I thought titas were superheroes

The rise in anti-Asian racism leaves me fearing for my family’s safety

Photo Sheena Macmillan

My heart starts racing, my throat gets choked up, and my eyes fight back tears.

I still haven’t watched the video of the 65-year-old Filipino woman getting attacked in New York City. I saw the same screenshot shared over and over on people’s Instagram stories, but never once did I click on it. The still of the attacker’s foot on her back as she hunched on the ground was all I needed to see to send me into a frenzy. 

My mother is only a few years younger than Vilma Kari, the woman in the video. My mother is a petite woman, no taller than 4’11, but overflowing with personality. She makes this stern face when she means business—an expression known well in my family—that injects fear into whoever is on the receiving end of that glare.

When I saw Kari hunched on the floor, I saw my mother. I saw all of my titas (aunts), ninangs (godmothers), and lolas (grandmothers). I saw my boyfriend’s mother. I saw my family, my friends, and every Asian immigrant who worked hard and sacrificed so much to come here and build something great. 

My mother is a superhero, and I never used to worry about her. My mother, like the majority of titas, is a strong-willed and independent woman who puts her family first. I never felt the need to worry about her because she’s the strongest person I know. 

When I saw Kari hunched on the floor, I saw my mother. I saw all of my titas (aunts), ninangs (godmothers), and lolas (grandmothers).

This changed when I got off the phone with my boyfriend and he told me how worried he was for his parents, who are both Filipino. He told me he worries something will happen to them when he won’t be around to defend them. He told me that he’d rather a racist beat him up instead of his parents.

My boyfriend isn’t a particularly emotionally vulnerable person and isn’t one to follow the news. Hearing the weight in his voice as he told me his concerns forced me out of my delusion—my mother isn’t a superhero, and her existence puts her in danger.

Since then, every time I see a headline detailing another Asian person getting brutalized for existing, my eyes start to burn and anger washes over me. While writing this my shirt sleeves are stained with the tears I can’t stop crying. It hurts so much, all the time.

When I talk to my Asian friends about it, our voices hush and our eyes look to the floor. We’re all in so much pain. Not only do we see our family in these horrific stories, but we see ourselves.

These people in the news are my family, and I don’t know what to do to protect them. 

I feel helpless.