If you’re reading this post, The Mirror of Hate, now in 2020 or later, I would like to thank you for looking at my past work. This post is very special to me. It is the first piece of my writing that was widely read, shared and commented on, which was a joyous and humbling experience. I had written most of it in the winter of 2016 and published it the following summer. Several people said it resonated with them and I had “captured the spirit of the time”. Although I was pleased that so many liked and I do not regret writing it, I can no longer read it now without wishing I could delve into its themes more deeply. 

First and foremost, I always felt that this post existed as a fragment of a longer, more complicated story: My family’s history in the Philippines and their immigration to the USA. Looking at it from an outsider’s perspective, the essay starts out humble and down-trodden, then it leaps to grand and Biblical proportions. But within the circumstances of my family’s immigration these leaps would seem more natural. For instance, my family had to leave a lush, tropical homeland behind, a place which was (for them) once a paradise. This move felt like an expulsion, so I chose to bring up the story of Eve eating the apple instead of the one several readers felt would be more fitting: the story of the Good Samaritan.

Furthermore, I deliberately did not describe the race of the people asking me what my race was, nor did I reveal my race because I feel the problems of racism or bigotry are not confined to a specific race or people. That being said, current problems arise from historical inequalities and should be addressed, not voided with false or nihilistic equivalencies. Meanings of identity and entitlements should be investigated if they lead us to hate.

And finally, I wish to say is I’m always striving to learn and improve myself, that goes for my writing especially. I hope to share the bigger story in the near future.

“What are you?”

I get asked this question all the time, wherever I go. “What are you?” I got so tired hearing it that I once answered on a whim: “Guess!” The man who had asked me proceeded to list off all the Asian nationalities he knew: “Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indonesian, Indian, Mongolian…” It was around the tenth guess, that I nodded. Oddly, he was not satisfied with my answer. To be honest neither was I. He looked at me incredulously and walked away. I felt his disappointment, perhaps he was hoping to achieve some sort of confirmation for his painstakingly-built system of racial order, at the very least, he made a good effort to pin me down.

In all honesty, I don’t really know what I am. On paper, I am a two-time immigrant, my husband is also an immigrant and my children are even more multicultural and multiracial than I am. However, inside, in my mind—my idea of self, I don’t use a specific race or even the term “multicultural” to define myself or my family.

As a child, I was often surprised when someone pointed out that I was something definite, something different from them: “Asian”, “Chink”, “Foreigner”. It felt so odd to be so enclosed within a word, like I occupied a space—a space as small as their tongue. A coin perhaps, my value etched on the surface: gender: female, race: Asian, worth: half a regular person?

The hardest part for me growing up as an immigrant in the US was that my identity was so malleable, so unformed. As a child, when I was confronted with bigotry or when someone disrespected me outright, I could not separate it from my own sense of self-worth. My parents were ill-equipped to help me; they were authoritarians who instilled in me the idea that the best reaction to hostility was compliance. So when someone called me names, labeled me at first glance, I often put my head down and tried to make myself disappear. I hid from name-callers and if I couldn’t avoid them, I tried to act as non-threatening as possible. This was very painful for me growing up, it felt like I was slowly suffocating in a dark, narrow box, unable to communicate that I was a human being—a human of intelligence, value, emotion. If I were to disappear no one would ever know that I ever existed in the first place.

This feeling of suffocation would engulf me whenever someone treated me like an inferior or whenever they said that I didn’t belong. A particularly poignant experience was when I was sixteen years old, attending high school in Seattle. My English teacher, Mrs. V., who normally spent class time chatting jovially with the popular kids, strolled the aisles one morning and casually asked everyone: “What does it mean to be an American?” We were all silent for a long time, then she specified, “Who is an American?” A cheerful boy answered, “Everyone who lives here is an American, immigrants too. They can be Americans if they live here and work hard.” A few of the other kids nodded in agreement, but Mrs. V. was not satisfied with his answer. She continued roving the room, searching for another opinion.

A tall, sporty boy raised his hand and she nodded. “No,” he said firmly, “Only whites and blacks are true Americans. Everyone else is a foreigner.”

This answer made Mrs. V. stop still. Several kids in the room nodded, agreeing with him.

“Why?” Mrs. V. asked.

“Because only whites and blacks contributed to this country, they made the country what it is today: the most powerful country in the world,” said the boy confidently.

As he spoke, he gave all the nonwhites and nonblacks in the room an icy look. It was then that I realized why that particular boy always ignored me—even when I spoke to him directly, and why he only associated with an exclusive group of people. His eyes caught my gaze and his lips curled in disgust as he looked back at me. It was as if he was daring me to contradict him, as if any rebuttal coming from me would be automatically self-serving and feeble.

“You’re wrong,” yelled another outraged student vehemently, “That’s not true! Other races have contributed too!”

But Mrs. V. interrupted her, “No, no,” she said, “I didn’t call on you. He’s entitled to his opinion. Everyone is entitled to form their own opinions.” With that she put an end to further discussion.

That was the only time that nationality was ever brought up in my high school.

At the time, I felt a hot rage boiling inside me, some of it at the boy, but most of it at Mrs. V. It was one thing to have an opinion when you weren’t informed, everyone could form an opinion with little knowledge, but she was our teacher, it was her job to educate us. She did not question the boy or challenge him in any way, merely nodded and accepted his opinion, in the name of “showing everyone respect”. She did not question or even explore the meaning of “race” or the meaning of “contribute”. She did not question why a newly born or newly immigrated white or black person could take credit for the accomplishments of other people purely on the basis of shared skin color or ancestry. And if they took credit for all the accomplishments of their so-called race, why not all the failures too? Should a son be praised or punished for the actions of his father or his grandfather? She said nothing about the accomplishments of other “races”. Nothing about the interdependency or cooperation of countries in the world. Nothing.

Throughout my life this would be the kind of prejudice and complacency I would be confronted with in many forms. I became well-acquainted with certain views of immigrants as pests, leeching off the wealth of the country and degrading the purity of national identity. There have been crude and underhanded attempts to demean me—the micro-aggressions of daily life. Extended staring, hateful looks, refusal to talk to me, balky service, complaining about foreigners in my presence, these are all the ways I can expect to be treated when carrying out daily tasks.

I have also been treated to impromptu lectures, as if I represent a whole country of wrongdoers. My presence has become an outlet for the grievances of globalization. When I vacationed in Alaska, several fishermen glared at me as they loudly complained of the Japanese overfishing the waters. In Germany, a baker complained vociferously about the “Chinese destroying small European bakeries by flooding the market with cheap flour and baked goods.” I have tried to see it with compassion, tried to find the kernel of validity in their overwrought fears. But I strongly doubt I could fix things if I actually was a citizen of either of those countries, or even if I was an employee in either of their companies. I doubt I could even secure my own job from outsourcing (I have lost a job in this way myself). These kinds of big decisions affecting jobs and resources are out of any individual’s control. I would have better luck if I was a room full of CEOs, or a computer projecting numbers from the stock market. But it’s so much easier to blame a defenseless person than a computer or a boardroom—to scapegoat a foreigner than the actual, less tangible culprit.

Advances in technology and transportation have shortened the once great distances separating nations, separating people. In many ways, the changes have been positive, my life as I know it today and the important relationships I have made would not have been possible without technology, especially the Internet. Major cities now boast the wealth of cuisine, art and knowledge from a kaleidoscopic array of cultures around the world. But the pervasive hostility that I have encountered as an immigrant has shown me that our minds, our ideologies have not kept up with these changes. And there are, of course, the all-important negative changes: companies and jobs are now as movable as emails, everything seems to have lost its permanence, opposing cultural beliefs are brought to friction by their now close proximity. I can understand the desire for stability and security fueling the anger behind populist and nationalist movements, it is the same desire that immigrants know all too well.

In my experience, bigots do not differentiate between a legal or an illegal immigrant, when it comes down to it, all migration is considered wrong because “everyone should stay within their own country”, this is an argument I have heard often. I have been likened to a traitorous opportunist for failing to stay within the borders I was born in. I can feel the rage and fear behind the hate, especially in this time of terrorist threats. I can hear the note of despair behind the yelling and the insults, the primal desire to go back to a simpler time, to simple rules, to simple borders on a map—the simple desire to sort people by their outward appearance or religion.

After all, I am sure no one wants to their identity, their sense of entitlement, their sense of worth, their connection to the land—to the earth itself to be tested in the ways mine has. The cumulative experience of being a two-time immigrant was akin to putting my identity in a blender and spinning it at maximum. Whatever positive attributes I thought I had, whatever good I thought I could offer society, whatever values I had cultivated in my previous home, all of it would be put to question under the corrosive effects of prejudice and social isolation until one day I came to a stunning realization: I realized that I had unwittingly absorbed all that hate over the years. So much hate, that when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize myself anymore. What I saw was a worthless person, foreign, ugly, pathetic, a burden in all aspects, not worthy of anyone’s time or respect. But then I looked closer, there one more thing about my reflection that became glaringly obvious, it was definitely a clear reflection, but not of me. The answer to “What are you?” was staring at me all along: I am you.

“What are you?” For people determined to hate me, there would be no answer good enough, no argument valid enough, no amount of information could prove that I was their equal. They saw only that ugly thing, a monster of their own making: a taker of jobs, a waste, an inconvenience. For people who genuinely wanted to get to know me, they also saw their own reflections: a person of value, worthy of respect—a possible friend. Obviously, I can’t actually say, “I am you” without inciting some sort of dramatic reaction. So whenever anyone asks me that question now, I just reply with whatever comes to me in the moment. Then I watch that other person, I really watch them and it’s them I can see.

The forces of hate, the online trolls, the bullies of the world may think they have recently won sweet victories; they may feel emboldened, empowered, validated. There may be nothing anyone can do to stop them or change their minds. But what they don’t realize is their cover has been blown. If you ever find yourself the victim of unprovoked hostility or if you ever witness someone spewing degrading insults, ask yourself this: Who is really being exposed here? Who is really being described? I guarantee you, you will find it is not the victim being defined. No one is qualified to assign another person their value.

Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of a world where people would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” It may be too stupidly idealistic to say that a tolerant, inclusive society is a peaceful one, but he succinctly outlined the important caveat of such a freedom, “the content of their character”. No one, be they black or white, Muslim or Christian, man or woman, straight or gay, should impede on the rights of another. Protecting refugees, allowing immigration, striving for equality, treating humans as humans—these are not burdens but privileges. What country, what nation, what people in the history of the earth has ever really strived to uphold that beautiful ideal that “all men are created equal” or respected the rights of the “other” if they were not forced to? Can it even be possible? Now, perhaps for the first time in history, in the midst of unprecedented economic and technological change, countries that have suddenly become more diverse are poised to answer that question. Some have already answered with a resounding no. But for the future of my children, I strive to belief that these are not victories but the death throes of an obsolete and antiquated ideology.

Hate, racism and supremacy is a negation of life, a denial of a shared reality. It is to impose false assumptions, hierarchies and beliefs over Nature itself. Somewhere in the distant past an important decision was made that altered the course of our development as humans: Figuratively speaking, Eve made the decision to eat that apple. She chose knowledge. We, her children, irrationally strive for the simplicity and the ignorance of the past, to go back to an idealized time. But what if we stop trying to make anything great again? What if we stop denying reality its true form—stop denying anyone their humanity? What if we stop trying to go backwards and finally digest that apple?

 

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Text and images by M.P. Baecker © 2017

A very big, heartfelt thank you to Bryce Tache and Discover for sharing this article!

In response to all the positive feedback I have received for this story, I have written another story The Mirror of Love.

160 thoughts on “The Mirror of Hate

  1. Thank you for writing this article. I have been working through a lot of my personal identity lately as well, growing up mostly overseas in a multicultural military family. My first experience coming back to the states and needing to learn what my identity is was when I went to college and was placed in the “international student” orientation because I came from overseas. It made me feel like I did not fit in with the rest of the people at the school.

    You gave a lot of great insight and thoughts that I will continue to wrestle with as I apply it to what I am going through.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for your lovely comment and sharing your experience!

      I strive to connect with everyone, especially to empower those who find themselves confused, hurt, or oppressed by being cast as the “other”. You are a valuable human being, first and foremost! If someone else puts a label on you and treats you as an inferior, it is a reflection of them not of you. I learned that the hard way, feeling so much pain that I wanted to hide, to disappear, I didn’t know how to go on with my life! I hope that by sharing our experiences we can strengthen those who find themselves struggling with identity.

      Thanks for your thoughtful reading!

      Like

  2. I would like to think that the story of the Good Samaritan will illiuminate some minds. I live in South Florida, and observe how the immigrant nurses take care of America’s elderly, while their privileged children go to the other side of the country or across the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You are right, the Good Samaritan is an inspiration. Someone also suggested “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
      I think people generally want the best for themselves, their families and their children. If they are given an opportunity for a better life, they will take it. Many immigrants fill necessary jobs, like nurses and care workers, it is mutually beneficial.

      Thanks for your in-depth reading!

      Like

  3. I love to answer, ” I am human.” Nationality should be based on the current nation we are living in and not on where our ancestors came from. There shouldn’t be any labels to place on an individual.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your lovely comment! That’s a good answer, I haven’t tried that yet, but I will. I usually say nowadays “it’s a long story”, people who aren’t nice usually nod and go, but those genuinely interested ask to hear it 🙂 I don’t like these shortcuts to defining someone, there’s no way to do that without knowing them yourself.

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

      • If anyone asked me what I was in middle school or high school I usually shrugged and replied “a mutt.” Having never been one or the other and surrounded by people who didn’t care about racial identity it didn’t matter. That teacher’s remarks made me cringe; somebody taught her student to think the way he did and she didn’t ask the kid to back up his remarks. What a disgrace.

        Like

        • Thanks for your comment! That’s a funny answer! A few kids actually called me that as a joke “mutt”, because I have a mixed-race heritage too. Sadly, when I attended high school in the 90’s most of the kids were in cliques based on their race or class, you could say this was an unofficial kind of segregation. I think Mrs. V. went in over her head that day and she knew it herself, that’s why she ended the discussion after that boy made his outrageous statement. I think it caught her off-gaurd because she didn’t think it through and she ended bolstering the boy’s narrow perspective because of her passivity. I’ve seen this many times from people, including myself, sometimes what someone says or does is so outrageous or crude that it catches us off-gaurd so we do nothing. I hope that by writing about it, we can find better ways to react that will not bolster agitators (even unwittingly) but instead support inclusion and compassion.
          Thanks for reading!

          Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for responding! You’re probably right about Mrs. V, but it’s only a partial explanation. The trick with responding is knowing when it’s useful and when it entails acting like a scold and reinforcing bias.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your lovely comment!

      I am particularly fond of teachers, I have had some incredible ones. It is one of the most important jobs in my opinion (next to being a parent)!

      I think we are finding ourselves in a time when it is much harder to make racial distinctions, many people are multiracial and national identities more complicated. I fear if we don’t discuss it and address it in-depth in the classroom, the natural tendency is to go back to past models of thought.

      Thanks for your in-depth reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for this incredibly articulate and thought-provoking piece. It’s powerful, insightful and sincere, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It strikes a beautiful balance between emotion and logic, which can often be challenging to do.
    Thank you for your sharing.
    Jackie.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your beautiful comment! It means so much to me that you appreciate the writing, that it has come across and resonated with you and others. I actually wrote most this piece last year during Christmas, I was feeling a bit down and wanted to capture these hard-to-articulate feelings and ideas swirling around in me, I wrote it down, but it didn’t come together then, so I put it away. And it would have stayed hidden, but after recent events in the news, I felt compelled to go back to it, this time I felt I was able to articulate it. I’m glad you agree. Thank you for your comment and your in-depth reading!

      Like

  5. I live in an area rife with bigotry, a fairly isolated but larger town in Northern California. As a sales guy I deal with a lot of people, and I hear the unfettered bigotry from (especially) the older folks in town. Everyone I know knows “a good one” or two that is Asian, or Black, or of some other cultural background that they seem to indicate is an exemption to their worldview rule. My oldest brother lives in Mississippi and carries with him a racist streak that is astonishing to me.

    I hear the phrase “I’m not a racist, but …” all the time, and I know the next words will be racist.

    This uprising, in the country, it took me by surprise, starting two years ago. I mean, I knew up here I was going to hear words at the bowling alley and from the cowboys in this town about “that n***** in the White House,” but I thought it a local yokel (and maybe deep south) thing. That kid in your class when you were 16 could have been the son of one of the folks I’m thinking of.

    I lived in a pretty progressive county when I was younger so I guess I figured most places still carried that streak. I guess I led myself to believe that everything was fine.

    I cannot truly relate to your story, but I can empathize with it. I spend a lot of time crusading against discrimination, inequality, bigotry, and racist attitudes in my discussions. I just had to overcome a bias at my workplace (and I’m happy to say my point of view won the day). I tell a lot of people that America was only ever “GREAT” for some, and even then not as great as they are led to believe.

    I didn’t mean to be so long, but your story really moved me. 😂

    That teacher did you a disservice. Anyone who doesn’t see you, or any other person, as a fellow human first is acting out of a terrible conditioning we have inherited. This era of super-speed communication allows us to break that conditioning for the first time in history (one would hope).

    “What country, what nation, what people in the history of the earth has ever really strived to uphold that beautiful ideal that “all men are created equal” or respected the rights of the “other” if they were not forced to?”

    The answer is none. It’s time to put away the relics that remind us of a past we imagined as “better” and to strive to be something no other people have ever been. Equal.

    It’s time to digest that apple.

    Great post. Thank you!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you so much for your beautiful comment! I really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts!

      I can relate to what you said about hearing it out loud from others in daily life or around town, I have had friends and family say horribly racist things in my presence, but often being someone’s target myself, I was always cringing with discomfort. Perhaps it would be them today, me tomorrow. Somehow people don’t stop to think how hurtful and wrong that is, how the person they are demeaning is still a person!
      I think racism is something everyone needs to become aware of in themselves and in their families and actively work to eradicate, unfortunately, this is not easy and takes effort. If everyone strove to let go of this obsolete way of thinking, who knows what wonders we can achieve! But it is the only way forward.

      Thanks for your in depth reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Due to a medical emergency I have just spent the past weekend in hospital. The first available bed was in the Palliative Care ward. As I was well enough to walk the hallways and sit in the little lounge. I saw the friends and relatives of the desperately unwell and dying patients. I saw Muslim families, Hindu families, families of Chinese ancestry, Korean, European, Canadian. After the week before with the ghastly surge of out-in-the-open racism and hatred I thought: ” it all comes down to this. We all come to death eventually. We all suffer and grieve when those we love leave us.” My nurses were African, Chinese, Canadian and Korean. My doctors and specialists and technicians were German, Korean, Chinese, British, Pakistani and the list goes on. I was grateful for all the doctors and nurses and technicians who helped me. My heart went out to the families and friends of all those who were suffering through the illness and death of someone they loved. So your post was particularly poignant. Thank you for writing this. And as for that boy in your High School class and your teacher? Those are two sad little people whose lives will never have been enriched by opening their hearts and minds to other people who are not carbon cut outs of themselves!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you for sharing your beautiful thoughts! You are soooo right about that: Hate is its own punishment! We all have the same end, we are all human, we all need each other, we are not invulnerable. I used to get so hurt and angry about prejudice and racism when I was younger and then I realized how miserable haters are, always trying to make the world fit into their impossibly small brains! The Universe rewards the compassionate! Opening your heart is it own reward.

      Thank you for your thoughtful reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I can relate to your article. Being in the healthcare field, I am asked the same question all the time. Some can say it nicely, others bluntly. Patients and sometimes their families ask for a “white” nurse to take care of them. What I do, after I answer the question, is ask them the same question: ” What are you?” America is the land of immigrants. Everyone has his roots from somewhere. People don’t see the value of immigrants – their contribution to the society as a whole. As if they are only considered true Americans if they go to war and die. Surely the struggles every immigrant experience is unnoticed. Our survival depends on our acquired defenses. The values we grew up to
    form our character and ability to assimilate. When I start telling people that grandpa fixed the US Navy ships in Guam, dad serving the US army during WW II – I certainly see a change of faces.
    Very nice article.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for sharing your experiences. Someone making assumptions about your job skills based on your race is really terrible and sadly, still going on everywhere. Turning around the questioning is a good idea, I used to do that too, many people were startled, they often don’t realize how it feels to be asked your race by a perfect stranger. Some people mean well, they are just curious or want to break the ice, in that case, the question should be “Where are you from?” instead of “What are you?”!!

      You’re so right about the contributions of immigrants going unnoticed. We have another thing in common, my grandfather also worked for the US, he was an engineer stationed in Guam and was also an interpreter for the US Navy during the war. The world makes significant contributions to making any country “great”. I dream that one day we will all be proud of the contributions of one race: the human race.

      Thanks for your lovely words Pamela.

      Like

  8. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Why does this have to be a commandment encompassing the rest? Perhaps, because it’s human nature, we have a tendency to put each other down. Even just in our own households, we’re in constant rivalry. I try to love my neighbor; I sure love every ethnic food. What I don’t get is others imposing their beliefs on me and killing or shutting the likes of me just because they believe their way is better. We migrate because we like the place we migrate into. We work to make that new place better, to better ourselves and our children; not make that new place the same as the place we came from.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Anna,

      Thank you for your kindness and beautiful thoughts, you put it so well: “We migrate because we like the place we migrate into. We work to make that new place better, to better ourselves and our children; not make that new place the same as the place we came from.” You make a great point about liking all that great food, somehow it’s easier to appreciate diversity in edible form than all others! Instant gratification! Yet the other ways of appreciating diversity and cultivating compassion are even more gratifying and rewarding! Thanks very much for sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I place the media and the educational system complicit. In my opinion, the objective to keep us separate and fearful of those not like us. Who am I? Do you really want to know? Well, then that is going to take some time and effort. It will require an authentic desire to understand. Fear of not being able to place someone into a predetermined category is rampant. We are so much more. I sincerely apologize for we are all responsible for this by not doing more to open our hearts and do the work required to know better.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. The first image is spot on, and this post is beautiful, thorough and timely. Thank you.

    A lot of people don’t know their true place, so they buy into society strata stories. It’s all invented as a replacement for the truth. Rather than being offended and being defensive against those who hate, I’ve been observing them. They have a look on their face that is robotic maybe because, in their moment of hate, they have become a conduit for some rogue sense of belonging, one divorced from actual belonging.

    I find my place by reconnecting to the body, the earth and others– whether or not they are like me– in a natural, less canned manner. As a human, I’m somewhere between earth and water, sky and the deep. This is secure place from which to face microaggressions. They may burn but the burn helps me disconnect from society strata more and more.

    I take consolation from the poem Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver, which starts beautifully and ends like this:

    “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
    the world offers itself to your imagination,
    calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
    over and over announcing your place
    in the family of things.”

    Liked by 6 people

    • Thank you for your thoughtful reading and beautiful comment! Your prose and poetry is so lovely. I love that feeling of connection with the earth, I have only experienced that a few times in my life, I try to meditate more to let go of negative thoughts that I seem to have absorbed. My sister used to tell me, “No one owns the earth”, I think about that too whenever someone tells me that I don’t belong.

      Sometimes I have managed to surprise people who disrespect me, who have that robotic expression, if I manage to remain calm and look them in the eye, still assert myself but talk to them calmly, it’s like watching someone wake up from sleepwalking.

      Liked by 2 people

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