Amplifying AAPI Stories: Anna Glenn

During the live broadcast of the 2017 U.S. Classic, Morgan Hurd had just dismounted beam. The NBC commentators were gushing over Hurd’s talent and gymnastics potential when they said one line that made me spit out my water:

“I have a feeling if China could take her [Hurd] back they would take her back in a second.”

NBC continued to use this bit for Hurd throughout the rest of the 2017 season. It stung because rhetoric like this reaffirms the “perpetual foreigner” stereotype. Many Asian Americans can recall a time when they were asked “where are you really from?” as if they aren’t truly American. NBC commentators never would have said “Russia probably wants her back” when referring to Nastia Liukin. The stereotype boxes Asian Americans as outsiders and triangulates them in America’s racial binary.

The past year has been excruciatingly difficult for the AAPI community. Eight people dead in Atlanta, eight people dead in Indianapolis, and a 169% surge in targeted hate crimes all just within the past several months. Unfortunately targeted violence and abuse is nothing new to Asian Americans. I would go as far as saying it’s normalized.

To bring awareness and shed light upon the injustices facing the AAPI community, I wanted to create a small series to amplify the voices of AAPI gymnasts and become a medium for their stories to be heard.

Anna Glenn, member of the UCLA team that won 2018 Nationals, 2018 Regional Vault Champion, and balance beam icon, graciously took some time to share some of her experiences as an Asian American gymnast:

Growing up did you have any AAPI role models (in or outside of gymnastics)?

Growing up in North Carolina and in a white family, I was not exposed to many AAPI influencers, athletes, or other types of role models. Moving out to California for school and post-graduate life, I have been introduced to many AAPI role models and have learned to take great pride in my native heritage. In college, I surrounded myself with predominantly Asian American friends which contributed to my learning of AAPI culture. Additionally, the increased presence of AAPI representation in pop culture and multiple media platforms has allowed me to add to the list of AAPI role models I admire today. 

Do you think there is adequate Asian American representation in gymnastics? Who did you look up to? (Elite, NCAA, JO, etc.)

The majority of Asian American representation that I have seen in gymnastics are Asian adoptees. Most of my Asian American friends that I had during my club gymnastics days and pre-collegiate years were all Asian adoptees. As comforting as this was to be surrounded by others with similar backgrounds as me, there was a lack of traditional culture. One gymnast that I remember looking up to in my younger gymnastics career was Anna Li, who also happened to be a fellow Bruin. She was one of very few gymnasts both in Elite and NCAA that was Asian American with an Asian American family. 

Did going to college change your thinking about what it means to be Asian American?

College became a formative turning point for my personal identity as an Asian American. Coming to UCLA, I became exposed to Asian Americans from all different cultural backgrounds, different states, and different family dynamics. I started to become proud of who I was and where I came from. I became a part of the Asian American community at UCLA and embraced the sense of family that this community had. Having friends who were families of first, second, third-generation immigrants made me realize the difficult journey that those before us had endured to create the “accepting” society we live in today. Additionally, during my time at UCLA I had a lot of Asian American/ Canadian teammates that I created strong bonds with. My sister and I were the only Asian Americans on our club team, so this change was exciting for us. 

How did COVID personally impact you and your family? With the rise in AAPI hate crimes were you ever scared for your safety?

Since Covid started and the AAPI hate crimes were highlighted in media, my family and I sat down and had some difficult conversations. It wasn’t so much a concern for my family’s safety but more so for mine, my sister’s and my friends here in LA. Covid itself was difficult as my sister and I were finishing up our last quarter at UCLA the time everything shut down. We decided to go home during that last quarter and stayed home for several months until returning to LA. It was nice to be home, but given that my home is in the southeast, I was hyperaware of my surroundings and constantly on the lookout for racial discrimination. When the hate crimes hit hard, it was hard since all of my friends were very emotional about it all and so concerned for their family’s safety. The best we could do was rally together, help spread awareness and be a tighter community. Although LA is a big city, I almost felt safer here since I was surrounded by so many people that looked like me. It was easier not to be an obvious target. 

Do you feel people hold misconceptions about interracial adoption or adoption in general?

One particular misconception that rubs me the wrong way about adoption is that people think others adopt as an act of “charity”. Not once did I ever feel like I owed my parents and family something for adopting me. I am very grateful for them and do think my life is better that I am here in the states compared to the alternative. I believe that being adopted was the best thing that could have happened to me. I am proud of my background and feel that there is strength in these stories. Regardless of what types of misconceptions are out there, I have never been confronted about my adoption in a negative light and whenever I tell my story, I am welcomed with support. I think today, adoption has been so much more normalized and that people are much more accepting of it. Especially in the US, we have become such a large melting pot of different ethnicities and cultures, interracial adoption is becoming normalized to the scale of interracial couples and families. 

Many Asian American kids can relate to experiencing anti-Asian racism whether it’s as subtle as being asked “where are you from?” or as blatant as having their physical features mocked or being bullied at school. Did you ever struggle with your identity growing up? What advice do you have for Asian American kids struggling with their identity?

When I was in elementary and middle school I really didn’t think twice about my race or what I looked like compared to everyone else. It was never a conversation that came up and I never really experienced racist comments at this age. Since my sister and I were young, our mom always helped us host an annual Chinese New Year party at our house with our gym friends. All of our friends loved this party and always looked forward to it. This was a great way for us to expose our friends to our culture and keep our identity as Chinese Americans on the surface. In high school, however, things started to get more real and topics about racism became integrated into conversation more. A lot of these conversations about race went hand-in-hand with political conversations. These conversations were a little tougher as I grew up in a predominantly conservative state in a family that shared less conservative views. I did experience some mocking in high school but I didn’t really think much about it at the time and it didn’t really bother me until later when I realized how demeaning and inappropriate those comments were. My advice to kids struggling with identity is to surround themselves with those who will lift them up and accept them as they are. No one should ever be criticized for being something they aren’t or for looking a particular way. Find people you can relate to and who have similar interests, stories, backgrounds. Sometimes, having friends that you can relate to on a different level can be self-validating and help with those feelings of insecurity. 

Thank you so much to Anna for sharing her story, for more resources to combat anti-Asian violence please click here.

Cover art courtesy of Monica Kwon (@umbearable)

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