As children, Javon Huynh, Meimei Xu and Tiffany Pham experienced racism.

These Asian Americans faced racism growing up, but they won't let it define them

Updated 8:09 AM ET, Sat March 27, 2021

(CNN)Meimei Xu grew up in Illinois, Florida and Georgia. But that didn't stop people from asking her, "Where are you from?"

The 19-year-old says growing up Asian American hasn't been easy. When she was in grade school there were classmates who made hurtful comments. They told her Chinese food was strange and one of them even told her Chinese girls aren't attractive.
But she doesn't want those experiences defining her. "I would rather define my own existence," she says.
The recent Atlanta-area spa shootings that left eight people dead, including six Asian women, are shining a spotlight on the struggles of Asian American communities across the US. And experts are warning how the rise in anti-Asian violence can leave lasting mental health repercussions.
A study by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, shows that anti-Asian hate crimes in 16 of America's largest cities increased 149% in 2020. The first spike occurred in March and April amidst a rise in Covid-19 cases and negative stereotyping of Asians relating to the pandemic.
But it's not just the immediate effect of these hate crimes that people have to worry about. One psychiatrist says anti-Asian racism can have far-reaching mental health repercussions.
In an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. James H. Lee, a first-year psychiatry resident at University of Washington School of Medicine, said that if physicians don't address the issue with patients who have experienced racism they risk leaving them to deal with mental illness on their own.
"I think that one of the consequences of this racism is going to be a lot of anxiety and depression," Lee said in an interview with UW Medicine. "And fear and trauma. I don't want to miss those. I don't want our healthcare system to miss those. And I think that the way we're currently operating we could. We could let a lot of patients fall (through) the cracks."
A Pew Research study published in July 2020 found that 58% of Asian-Americans felt anti-Asian racism had worsened since the beginning of the pandemic. And 26% feared that someone might threaten or physically attack them.
Concerns over mental health are especially important when dealing with children and young adults. CNN spoke to high school and college students about the prejudice they've faced growing up Asian American in the US.
"My name has meaning and a story behind it," says Javon Huynh.