17 ASIAN-OWNED BUSINESSES TO SUPPORT

— ON TUESDAY I was eating lunch outside my favorite vegan lunch place that I go to when I want to treat myself during the week. It’s Lent, which means ‘fasting’ the Ethiopian Orthodox way — abstaining from most animal products except fish (think ‘dairy-free pescatarian’). Vegan restaurants are a safe haven for odd dietary restrictions.

I was eating as one does when alone, comfortably and without concern for appearances, noshing contentedly while a podcast blared on my car radio. A man who was parked in front of me came up to my window, I rolled it down partly,

“I’m sorry do you need this parking spot?” I said,

“No no, I just wanted to tell you you’re very beautiful.”

“Oh…thanks….” I intentionally paused, intentionally trying to make it awkward.

I made small talk and collected an ‘art instagram’ account full of bad sketches of women. Of course, you must be thinking at this point, why weren’t you more aggressive, why weren’t you more forthright with rejection — excuse me, do you enjoy conflict? Do you enjoy being called a slut from a distance? I don’t; I enjoy being friendly and sunny, and I find things move along quickly and easily that way, when I leave behind some wisp of a promise of connection and then from miles away I can block people and get back to my life. Especially when this happens all too frequently, especially when it will even happen during a pandemic and I prefer not to risk someone getting all up in my face. Plus I would hate it if someone keyed my car.

I was dealing with an uncomfortable situation as one does when alone, quickly and quietly.

One time when I was walking alone in the street in Montreal someone said something pretty vulgar and tried to approach me (idk why men think that will ever work) and I was so shocked that I actually did want to tell them off in the street consequences be damned, but instead, I pretended not to speak English, which worked surprisingly well despite not entirely knowing what accent I was aiming for.

After a childhood ripe with family conflicts, I developed an ability to manage other people’s emotions, to de-escalate and mediate. Sometimes I feel this also requires some emotional detachment on my part. Like when I heard about the Atlanta shootings.

“17 ASIAN-OWNED BUSINESSES TO SUPPORT”

Of course, I thought, there is the solution to my predicament. I will buy a T-shirt.

On wearing it, I will no longer feel upset that I am too dark and too large to fit most East Asian beauty standards but still Asian enough, apparently, to be fetishized by random men. If I wear a T-shirt that is large enough, it will conceal the pretzels that I twist myself into as a woman, contorted to fit into spaces too small, inflated to amplify a voice no one listens to, stretched and flattened to make narrow escapes.

If everyone simply bought enough T-shirts from the right places we could walk around safely with cotton armor, and the surge of wealth at the Asian-owned T-shirt business would enable a lobbying PAC for gun control laws and a restructuring of the entire justice system. Surely if I own enough T-shirts people won’t think it is okay to walk up to my window during a pandemic. That day I was wearing a heavy winter coat, but not enough T-shirts underneath.

If a woman runs for office and stands on a stack of T-shirts, she will look much taller than her opponent, canceling out the effects of sexism on elections.

If you wear enough T-shirts while sitting in a car, the padding will make your body more like a man’s, and the seatbelt designed for men’s bodies in the car designed for men’s bodies might just save your life after all, if there’s an accident.

We can make a big parachute out of T-shirts to stop the planes that are deporting Vietnamese immigrants.

Enough slogans printed on enough T-shirts will educate everyone on the 600 years of history where so many bodies were dumped into the ocean that sharks changed their migration patterns, and wild buffalo became extinct on the entire continent of North America from intentional overhunting.

I have to admit that sometimes I look around and I am not really sure anymore what to do or even ask for. Buying a T-shirt is such a simple action that’s so easy to perform. This weekend I was watching The Big Short with my roommates and there is a moment when Mark Baum is talking about his brother’s emotional state right before committing suicide.

The character says that his first instinct was to offer his brother money, a source of great shame and regret.

Does no one feel like this is at all similar?

But I don’t know what else to do, and certainly supporting Asian-owned businesses is not a bad thing. I just wish these headlines were part of a holiday gift guide instead of after a violent crisis. Perhaps it is reflective of the fact that no one else really knows what to do either, that the power of an everyday individual in this country is vanishingly small. I find myself more and more detached from things literally and figuratively distant from me. All I can control is my own life and how I affect the people immediately around me. I care less and less about politics and national events. I feel less and less that change is really possible. And yet I am not detached enough to continue being sunnily productive after events like these. I often wish I could be.

At some point, we got from somewhere worse than now to now. I just don’t know how that happened; I am less sure that it is possible to do it again, or maybe questioning how far we really got the first time. We are very much still in the middle of the civil and human rights struggle, far from its end. The latest approach to defend the status quo appears very effective — gaslighting people into believing that everything is fine, that if only they believe, they will be safe and successful. That any issues less than violent crises are nothing to pay attention to, and are not in fact the cause of violent crises.

Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in my own honey, the honey I dispense to placate, that I use to slip away. I insert humor into uncomfortable situations, like honey, swallowing bitterness more easily. After the shootings and the resurgence of stories about attacks and horrors of all kinds, I revisited that encounter outside of the vegan restaurant again, and it was tinted a different color in my mind. Something I laughed about with friends — ‘look at these dumb, clueless men’ — became something to be concerned about. Should I go back to the restaurant — the Asian-owned vegan restaurant? Would I have to park my car around a different corner; I hate that feeling. I’m not sure if it’s brave or reckless to walk at night at 3AM or use my real name on the internet and not feel concerned about my own safety, but I am determined to live my life freely or die trying. I blatantly ignore the constraints of being a woman because there should not be any constraints. I will park in the same spot and nosh contentedly again and employ one of my many honeyed tricks if I need to —

“excuse me, who are you? I’m sorry I really don’t remember”

“sorry I really must be getting back to work”

“Sarr, no ingleez”

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MIT grad, robotics engineer, mixed. A place I write.

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Selam G.

Selam G.

MIT grad, robotics engineer, mixed. A place I write.

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