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Combating Anti-Asian Racism Using Positivity and Love with Wananan Phualek

By Rachel Parodneck, LCSW and Wananan Phualek, LMSW, CAPP

In the wake of the recent shooting in Atlanta and the rise in anti-Asian racism, checking in with friends, family, and colleagues especially of Asian descent is imperative. Our very own Wananan Phualek sat down for a conversation on facing anti-Asian racism and coping with its effects.

In addition to being a licensed master social worker (LMSW), she has a Certification in Applied Positive Psychology. Wananan is of Thai descent and moved to NYC in 2012. She shared that the adjustment was difficult but getting to know people who are like-minded and open, and the diverse environment of NYC were crucial to her feeling at home here.

When asked about her reaction to the recent shooting, she stated “I don’t feel the energy to write, I’m feeling overwhelmed. I feel I’m giving myself permission to process this and talk about this first.”

Wananan reflected that when she initially heard the news, she said “Oh my God! The world is not safe and I want to go back to Thailand. Then at the same time, I live in NYC. My experience has been wonderful and I feel safe. But there was a moment where I heard that news and the voice ‘you’re not safe’ was overpowering my reality. I processed that with my husband.”

Not only was Wananan coping with this event herself, she shared that 50% of her clients are Asian American. In working with her Asian American clients, she asks them to ask themselves, “‘What is my reality?’ I guide them through meditation and always remember to ask yourself

‘What is my reality right now, in this moment?’ The reality is that I can choose to breathe in knowing that I am safe and my family is safe. Shift into “how can I create an opportunity to grow from this? Is there any small action I can take to claim my power back?”

In working with clients, they can worry about what is going on, but worrying about it is not going to help them feel safer. Wananan stated, “Worrying is praying for what you don’t want and therefore using worry, feeding the worry, is spiraling down and you will feel even more powerless and you will collapse. You want to step into your power. That power has to be centered and clear. It is healthy to allow yourself to feel the anger when you experience it, but not acting out from it.”

When asked about her fears, Wananan shared “I’m afraid that what will happen as a result of these attacks is that Asian people will stop living their dreams and hopes because this is so scary. They want to stay at the minimum to be careful. I am afraid people will lose that liveliness. Even Though their fear is real, this is real, very serious, and so disturbing. I want people to know they are still entitled to live their life and use this as an opportunity to turn towards their family and community to connect even deeper and to not be paralyzed and feel they are a victim in this.”

What would she like to convey to others? “My message to people: you are still entitled to have a good life. This shouldn’t stop you from cultivating self-care, gratitude, and enjoying your life. You are still entitled to your dreams and to enjoy your life.”

“Sometimes people really focus on making a difference. But how do you enjoy your life while you are doing that? You become fragile if you don’t also take care of yourself while you are fighting for what you believe.”

Wananan is a huge advocate of self-care, taking a holistic approach in her personal self-care. She focuses on physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional energies. “My self-care is that whenever I do not feel well, I bring my awareness to my body. Where do I feel this discomfort in my body and what does it feel like, what can I do to not be in the grips of this feeling?

“I have my checklist: did I get sunshine? Did I eat nourishing food for my body? I use movement, and set the intention to move my body every 30 minutes.” Wananan also finds connecting with loved ones very helpful in practicing self-care.

It is so important to take care of yourself during these trying times. Whether that be taking inspiration from Wananan’s self-care, or cultivating your own, do not let up on this practice, especially now.

If you are looking for ways to help, check out Asian Americans Advancing Justice and resources to help stand up against anti-Asian racism can be found here:

Don’t underestimate the power of being an intervening bystander. AAJC is holding training in bystander intervention to stop anti-Asian/American harassment and xenophobia:

  • Tuesday, March 23 at 4pm EST/ 3pm MT/ 2pm PT/ 12pm HST. Register Here
  • Monday, April 5 at 1pm EST/ 12pm MT/ 11am PT/ 9am HST. Register Here
  • Wednesday, April 14 at 6:30pm EST/ 5:30pm MT/ 4:30pm PT/ 2:30 HST. Register Here
  • Thursday, April 29 at 3pm EST/ 2pm EST/ 1pm PT/ 11am HST. Register Here.
  • March 29 at 3:00 PM ET/ 2:00 PM CT/ 1:00 PM MT/ 12:00 PM PT/ 10:00 AM HST. (AT CAPACITY)
  • April 20 at 2:00 PM ET/ 1:00 PM CT/ 12:00 PM MT/ 11:00 AM PT/ 9:00 AM HST. (AT CAPACITY)