’t prompted by a faded photo from the 80s with smiles frozen in perpetuity:

Hiding under a desk and peeking through as I watch a drunk man spit in my dad’s face.

Calling him a chink.

Yelling to get out of HIS country.

Go back to China.

My mom asking me afterwards why I hadn’t said anything. I could speak English. After all.

I was 6.

I could have.

Maybe I should have.


You could say this memory shapes me.

From then on, I became my parents’ voice.

I remember long nights at the kitchen table, leafing through lease agreements. Trying to pronounce big words, legal words.

Smart words.

My legs swinging from the chair, because my feet didn’t reach the floor yet.

I’d stand ever so slightly in front of my parents when I could see the smirk in the tones of hostesses at the restaurant. The tellers at the bank. Everyone not Asian.

Speak eloquently to let them know.

My parents are represented.

My high school memories consist of calling the electricity company and the gas company and the credit card company. Could we defer payments. Was there an extension plan.

I can’t imagine what my voice, which sounds cartoonish today, must’ve sounded like then.

I’d deepen it at the first sign of disrespect. Use bigger words and sharper tones.

Comical at best, but the only way for me to convey I would not be taken advantage of.

We couldn’t afford it.


Going to my siblings’ parent conferences, at first with my mom, eventually without.

Hating the pity in teachers’ eyes.

Why aren’t your parents here.

Bitch, it’s not like I want to be here.

(just kidding. I would never call a teacher a bitch.)



I don’t remember when the first of the assaults happened.

The earliest I remember was when I was 11, I guess.

Has a year ever gone by without a man attacking me? Screaming chink bitch? Has six months? Three?

Ah yes. Well, the pandemic, of course. I should feel lucky we had to stay indoors. Almost a full year without a konichiwa, or a nihao or a….stupid kook you don’t understand??? I’m fckin talking to you.

Sometimes feeling cheeky and saying in perfect fckin English — “no, I don’t understand fckin English, you prick.”

And always bracing myself for the possible attack.

Enduring the annoying screech of white girls and their protectors screaming, “that never happens to meeeeeee.”

No shit.

Enduring white men who exclusively date Asian women insisting they don’t have a racist bone in their body. I’m a good man!!!



I can’t really explain the amount of pressure growing up. I don’t think even my siblings could relate to it. I know there are others, though. Generations past and generations forthcoming.

The dreams my parents had of me becoming a lawyer who could represent other Koreans like them. A voice for the voiceless. A bi-lingual savior sticking it to the man.

The guilt I still carry of not fulfilling that dream. The regret that will likely never disappear, leaving me to constantly wonder if I made the wrong decision.

Feeling so responsible that apparently I took out extra student loans to help pay bills here and there.

I actually have no memory of this.

Money and English played too significant a role in my formative years.

Money now and money fast.


To this day, I feel the judgment from white people who could pursue their dreams or feel superior because at least they didn’t sell out. The ones who never have to pay for a single thing when they visit their parents. Who, even in their darkest moments, know they have a safety net and a free flight back home if push comes to shove. Who are not, in fact, their parents’ 401K plan.

Who can say things like “follow your heart” or “I need to be able to look at myself in the mirror” when they snub their noses at jobs like….finance.

As though we revel in this choice. The constant sexual innuendos from men always testing the limits of how much they could get away with. The snide comments from people still upset about *diversity* hires.

Lol white men who actually argue — well look how much better you’re doing economically than me, Cathy. There’s no racism today in America.

Maybe I’m just smarter than you? More driven than you?

All else equal, you, white man, would definitely be ahead.

Let’s not compare apples to oranges and say that racism has been solved.


I haven’t even touched on the nuances of internalized racism within the AsAm community, the misogyny of MRAzns, the rampant anti-Blackness that is quick to call you a self-hater and question your allegiance….like wut?

As though I am not Korean enough, if I too don’t happily agree with the violent notion that we have a right to SHOOT Black protestors in order to protect something as inane as property.

That I question Asian Americans who say things like, well Asian Americans worked harder. (the than Black and Brown communities is always implied here)

You know they haven’t read a single thing on Asian American history, but you have to be careful not to insult egos.

Clarifying questions only.

As though I don’t love my parents enough if I don’t also exhibit anti-Blackness.

As though I didn’t watch what my own parents endured growing up. Like I was ignorant of the persistent racism from all sides while still somehow also *basically white* in this country. Hated from all angles with the added insult of speaking the language broken, with something as disgusting as an accent. God forbid.

What other languages do you speak?

If you hate it so much, if you can’t learn english, why did you *come here then*.

Oh wait, you’re asking that question seriously.


In case there’s any exasperating misunderstanding — please think eyeroll, side-eye, whatever common expression used at white folks who just won’t ever get it — that I would trade being Korean for anything else: no.

Clean and hard no.

I write this out because I want to document it somewhere.

I write this out because I know how ununique this experience is.

I write this out with a heavy heart, not because of the pain of these memories — that has long since faded — but because I need people to know how ubiquitous this American experience is.

How unextraordinary.

I don’t know these crazy rich Asians y’all keep referring.

We are so much more complex than tiger parents and children.

We are definitely not your model minority and I couldn’t be less interested in your annoying *fun fact* that your last girlfriend was also Asian.

We exist still, maybe in the yellow-gray of the Black/White dichotomy of American racism, but we still exist.

This is as American as it gets.

This too is an American experience.



Cathy Lee

thoughts that are more or less informing my journey…hoping you find it helpful too