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The Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics

ISSN: 2472-7318

On Practicing Invisibility

Marijel (Maggie) Melo

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Keywords: racism; anti-Asian violence, crochet

Categories: Homeland and Belonging in the Face of Anti-AAPI Hate; Creatively Caring for Self, Others, and Place; BIPOC Perspectives on Labor and Love during COVID

Content warning: racism and anti-Asian violence

I sat in a lobby waiting for my car’s oil change to finish when I noticed two women stand up and promptly move to the other side of the room. I glanced over and watched one nudge the other as she barely whispered “Coronavirus.” I didn’t break my stare as I watched them contort their bodies and belongings further against the wall. The risk calculus computed: it’s not worth it. You’re alone. There are two of them, one of you. Maybe they are armed? What’s the point of speaking up? So, my body absorbed it. I sat fuming in the liminal space of being invisible and hypervisible at once. This space isn’t unique to me. This interaction happened at the beginning of the pandemic, and I knew it was going to get worse. It didn’t stop. Most recently, I returned my lease to the dealership and before sitting down was asked “Are you an immigrant?” I told him that I was born and raised in California. He followed up, “Are you sure?”

It’s difficult to be and practice invisibility – you eventually fade and disappear.

I am a Filipina American. I grew up in a household brimming with music, family parties, and elders who’d always impart these important words to their pamangkins, “Studies first. No boyfriends.” I moved from California to Arizona to North Carolina. It’s different here, to say the least. I was at Wegmans when I heard a family speaking in Tagalog. Yes, I did walk towards them to nod and say hello. What I really wanted to do was exclaim “Are you Filipino? I am too!” This type of exchange was fairly common in California. This reaction is twofold, yeah? For one thing, it signals a sense of belonging -- we are extensions of another. On the other hand, this acknowledgment is tinged with sorrow: we see each other and recognize how rare it is to see another Filipino/a/x. There aren’t many of us out here in North Carolina. This “I am too” interaction is a fleeting bond, forged in both invisibility and visibility. AAPI is a large umbrella term, and it’s common for brown Asians like Filipino/a/xs to be underrepresented. It’s invisibility all the way down.

I have been crocheting so much lately. I crochet because I want to hold my anger and loneliness. I want to examine it. I want to feel its weight. Crocheting keeps my fingers from scrolling through social media, yet in my mind’s eye I keep revisiting images of Asian elders being pushed onto asphalt, punched in their faces, and stabbed into their soft bodies. I hear the wails and pleas from an elder Filipino whose face was slashed from ear to ear. His accent wrapped his cries in ways that remind me of home. I crocheted a lot when I watched Angelo Quinto’s life being extinguished from his body. I think about George Floyd and how he was murdered.

We are dying. White supremacy is killing us.

It hasn’t been a week. It’s so close and it’s difficult to process the death of eight people. Of the eight, six Asian women were murdered by a white domestic terrorist. I grab my yarn to turn my grief inside out. I want to displace the tension between my shoulders and between my teeth into the yarn. I cannot triple-crochet my way out of this heaviness, but in a time of traumatic gaslighting, a shawl allows me to point and say, “This is my proof.” Western society privileges the tangible, visual, and data-driven. The data say that I am not well.

I’ve been asked what the AAPI community is going to do about the uptick in anti-Asian violence. No, I want to know what is going to be done about white supremacy. Stop Asian Hate? No. Stop racism. Stop white supremacy. AAPI communities have historically worked in solidarity with racially marginalized communities. The stories of solidarity are there. We have been showing up for each other despite the divisiveness that the media continues to amplify and wedge between our communities, pushing narratives that align with white supremacist notions that justice is finite. Justice is not finite. Humanity is not finite. We are strongest together, and that’s how we’ll continue moving forward.



Maggie Melo is an assistant professor at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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