Growing up, I never doubted my place in America as an Asian-American person. There was a part of me, I suppose, that knew racism against Asians did exist. History said so. Art said so. The news said so. But perhaps this was my naïveté, or my utter obliviousness, that I never noticed it much in life around me. Many of my friends were white, but I never felt like I was the token anything. I’ve been incredibly lucky in that regard – that I never had to think about it and so it never held me back.
And then the coronavirus pandemic happened. And constantly, the president of the United States called it the “Kung Flu” and the “China Virus,” and so his hordes of rabid followers did as well, exacerbating a tension that I’m sure already existed. Reports of Asian harassment and attacks flooded the news. All over the US, Asians, and not all of them Chinese, were told that it was their faults the virus was here and killing Americans. They were yelled at, spit at, ambushed, killed. Conspiracy theories that claimed COVID-19 was created in a lab dominated headlines, adding to the vitriol and the ever increasingly obvious hatred.
It was around this time that I had decided to publish my book, Glass Domes. It was admittedly, the strangest luckiest timing I could get. Of course, at the time, I, like many others, thought the pandemic would be well under control by summer, so the sooner I could publish, the better it would be. The choice to publish under a pseudonym was easy. Wanting that barrier between my writing life and the rest of my life was straightforward. But the choice of how much I wanted my actual life to be intertwined in my pseudonym was a different matter altogether. Zella Faye Blanche is not an Asian name. I chose it purposefully to be able to have the possibility of divorcing myself completely from any identity I already have. Zella would not have to be Chinese. Zella would not need to face the discrimination that abounded about the origins of the pandemic. Because Glass Domes is about a pandemic. I had written about a scientist who created that disease in a lab. I am a Chinese-American woman. I was afraid that if the wrong person read it, it would only contribute to rumors and conspiracies that I knew were not true.
I thought about it for as long as I could, not knowing what the right path would be. In the end, it was too difficult logistically to create a whole new persona given everything else I had going on in my life. So I let it go, and decided that if it became an issue, I would deal with it then. Besides, it could only become an issue if I was successful in selling my book, which was a long shot then, and still is now. So I let it be, and while there is still a divide between me and my pseudonym, I don’t try to hide it.
Two days ago, there was a shooting in Atlanta. 8 people were killed. Most of them were Asian women. It’s hard for me to find the right words to say about this. But perhaps, going back in time, I should have worked harder to create that divide between my pseudonym and me. Then at least one of us could continue living in blissful oblivion.