We Came to Live the American Dream, Not Die as American Targets

Hung Tran has worked with brands across sports and esports, currently serving as Marketing Director for CSL Esports. Today, he opens up about his personal experiences with racism and Anti-Asian hate in the wake of the tragic shootings in Atlanta this week, which took the lives of eight people including six Asian women.

Racism towards the Asian American community is not a new thing, it’s been happening since the 1800s, but nobody reported it.  Even today, I don’t believe the story is being told enough in the media, and for sure, not being reported as it should be: as a hate crime.    

It doesn’t matter if you are an immigrant, first-generation, or second-generation, every Asian American has dealt with racism at some point in their lives, and no one talks about it.   Now we have to talk about it, because bigotry has been emboldened in our country.  CSL Esports & Playfly Sports have given me the full support to take this message out there however I see fit, and that means the world to me.  We need to have uncomfortable conversations, we have to take a stand.  

The rise in Asian American hate crimes terrifies me, not for my own well-being, but for my parents and the elders of the community, as I see the targets have been older Asian Americans who can’t defend themselves.  This has been the hardest year of my life, like most others, I have seen my family once in the last 15 months. It’s especially difficult for us because we are immigrants here with no extended family around. 

My father was a doctor for the South Vietnamese and the Americans during the Vietnam war.  He has served this country even before becoming a citizen.  After the war was lost, he was forced into a work camp for his part in supporting the United States. He saw the hardships of a communist regime first-hand and wanted better for his children. I was born in the early morning of Jan. 4, 1985, that day my older brother and sister visited the hospital as they were preparing for their journey to sneak out of the country.  My mom, dad, and I were not in any condition to travel so my siblings left ahead of us. A few weeks later, my parents felt that it was time to leave; imagine the fear that would cause you to escape a country with a newborn baby. We paid smugglers to put us into secret compartments on fishing boats, because we had to get through police patrols. Being an infant, I naturally cried, endangering everyone on the boat. There were attempts to suffocate me from scared passengers but my father fought them off and was forced to give me sleeping pills.  

We eventually made it past the police checkpoints, and were allowed to come onto the deck. But that was the end of the plan, we were out but with no next step. We sailed for days until we saw a U.S. ship, and by some miracle, they decided to pick my family off the fishing boat and take us to a refugee camp in Indonesia.    

We eventually were granted asylum after a year and moved to the United States where my father put himself through medical school again while raising four children. My earliest memory is picking up cans and bottles on the street to take to a recycling plant in West Hartford, Connecticut. I can still tell you what that plant looks like so many years later. Growing up, we never had a lot, but we were living the American dream together and that was enough.  

We started in a studio apartment with six people and moved every year until I was a teenager, eventually settling in Pennsylvania. Growing up wasn’t easy, I didn’t get to participate in sports, go to my friends’ houses, or do the things that most kids take for granted. The focus was work for my parents and education for their children. The culture clash of being an immigrant from Vietnam with kids growing up in a major urban city was tough for everyone.  

With education being so important to my parents, they scrounged enough money for me and my younger brother to attend a Catholic grade school in the nicer suburbs. But that also meant hours on a bus every day, and not looking like anyone else. For the most part, everyone was nice, but there were still jokes about squinty eyes, language impersonations, being good at math, and karate (I was good at math, and I did have a black belt, but they didn’t know that).  

I was grateful for everything we had, but there were also times where I was embarrassed too. Meals for my family consisted of a lot of rice, some small serving of protein, usually with some strong-smelling sauces. When I brought those lunches, there were always jokes about the smell or the texture. There were days I wouldn’t eat because I was afraid of being made fun of. Eighty percent of the jokes never had a major malicious intent, but they contributed to an underlying cultural embarrassment I had for a really long time. I don’t think I was comfortable in my own skin until I was in college.         

As you get older, you hope that people will get better, and for the most part they do.  But there are still many moments even in my adulthood where someone makes a “ching chong chang” impersonation joke, or assumes I am Chinese and says ‘ ni hao’ to me, or gives me a weird look when I’m dating someone of another race. These are things I never talked about because they were awkward or hurtful. That was my failure. We, as a society, need to be better to each other, and to do so, we have to talk about the things that are not okay.  

The United States has always been the beacon on the hill, the light in the darkness for people all over the world. The light hasn’t been as bright in recent memories, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be again. My dad has worked every day for the past 35 years here in the U.S. helping people of all different backgrounds.  

He and my mother work in a hospital even though they are both in their 70s, and have been on the frontlines of this pandemic. And now not only do we have to worry about Covid, but also xenophobia and bigotry. Being an immigrant, seeing the sacrifices of my family, fuel my desire to support ideals of diversity and inclusion. The lesson I learned growing up was that it was OK to accept help, everyone needs it at some point. But from there, it was your responsibility to turn around and give that same help. That’s how we all grow, that’s how we all can live the American dream together.

I’m proud to be a part of the gaming industry. The people in this community are not afraid to take a stand for what they believe in and support each other. I’m thankful for the support and outreach from my friends and my coworkers at CSL Esports & Playfly Sports. I’m especially grateful to Rob Johnson, CEO, CSL Esports, and Michael Schrieber, founder and CEO, Playfly Sports, for the opportunities they’ve provided to me and the ability to share my story. These individuals have all given me the courage to tell my story. The reason I joined CSL Esports was I truly believe in the mission of furthering education through gaming. Education can arm students with the tools to know the difference between false narratives and truth. It provides new opportunities and exposure to different cultures. I would not be where I am today, without the support of my family and the education I was afforded. 

In closing, I challenge you all to reach out to your Asian American friends and check on them.   They are going through things, they aren’t telling you about…  

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