No single person has had a greater impact on my life than my Grandmother. Although she passed over ten years ago, to this day I still feel her by my side, guiding me. Protecting me.
Almost every day before I turned 8, my Grandmother would peek into my room when it was time for me to wake up and quietly say, "Good morning." She would then walk into the room, sit down next to me, and repeat, "Good morning," until I became fully conscious. These words are some of the few in my memory I can still hear her say to me.
My Grandmother was my third parent, who instilled in me the values and morals that still guide me today. She also mended my wounds when they appeared -- under her care, my wounds always closed, even if she had to stitch me back together.
Yet my Grandmother's life story is centered around insecurity, uncertainty, and risk. No sense of security protected her -- or her family -- until her later years.
This is why I know I felt so safe growing up, feeling protected by those words of "Good morning." Safety is a privilege -- a privilege endowed with a certainty of yesterday, a certainty of tomorrow, and a certainty of now that is not afforded to all of us.
I didn't recognize the depth of this privilege until my own sense of safety was shattered completely for the first time, as a college student interning in DC. But this time, I had to stitch my wounds back together myself.
My Grandmother was born in a nameless village in Northeastern China. In her early youth, she was sent to live with her "Sister" in Qingdao to be their house maid. Her parents sent her to Qingdao with this "Great Aunt" of mine under one condition: my Grandmother would be allowed to go to school, so long as she completed her chores and other duties.
This arrangement worked well until the Chinese Civil War reached its climax. The family was forced to flee as the Communist regime took over Shandong province; retreating to Taiwan with my Grandmother in tow. She never made it back to that nameless village.
They fled with as much opium as possible strapped onto my Grandmother's chest and back -- my Great Aunt was addicted and they had to find a way to smuggle a supply of the drug. The family arrived in Kaohsiung under the impression they'd stay for only three years.
The three years quickly became six, and my Grandmother -- estranged from her actual family and living as a house maid -- married as soon as she came of age to escape this arrangement, only five years after arriving in Kaohsiung.
Decades later, she came to the United States because of my Grandfather's employment for the U.S. Navy in Taiwan, dropping everything to come to this foreign land.
In the U.S., my Grandparents -- with my Aunt and Dad in tow -- traveled from state to state working in Chinese restaurants to make a living, eventually settling down in the Greater Los Angeles area.
Her life was marked by violence, displacement, and loss. Her story was an Asian American story.
In my life, a mere fifteen minutes of violence stole any sense of security my Grandmother had carefully built around me when I was growing up.
The worst part of the entire ordeal was what came next: sitting on the near-empty bus crawling home, trying to grasp what had happened. I managed to jump off a few blocks from my apartment and found myself aimlessly circling the block, clawing at the clothes I was wearing. The next day, I realized deeper than ever before that there aren’t always "Good mornings" to greet us.
At that point in time, I'd already been deeply invested in advancing the issues I saw facing Asian America, as well as fighting for Asian American Studies at my alma mater. But months after those fifteen minutes, I found myself on a very different platform -- standing in front of a crowd in the student union, holding a megaphone, speaking out loudly about the epidemic of sexual violence that plagues this country [pictured above].
And this time, I spoke from experience.
In the pain and fear, I found myself searching for guidance from my Grandmother. She remained the only source of comfort as I processed and grappled with this unfamiliar reality as I retreated from my surroundings, searching for that sense of safety once more.
Healing is a different process for every survivor. Regaining tomorrow's "Good morning" is a battle, is a burden too many have to face.
This story -- my story -- is also an Asian American story.
There has been a national conversation unlike anything I’ve ever seen around sexual violence in recent years, and with it, a fiery debate around "safe spaces," "political correctness," and a litany of other phrases that now saturate our discourse.
The disdain I see for safe spaces, in particular, deeply disturbs me. Safe spaces aren't necessary because people -- and college students in particular -- want to be sheltered by the injustices of our world. Safe spaces are necessary because the stories that we each bring into any space is variable, is unique, and marked with varying degrees of good and bad mornings unbeknownst to one another.
Safe spaces exist within a framework to advance social justice, rooted in a desire to address and eradicate systemic violence in our society. They allow for difference to manifest without unmanageable conflict, and are important to produce in any environment -- a classroom, the workplace, or any other forum -- because only then can those that have histories of insecurity or peril can bring their full selves into that space.
Safe spaces are important because we must recognize not only our collective and individual humanities, but also because it becomes the most fertile grounds for progress and the march towards equity.
A safe space is what my Grandmother built for me in my childhood. Safe spaces are important because all spaces should be safe. Ask yourself: should any space we, or anyone around us, inhabit be unsafe?
Sexual violence is an Asian American issue.
There is far too little data on how sexual and domestic violence impacts Asian American communities. A 2015 report assembled by the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence reported that 21–55% of Asian women report experiencing sexual and/or physical violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime.
The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Study (NISVS) found that 19.6% of AAPI women reported rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
A small sample interviewed by telephone in a study conducted by the National Asian Women's Health Organization in San Francisco and Los Angeles found that 19% of respondents reported being pressured to have sex without their consent by a partner, and just under half of these reported experiencing completed rape.
The data this report shared was remarkably uneven -- because there still isn't enough data on this subject in our communities. There is a complicity in our communities with shockingly high acceptance of messages of domestic violence, intense stigma towards reporting, and a mistrust of resources currently available.
The finding that more acculturated (to the US) respondents were twice as likely to report partner violence is stark -- suggesting extremely high levels of underreporting.
Furthermore, there is little data on the intersection between various identities, including my own.
The NISIVS Study found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual identifying individuals report elevated rates of sexual and/or physical violence. 44% of lesbian women, 61% of bisexual women, 26% of gay men, and 37% of bisexual men reported experiencing rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. These statistics are even more alarming for transgender people -- more than 50% have reported experiencing sexual violence in their lifetimes.
There may not always be clear numbers to show, but there will always be stories to prove that this is an epidemic afflicting all of our communities.
Sexual and partner violence is an Asian American issue. It is our issue because it impacts the lives of too many Asian Americans. It is our issue because we have a responsibility to push back against the roots of this violence: toxic masculinity, damaging cultural norms, and silencing of survivors.
Every morning, I think to myself, "Good morning." Because I deserve it.
Alton Wang is a community organizer based in Washington, D.C. Currently, he works to engage AAPI voters at APIAVote during the day and blogs at night at unhyphenate.me. Find him on Twitter: @altonwang.