“Go back to where you come from. You don’t belong here,” she calls out. I’m stunned. It’s March 6, 2020, and a stranger, out of nowhere, has just spit on me at Reno-Tahoe International Airport. There’s a virus in the news, something that came from China, but it’s still a few days before the country really starts buckling under the weight of Covid-19. Personally, I’m just trying to get to my flight to San Francisco.
I look around, saliva oozing down my cheeks, and I see a dozen witnesses look the other way. To them, it’s already never happened. Instinctively, I shrug it off: “Looks like I should have brought that umbrella with me!” This isn’t the first time something like this has happened to me. I wryly smile and slink away. After all, I’m Vietnamese American.
I probably learned this approach—defuse the tension; blend back in—from my parents, who escaped Vietnam on a 12-meter raft and bounced around to different refugee camps before arriving in the United States in 1981 with nothing but hope. They, like many other Asian Americans from recent immigrant generations, believe the best way to succeed in America is to avoid