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How Do I Tell Him?

Updated: Feb 19

How do I tell him?

He’s perched on the other end, waiting for me to answer. I see his curly hair twisting into shadows, his ears that are a little too big for his face. The square glasses framing the questions and innocence in his eyes. The brown of his skin that will cause him so much pain when he gets older.

“Why are they mad at us?” my eight-year-old self asks again.

How do I tell him?

The hate, the violence, the death. The world turned upside down.

We’re in our room at our parents’ house, sitting on our bed. I lean against the rich mahogany wood of the frame that resembles an ornate sleigh. My fingers glide on the blue-striped comforter that I insisted my mom get for me. Dinosaur skeletons hang from the ceiling, covered in dust and memories of assembling them with my dad. They turn their heads toward me, waiting to see how I’ll respond. Books line the top of the dresser, their spines wrinkled with use and love. They hop and shake where they stand, no doubt picking up on my nervous energy.

I turn back to him. Thinking. Stalling. Pulling at a loose thread in the comforter, watching it unravel.

I pluck some words out of the air, hoping they’ll provide a sufficient enough explanation. “A lot of people around the world are sick. Some other people blame Asians for it. They think it’s our fault.”

He tilts his head. His nose scrunches up as his mind tries to work through the info, a habit I still do to this day. “But we didn’t do anything.”

I laugh, a dry and brittle sound coated with resignation. “You’re right. But these people don’t believe us. They’re angry. They want someone to blame. They’re hurting other people like us.”

“What are they doing?”

I bite my lip. Do I tell him? Do I share every excruciating story of the Asians who have been beaten, burned, and slashed? His only concern should be which Pokémon to catch next. Which is worse: preparing him for what’s to come and shattering his youth in the process, or lying to him so he can enjoy his childhood until he learns the truth about the world for himself?

Me being me—someone who tries to find compromise in conflict—I do a little of both.

“They’re doing very bad things to old people like Grandma and Grandpa.” I struggle to simplify my vocabulary for him. Words like “crimes” and “victims” would go over his head. The T-rex skeleton nods in approval, and it gives me some validation.

“But old people can’t protect themselves! We’re supposed to respect our elders!” His lips tremble. He clenches the comforter in his fists, the only thing grounding him to what I told him. Picturing my grandparents being hurt in any way constricts my chest. I can only imagine how gruesome it must be for him.

Tears prick the corners of my eyes, but I hold them back. It’s not to show him that we should hide our emotions; if I start crying now, his questions won’t be answered, and answers—be they half-truths or white lies—are what he needs right now.

“You’re right,” I reply. “It’s not fair. None of it is. But when people are afraid, sometimes they do terrible things.”

“I thought you said they were angry,” he says.

“They’re angry because they’re scared. They’re scared because they don’t have all of the information.” I pause. After some consideration, I take a breath and push on. “At school, do some of your classmates slant their eyes when they’re around you?” I perform the gesture, and for the two seconds I do, I feel the wrongness of it seeping into my pores.

He nods and mimics the gesture, making me flinch. “Yeah, they said it’s a joke.”

“Have you heard of the word ‘racism’ before?”

He shakes his head.

“Racism is when people treat other people differently because they don’t have white skin.”

He looks at his hands and arms, turning them over. Confusion is written on his face as he tries to make sense of my words.

“What those kids do with their eyes—that’s one example of racism.” It comes out more harshly than I intend.