To the lady at the grocery store… You don’t know me or my son but what you did today shocked me. What you do know about me from our encounter is that I’m Asian. I’m a mother. I have a toddler without a mask on. He’s starting to melt down in a crowded checkout line. We are in a pandemic Where everyone in the store is wearing a mask. My son and I are Asian American.
Even before coronavirus I would avoid bringing my toddler to the grocery store whenever possible. Since Covid-19 hit he had not been into a store until today. He is 2-years old and not used to wearing a mask.
Being Asian American has never felt comfortable but now even less so. I am no stranger to racism.
Not the obvious kind like spit-in-your-face-while-being-called-racial-slurs racism but more typically the subtle encounters. Maybe it’s the store employee stocking shelves asking every other shopper walking by if they need help finding something while I’m visibly searching the shelves nearby and he doesn’t acknowledge my presence. Or maybe it’s the upbeat friendly cashier in my check out line who is chatting up a storm with every customer before me but is silent when I get to the front and doesn’t even say hello.
Probably the most unusual incident I can recall at the grocery store involved a little old white lady. This was before COVID. My two children (who are mixed Korean/white but could pass as white when with their Dad) were sitting in the shopping cart eating the free bakery cookies they give to kids while my husband was helping the littlest one catch the crumbs.
I was further down the aisle gathering stuff from the shelves so I saw her heading toward the cart obviously smiling at my adorable children and handsome husband.
As soon as it became evident I was not only with them but am the children’s mother her smile disappeared real quick. she made a little snort sound and rushed by us. To this day I’m not sure if she was more upset about the interracial relationship or if it was she felt fooled into smiling at kids who were not as white as she thought. Either way, that interaction felt racially charged and if it wasn’t then what was it she found so offensive about my family? I’ll never know.
Since Coronavirus hit the States hard in March 2020 the amount of hate crimes against Asian Americans has significantly increased. I always felt uncomfortable seeing Asians wearing masks on flights or in airports as it seemed to be a thing associated with Asians.
During the stay at home orders I became very anxious about the world and questioned how I would function in this new world being Asian and having to wear a mask. I dreaded going out in public. From March to May I really didn’t leave our property.
It’s now September 2020 and though the virus is not gone life has resumed in most ways. I have returned to my office, I re-opened my company after being closed for three whole months and my oldest child just started kindergarten.
Racism and racism toward Asians during coronavirus is still alive and well and will continue to exist probably forever.
Back to the encounter at the grocery store.
I had to make a quick stop at the store after work and my 2-year-old son was with me (not ideal I know). The store was packed with end of workday shoppers trying to get home myself included.
We were at the checkout counter and my son was just over wearing his mask and would not leave it on any longer. Being Asian I am keenly aware of this and know how Asians are perceived by some and believed by others to be the reason EVERYONE has to wear a mask now.
He was pointing at the balloons above the checkout lines yelling “boon boon”. It was so loud and chaotic in there that I doubt anyone could really hear him but I was bagging as fast as possible trying to get checked out in case people took offense to the little Asian boy not wearing his mask. In all of the chaos a lady came up to me as I was bagging our food.
It was like the store was put on mute. I no longer noticed the noise or the people waiting in line behind us. The food was building up on the conveyor belt. I was confused and a little nervous about what she wanted. The lady motioned to my son as if asking my permission to approach him when I noticed she was holding a balloon…
I was stunned. With a knot in my throat I nodded and thanked her. He took the balloon from her and said, “Boon! Tank tum” (which is how he says thank you.) I thanked her again, she smiled at him and walked toward the exit and that was it.
Many people who hear this story will think what’s the big deal? It’s just a lady being nice to a little kid in a grocery store. Even my husband can’t appreciate the enormity of this encounter for me but I’m willing to bet there are some of you who understand the significance.
So, to the lady at the grocery store. Your small act of kindness had such an impact on me I could have cried. To my 2-year-old son it was a simple balloon but during a time of crisis in our society that’s filled with such negativity toward Asian Americans that balloon means so much more…. so thank you.