Be Bold, Be Proud, Speak Up: Raising Asian American Daughters Now

9 minute read
Susanna Schrobsdorff writes the It’s Not Just You newsletter on Substack

A version of this article also appeared in the It’s Not Just You newsletter. Sign up here to receive it every Sunday.

Well hello! I’m so happy you’re here. This week we have a special guest columnist: Ellen Oh is an arts program director and mother of two young girls in the San Francisco Bay Area. She writes about what keeps her hopeful and what it means to raise her two young girls in an age of activism and heightened fears in the Asian community.

We also have the Coping Kit below as usual, a little letter from me about Spring, plus some evidence of human kindness. (Send thoughts to me at

On Raising Asian American Daughters Now

By Ellen Oh

I hesitated to write about the tragic events of the last few days and the swell of racist attacks on Asian Americans over the last year. Being biracial, maybe I’m not Asian enough. Why would people want to hear what I have to say? I’m not a writer. I should do what I always do – stay in the background, create platforms to uplift others, keep my head down, but how Asian is that?! I’m fighting decades of ingrained impulses to write this, but here goes.

Both of my daughters had birthdays this week. One turned eleven, the other seven. I’ve been focused on ordering cupcakes, prepping for a zoom party, and thinking of all the ways I can make their days extra special after a long, strange year. Everything felt extra hard—like I was slogging through a swamp with an invisible weight on my back.

But I didn’t have time to stop and think about the heaviness or the dark clouds overhead. I needed to deliver Birthday Happiness for my girls!

Now that the parties are over, I recognize that weight as sadness for our country, for fellow Asian Americans, for my daughters.

What does it mean to grow up as an Asian American woman now? How do I teach my girls to be strong and bold and proud when Asian-fetishizing misogynists or white supremacists could gun them down just because they are having a bad day? When our elders are getting pushed and punched on the street just for being Asian? How can I protect them? How can they protect themselves?

But even as I wonder how I’m going to save my daughters, I’m starting to realize that it is my girls and their generation who will save me, save us. They are growing up amid a cultural awakening that will disrupt the toxic norms of the past before they sink too deeply into my girls’ subconsciousness.

Their generation is the most diverse in U.S. history. They are coming into this with their eyes wide open. My children recognize discrimination and racism for what it is and are learning to speak out. I am both teaching and learning from them, and they embolden me to be better and do better. My oldest daughter defines herself as an activist. For her birthday, she organized a beach cleanup and fundraiser for the Environmental Defense Fund. This was so far from my consciousness at her age.

Our life in the Bay Area, where identity politics and social activism are the norm, is so unlike the small Midwestern town where I grew up in the 80s.

I was trained at a young age to keep my head down, to fit in. This meant not inviting friends over when my mom made kimchee, and the house smelled of fermentation, laughing when my high school boyfriend called me ‘ornamental’ and just rolling my eyes when a college friend set ‘the Oriental riff’ as my ringtone on her phone.

Is it enough of an excuse that it was a different time and place? They meant no malice, and I am still friends with these people. We are all learning as the world changes around us, as all of the fear and darkness and hate that has been hiding under the surface comes to stare us in the face. We realize we can no longer laugh it off; we have to confront it head-on.

That college friend is now a much more outspoken racial justice advocate than I am. And I watch in awe as so many other friends and colleagues speak, organize, and rally for our community.

I’m also so thankful for the inspiration and solace I am finding in art and artists. I watched this beautiful animated meditation by Jess X Snow over and over again. I learned about this gorgeous poster series by Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya. I revisited Christine Wong Yap’s recent project in S.F. Chinatown and asked myself, How do I keep my heart open?

It’s not easy to stay open and hopeful in the face of hatred and tragedy. But I will pick myself up day after day and keep fighting. I’ll continue to carry this invisible weight in hopes that we can lighten the load for my kids and our collective future.

Ellen Oh is an arts program director, mother, and Midwest-transplant living in the Bay Area. She has worked in the arts & social justice space for years but is still learning to find her voice.

Read more in TIME: A Love Letter to Asian Americans

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Happy vernal equinox to you dear readers,

Lately, it seems we clatter into each new season dragging a dented wagon of jumbled, conflicting feelings.

It’ll be 61 degrees in New York today, which means that people in my neighborhood will stagger outside, giddy and disoriented by the warmth and all the other sun-drunk people on the street. It was 27 degrees just a few days ago, so some of us will still be clinging to our coats, like jaded finalists in some sort of urban version of Survivor. Others will just skip right to shorts immediately.

This is our annual personality test in the Northern climes, now with a pandemic twist which means that even if we are wearing appropriate clothing, we have no idea where we’re going or what’s open. We’re just out.

Our emotions are just as erratic. On the one hand, there’s real hope over the vaccines. Then here’s the horrific news of attacks on Asian Americans in Atlanta and a rising tide of fear. This is yet another season that brings a dissonant clash of hope and fear, chaos and progress. So we just keep moving with the uncertainty and bow to the daffodils where ever they grow.

Till next week, Susanna. (Send comments to me at:


INJY-BornthisWay-LadyGaga Please Stay

PLEASE STAY Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation teamed up with the suicide prevention organization Find Your Anchor to create the Please Stay Pledge, asking people “to stay alive even when the world seems to stop spinning”, while reminding them that they’re loved, needed, and not alone in their struggle. The project was created in response to a troubling spike in rates of depression, suicide, and anxiety disorders among young people in 2020.

HOW TO REDUCE MENTAL CLUTTER Physical clutter is the most obvious issue, but we’re also burdened by emotional, energetic, and relationship clutter, writes Peggy Fitzsimmons in this guide to clearing your mind.

I got a sneak peek at Making the Day, a sweet, diverting comedy premiering this month at Cinequest Film Festival. It’s a little like a Christopher Guest mockumentary about making a documentary, but with more heart than satire. It features a high-low array of characters you’d meet only if you were trying to make an underfunded film in New York. The lead, played by Juliette Bennett, is a joyfully manic actress who, after years of “Zombie #3” parts, believes this is her breakout moment. She just wants a chance to be seen. And after this long, claustrophobic winter, we can all relate.


Here’s your weekly reminder that creating a community of generosity elevates us all.

I want to thank you to all of the kind and generous members of Pandemic of Love who rushed to our aid over the last few days to send enough money so we could reclaim our towed car. Had all of you not immediately jumped to help us, we would have lost our car to auction.

The note of gratitude above is from Neil, a senior citizen in Reno, Nevada, to his local chapter of Pandemic of Love and its founder Patty Evans. In early March, the group crowdfunded $1400 in 24 hours to help Neil and his wife Cathie (pictured above) pay tow-lot fees. The couple let their car registration lapse because money was tight, and they’ve been homebound during the pandemic. They were stunned when their only car was towed from their driveway as a result. Neil has since become a POL volunteer.

This story is courtesy of Shelly Tygielski, founder of Pandemic of Love, a grassroots organization that matches those who want to become donors or volunteers directly with those who’ve asked for help with essential needs.


Our weekly acknowledgment of the animals that help us make it through the storm. Meet BAILEY the comfort cat, submitted by LARA.

INJY-Bailey-Lara-Comfort Cat

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