A letter on xenophobia: a resource to assist adults in conversations on xenophobia with Asian American children

Ms. Wan
4 min readApr 9, 2020

This letter is designed to support the social-emotional health of Asian American children, and to be used as a resource to help parents and mentor adults talk with Asian American children about xenophobia. Parents and mentor adults, feel free to change language to make this more accessible or appropriate for the child you are supporting. This letter is meant to be a conversation starter. This letter is not designed to be read independently by anyone younger than 14 years old.

Hey friend,

I am writing you this letter for a number of reasons. I’m writing you this letter because maybe no one has written you a letter like this and it has some important information. I am writing this letter to you in particular because we probably look alike in some small way. We both have features that make other people think we look Asian. You might be Asian, with a relative or ancestor from Asia, or maybe you just have a similar eye shape or eyebrow design or nose or mouth.

I am writing you this letter to tell you some hard things about the world and some important things about your place in it, and so you know you are never alone.

Scary things happen in life. Sometimes it comes in the form of fighting between countries. Sometimes it comes in the form of sickness. Often when scary things happen, people look for a scapegoat. Unfortunately, a scapegoat is neither a goat nor an escape, but someone to blame. People do this because sometimes it is easier to feel angry than scared. This is an important idea, so I’m going to repeat it: Sometimes it is easier to feel angry than scared.

If you look Asian, you may be used as a scapegoat at some point in your life, meaning you may be blamed for a big problem that is not your fault. This is not because you deserve this. This is not right or just or fair. I am not telling you this to make you feel more scared. I am telling you this because you deserve to feel emotionally prepared. When I was a kid, I didn’t feel emotionally prepared.

When I was 10 years old, a new virus appeared in the world. It had been discovered in China and was called SARS. One day at school, another kid in my school pointed at me and said, “Ooooooh SARS.” This other kid was calling me a virus just because I looked Asian. This gave me a big empty feeling inside, but I didn’t know how to talk about it, and I didn’t know that it was important for my head and my heart to talk about this bullying and my feelings around it.

You might be wondering why another kid would say something so mean and confusing. You might be thinking that it did not make any sense for the other kid to call me SARS because I was not sick and did not have any virus. For a long time in the United States the news, TV, movies, and more have shown Asian people as people who are so different that we cannot be understood. This idea leads to the idea that somehow people who look Asian are less American, which then leads to xenophobia.

Xenophobia (pronounced zee-no-foe-bee-uh) is the dislike or prejudice against people from other countries OR people thought to be from other countries.

If you’re thinking, “Wait, xenophobia sounds wrong and hurtful and unfair?” then you are right. Xenophobia is wrong, hurtful, and unfair! It is normal to feel sad or angry when learning about xenophobia or hearing about xenophobia. I feel sad and angry too.

Because of xenophobic thinking people might say things like:

“Go back to your own country.”

“I don’t feel safe near an Asian person.”

“You are spreading the disease.”

These ideas are all wrong, and you should resist believing them. You deserve to be in America; this is your country. You are safe to be around. You did not cause any problems. You are not spreading anything but good ideas, joy, laughter, and kindness.

If another kid says one of these hateful things to you, tell an adult immediately. If that adult does not take you seriously or does not think it is a problem, that adult is wrong. Go tell another adult.

If an adult says one of these hateful things to you, find someone you feel safe with if you can. If you are not near someone you feel safe with, get away as quickly as possible from the person making you feel unsafe. Distance is important in this scenario.

Once you are in a safe place, you may still feel sad or angry or alone. This feeling is a normal response to someone being hateful to you. Often talking can help. Find a parent, cousin, friend, school counselor, or another adult you feel safe with to talk about your feelings.

I am now an adult and a teacher. I am still fighting against hateful ideas too, and it is hard, but we will be stronger if we fight hateful ideas together and talk about our similar experiences.

You are not alone.

You deserve to feel safe.

You deserve to feel loved.

Love,

Ms. Wan, an Asian American teacher in the United States

For more resources and perspectives, the following represent a small selection of what is available:

A guide on navigating conversations around racism with young people from Apex for Youth https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Sr1Jk_ZLKoo01m0Xam33SDrwmonZYXnN/view?usp=sharing

Teaching Tolerance

https://www.tolerance.org/

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ 1–800–273–8255

Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council

http://www.asianpacificpolicyandplanningcouncil.org/stop-aapi-hate/

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Ms. Wan

Ms. Wan is an elementary and early childhood teacher in Massachusetts.