I don’t feel that I can speak on behalf of other family members about any trauma that they may or may not have or experienced. But I will speak about my own, including how it relates to ancestral trauma.
The first time I was a target of racist remarks was when I was old enough to go out and play at the park down the road by myself. I was 4 going on 5. In those days, in Toronto, parents didn’t fear as much as they do now for the safety of their children. My parents figured I’d make friends with others. Most of the time that was true.
And it was also the first time, in my young life that I heard words like, “Chink go home” , “Jap go home “at the same time as the verbal assailants were puIling the corners of their eyes up into two slants. I didn’t say anything back because the assault on my childhood was coming out of the mouths of boys much older than me. And I was afraid. More than that I was deeply hurt. When I shared the stories of my experiences of racism at home, I was not encouraged to feel or express my hurt. Rather I was told to just “ ignore those people because they’re ignorant” and that “you’re just as good as them.”
What I could see as a child was that there was an obvious advantage to being white because people did not call you hurtful names. Obviously being Asian was a disadvantage and put you in possible danger.
I didn’t cry because “big girls don’t cry. I squashed my feelings of sadness, confusion, and anger and stuffed the trauma and the hurt away and rarely thought more about it. Just as I know without a doubt that my parents and grandparents did.
However repressed feelings of trauma never go away. They continue to take up mental, psychological and emotional space. And if you deny or don’t deal with them because you’re in survival mode, just trying to make a living, start a family and live a “normal” life after lifting yourself up out of the ashes and devastation of War, where you have been targeted, put in concentration camps, and your culture and community has been decimated then………. future generations, like the Sansei and generations further down the line inherit them the impact of the trauma.
What I developed as a result of both inherited ancestral trauma and my own trauma is described as “internalized racism” a term defined by sociologist, Karen D. Pyke in 2010 as the “internalization of racial oppression by the racially subordinated.” Another definitions “the internalization by people of racist attitudes towards members of their own ethnic group including themselves. This can include belief in ethnic stereotypes relating to their own group.” And while all these words intellectually describe a condition, from an emotional perspective, you can read self-hatred, lack of self worth.
If you’re interested you can read more about internalized racism here in this wiki link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internalized_racism
Long before I learned the term internalized racism, I knew that I did not want to be connected to or associate with Asians other than my family, although I’d never admit that. What I heard from other Sansei was they did not want to learn to eat with chopsticks, they did not eat Japanese food, they would not drive a Japanese car. These can all be symptoms of internalized racism. When I learned the term “internalized racism”, it gave me a sense of perspective and relief that I was not alone in what I had felt over the years. And that there were reasons based in trauma, for what I how I thinking and behaving.
Since realizing I had/have internalized racism, I’ve done alot of mental, emotional and spiritual work. The effects of both inherited ancestral trauma and my own trauma still show up periodically as low self worth and feeling insecure. And although I’ve had an epic life full of amazing, rich fulfilling experiences, I’m also very aware that it’s important for me to embrace any unhealed wounds in order to keep growing, evolving and serving.