Regressive Xenophobia

For most of my life I was afraid of a very peculiar thing. It was a visceral reaction I had no control over. A lot of people thought I was racist, or just being mean or unfunny. Some people thought I was trying to gain attention. Whatever the reason, I had a very strange phobia, and it came out of a traumatic experience I had when I was a child (what crazy subconscious phobia doesn’t?). My abnormal, unexplainable, unheard of, but really very real, phobia was of Asians.

The way they talked, the way they looked, the sound of their voices, their mannerisms —even the food they made— it all gave me an awful, fearful feeling. I wanted nothing to do with it. And I really did not know why. It seemed foolish, and the more I talked about it, the stranger it became. People thought I was joking, I thought I was joking, but it did not go away; it only progressed.

For my eighth grade moving up day all my friends decided we should get our nails done for the first time. This was more of a problem for me than I realized or knew of.

We all went to the nail shop and I am immediately began trembling with fear. The anxiety built up inside me as I walked into this small building full of people of Asian descent. I let a few of my friends go first as I tried to obtain the courage. Finally, it was my turn. I told myself this is ridiculous; that they are only people, that they are probably nice people, and that I should get over it. I sat down but my hands became shaky and I began to hyperventilate. I let the woman do my nails, but inside my mind was racing and my body was tense. I left there and decided to swear off fake nails forever.

A few years later my friends and I were walking downtown by the train tracks and an Asian man was walking behind us. (This is going to sound crazy, but if you have already read this far, you know it was not a healthy fear.) I noticed the man, but do not let it interrupt our conversation. We continue walking and I notice another Asian, this time a woman, walking with him. I decided to cross the street and bring my friends along with me (they all know about my fear at this point). As we are crossing, the Asian people start crossing as well. I decided we did not really want to be across the street, so we go back to the other side. As we are walking, they are following us, and more and more Asians appear, walking alongside the first two. To me, it seemed like the Asian people in Buffalo knew of my fear and were going to straighten me out by stalking and following me. I was sure they were going to start doing martial arts and attack us. From this experience, my fear only grew.

One day in summer my boyfriend wanted Chinese food. I, embarrassingly enough, recall hiding under my computer desk for fear that the delivery man would know I was there. I told my friend this story and she said I must be racist. By this time, I knew I could never go to University of Buffalo if I wanted to because it has an extremely high Asian student population and I obviously could not eat Chinese food, and now people were thinking I am a racist. This phobia was affecting my life. I was more determined than ever —being generally open-minded as an LGBTQ ally and recovering Catholic, quasi Buddhist— to overcome this crazy problem I had. Now, this may seem a little racist in and of itself, but I knew exactly where to place myself for my immersion therapy; I went to a nail shop.

I decided to get my eyebrows done at a place in the mall. It was a small shop with not many people around so I figured this would be a good spot for me to face my fears and get on with my life. I went in, and again the tension rose as soon as I stepped foot out of the mall and over the threshold. A friend I was with gave them my name because I could not even do that. They called my name, so I lay back in the chair and hoped for the best. My heart beat out of my chest as her hands got closer and closer to my face. I was so close to running out of there screaming, and I still could not even figure out why. I began hyperventilating but kept my cool as best I could. When she was done I thanked her and sped out of there like Road Runner escaping Wile E. Coyote’s dastardly plans.

And that was the end of my rope. I gave up figuring this out on my own and I just accepted it as a part of my life. I went to Erie Community College, where the Asian population was minimal and I just stayed away from them if they were around. I worked at a grocery store in the hood so I did not have to deal with many Asians there, and if I did I was tense the whole time. But I saw no way out and just continued living my life, making light of it every now and then when someone would ask me to get Chinese food with them.

A few years went by and I went through a spiritual process that involves self-inventory, reflection and meditation. I put this fear on there, just in case it would work. I was able to write this phobia out and look at it in a new way, with a lot of help from God. I wrote out why I had this fear, how and why I could not change it on my own, and how God could help me with this. I then shared this with someone else and forgot about it.

Slowly but surely, I realized I was not afraid of Asians anymore. And the memory of how the phobia started even came back to me. When I was a child I lived in a diverse neighborhood, but it was mostly Caucasian, African-American, and Hispanic, until an Asian family moved in right across the street from me. I befriended the daughter of the family, who was my age, and she also had an older brother. Their mother would chase them around the outside of the tall, pink house with butcher knives. I do not know if this was simply a threat but I believe the police were called a few times. As if that was not terrifying enough, they had a toddler living next door to them who had a small baby pool in the summer. The daughter of the family poured bleach in his pool and he accidentally drank it. His organs moved around and his lungs almost exploded. He needed to go to the hospital and almost died. They were the only Asians I had known, so all of my fears were based on how they lived their lives.

Going back to this story sounds like a nightmare, or maybe a Godzilla thriller, so I decided to check with my brother and sister and see how they remembered the Laotian family from across the street. They both recanted the same story —butcher knives, bleach and all.

Once I figured out where my trauma came from and that it is not a correct interpretation of all Asians, it was a lot easier to see why I was so afraid, and more importantly, why I did not need to be any longer. All of a sudden I could walk into a restaurant and order Chinese food, no matter who was working behind the counter. I began to get pedicures with friends and saw Asians in everyday situations without any kind of reaction on my part. It was glorious! I even began helping a woman who was Asian, and did not even realize I should have and would have been scared of her in the past. I just talked to her like a human being, just as God wants me to. But how could this be? I had not really done anything differently, and yet, it was removed from me. This process changed my life, all because I allowed it to. Now if only I could use it on my fear of bees and roller-coasters. Well, maybe next time.