A few words from Sam:
I was compelled to write something due to the rise of attacks within the Asian community during the pandemic, while also recognising that xenophobia and racism is something that has been prevalent within our society for generations. I personally believe that, in telling our stories through generational chapters, we can help rewrite the narrative with our collective voices moving forward. This is a small chapter from my personal story, which I would like to share with you.
The Places I Come From
By Sam Yo
The sun sat on the horizon, a cool breeze ushering a breath against the early evening. My father kicked the ball to me one last time before we finished our training session and set off home. Being the son of a football coach has its pros and cons; they will work you harder than the average 10-year-old kid. On this occasion, it was to get me ready for my cup final over the weekend. As an Asian father, his way of displaying love came from kicking a ball in the park with his son—even after a long, hard shift at work. As we walked to the exit, the back gate screeched in the wind, swinging back and forth.
On our way out, we passed a man. “Evening,” my father politely greeted him. The stranger halted, the silence deafening. “Don’t talk to me!” The man raged. “I don’t know you!” In an instant, my father apologized, his survival instincts alert. I stood there, confused, holding my football in my grass-stained kit, clueless about the education I was about to receive.
“Don’t talk to me, I don’t know you,” the stranger repeated, this time with a reinforced superiority. Before my father could answer, he persisted. “What are you doing here!?” “Playing some football with my son,” my father replied, laced with his Thai accent. I remember looking up at that moment, thinking, “Does this man own the park? Are we in trouble?”
“Do you not understand what I’m saying!?” The man was patronising. “What are you doing in this country?” The sincerity drained from my father’s face. “Don’t talk to me, and go back to China,” continued the man. “Go back to where you belong.” I had never heard that phrase before, but would continue to hear it as my life went on. Racism 101: Go back to where you belong.
“I’m Thai.” My father corrected.
“I don’t care.” The man barked. “You all look the same.”
“Ok, mate. That's enough.”
“Don’t call me mate, this ain't your country. This ain’t your park. Fuck off!” He tried to barge past my father, but then shoved him with both hands. My father stumbled a few feet back.
“What are you doing? I don’t want trouble,” my father emphasized. The man pushed again.
I had been frozen, watching the events unfold about five yards away. It felt like something had dropped deep in the pit of my stomach, my feet anchored, but my body a ship buoying alone on the open ocean. Then, like a gust of wind in the sails, I followed any child's instincts. I began walking toward my father. His gaze fixed with the man advancing towards him, momentarily shifted to catch mine. “Go home now!” I stopped, scared.
What happened next, I remember in flashes. My father was pushed a third time. Again, repeating, “I don’t want trouble.” The stranger shouted. “Get the ‘F’ out of my way!” The next hit wasn’t a push but a punch, then the two of them locked in a scuffle.
Suddenly, I found myself running home. My legs carried me out of there like The Flash. The park was five minutes away from my home, but I made it back in one minute—the space between a breath and a heartbeat. I realized I didn’t have the house key, so I leaped over the back wall with my super-speed powers. Blood trickled over my white socks where I had scraped my shin clearing the cold brick wall. I stopped. I sat. I waited.
As I leaned against the wall, all I could hear was the thumping of my heartbeat in my ears. Then I felt my legs shake uncontrollably. I tried to stop them, but they didn’t. My thoughts caught up with me, filling in the empty space with guilt. Why did I run? Why did I leave my father? Why didn’t I help? Why was I not older, taller or stronger? My eyes filled with tears. I wasn’t a superhero. I was a coward who ran away.
It felt like hours before my father returned. As soon as I heard the gate clank, I rushed toward him. “What happened?!” I blurted. The side of his face was bruised; his lip was split. That was my answer. Our eyes locked for a moment, and I could see tiredness swell over him. “Let’s go inside.” He opened the front door with his swollen hands. I picked up my ball and silently followed him.
After he cleaned up, settling down, I tried again. “What happened? Why did the man start pushing you?” Only as I got older did I realise how difficult it was to explain without shattering my perception of who I thought I was.
“Son, it's because we are not British.”
I was confused. “What do you mean?”
“It’s okay.” His smile was forced, but his eyes were soft. “Don’t worry, go wash your face.”
I also forced a smile and went upstairs. As I washed my face, I looked up to greet my reflection: dark hair, my mother’s eyes, straw complexion. But I thought I was British. The thought hammered at the back of my mind. To this day, we still don’t have an answer for this unanswerable question.