‘America Is My Home': How an Asian American Family, With Kids, Talks About Hate — And Takes Action

San Diego mom Olivia Tian is having the hard talks with her kids about hate against the AAPI community but they've learned to lean into the difficult topics, grow, and keep their voices going

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The racism facing the AAPI community is creating powerful conversations across the nation and, at one San Diego family’s dinner table, the talks are constant, meaningful and a bridge between generations.

“America is my home,” said Emily Tianshi, a senior at The Cambridge School in San Diego. “And while older generations may be more optimistic and idealistic and more inclined to dismiss racism and just put their heads down and push past it, it makes young people like me very, very indignant.”

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Emily Tianshi and her family live in San Diego County’s Torrey Highlands area.

Her mother, Olivia Tian, said teaching her children to embrace their Asian heritage has always been important to her.

“I don’t want them to feel bad about being Asian American,” Tian said. “This is our city, our country, and this is a place that my kids – their next generation – will be here. And we want America to be a better place.”

(Racism) makes young people like me very, very indignant.

Emily Tianshi, San Diego resident

And so, they talk.

A lot.

“These conversations are easy to have because they are absolutely necessary to have,” Emily Tianshi told NBC 7 San Diego. “We have no other choice but to have them.”

Her brother, Kyle Tianshi, agrees.

And nothing is off the table.

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“I’m actually really comfortable with talking with my family about this because it's something that we've all experienced and it's really something that we can all relate to, which I have to say, unfortunately,” said Kyle Tianshi, a freshman at The Cambridge School.

This is our city, our country, and this is a place that my kids – their next generation – will be here. And we want America to be a better place.

Olivia Tian, San Diego resident
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Tian said her family talks openly about racism at home, often at the dinner table, when they see something bubbling up in the news about hate against the AAPI community.

“We read some articles, we watch some YouTube videos – and we just start to talk about it,” she explained.

Scott Baird
San Diego mom Olivia Tian and her children, Emily and Kyle Tianshi, talk about the tough topics at home.

Through their family talks, Tian said they’ve all started to learn so much more about Asian American history in the U.S. And that has also facilitated some deeper conversations at home.

The family chooses to continue leaning into the difficult topics; to continue to learn.

For them, it’s important to keep the conversation about the AAPI community going.

It should never be over.

Scott Baird
Emily Tianshi, a high school senior in San Diego, said the conversation about hate and racism are long overdue.

“It's really sad that it took a mass shooting for attention to be brought to this topic,” said Emily Tianshi, referring to the mass shooting at Atlanta-area spas this past March where eight people – mostly Asian women – were killed.

“This really should’ve been happening for all of these years but right now is definitely the time,” the high school senior added.

The Tianshi siblings said they’ve both experienced racist comments growing up.

Emily Tianshi said she recently took a field trip with classmates to downtown San Diego and a man began heckling her and her friends, commenting on their ethnicity.

“He knew exactly what he was doing there – he knew what was going on in the news,” Emily Tianshi said. “He looked like a businessman; he’s obviously involved in society. And to think that people have the audacity to do that because they think they have more power over young Asian girls – that just, it really hurt.”

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“A lot of the things, like microaggressions, are something that I've just become used to experiencing for my entire life,” Kyle Tianshi added.

As anti-hate demonstrations in support of the AAPI community began taking shape across the U.S. this year, the Tianshi siblings decided to join the movement.

Scott Baird
Kyle Tianshi, a high school freshman in San Diego, knows his voice is important.

They wanted to talk louder.

They wanted to use their voices to teach others about racism, about the power of words and how words can help or hurt others.

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A lot of the things, like microaggressions, are something that I've just become used to experiencing for my entire life.

Kyle Tianshi, San Diego resident

“[Racism] is something that everyone has experienced or talked about,” Kyle Tianshi said. “Without even realizing it, you may be doing things that are racist to some people.”

The siblings – with support of their family – organized an anti-hate demonstration in San Diego recently. They said more than 900 people showed up and three different locations to protest hate against Asian Americans.

They want to keep the movement going strong.

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“We really want this to continue growing bigger and bigger,” Kyle Tianshi said. “We need to continue spreading the word.”

Emily Tianshi said supporting the AAPI community must be bigger than just posting about it on social media. That creates buzz, yes, but real change is what they’re after.

“Social media activism isn’t deep enough,” she explained. “We see a lot of buzzwords, we see a lot of pretty infographics, but that’s not enough. We really need policy-wide structural change.”

“Many people said that this is really, really good that we're talking about this because on social media, people are posting and they don't really get to the root of the problem, which is the decades of history that we have going against Asians,” her brother added.

The family said real change in the fight against AAPI racism is a long way away.

But they’re in the movement for the long haul.

These are their lives. This country is their home. This is their future.

“For that reason, we really need to keep going as activists, to remind the public that we’re not done yet – there’s still so much to do,” Emily Tianshi said.

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