By: Megan Lei
As a Chinese woman, I am full of horror and pain. When I first heard of the March 16 attacks on three Atlanta area spas, my heart sank. A gunman killed eight people that day. Six of those people were Asian women.
“Why would he choose to shoot at three Asian-owned spas?” was the first thought that went through my head. Later, the world learned that the gunman claimed his violence was due to sexual addiction. To make matters worse, a police officer claimed that the murderer was “just having a bad day”.
My name is Megan Lei, a senior Advertising and Public Relations student at The City College of New York. In 2014, I arrived in New York City to obtain my bachelors degree with a student visa from Guangzhou, China.
When I first arrived in NYC, I felt welcomed. I was excited to meet people from different cultures and to explore places around the city. I had very little fear. In my experience, people were welcoming. I was not fluent in English at the time and relied on many strangers to help me navigate my new life in a vast, unfamiliar city.
Now, I have pepper spray in my bag every time I leave my apartment. My parents, who live in China, are worried about me. They have even gone so far as to ask me to quit my job if I am required to go into the office. I constantly remind my Brooklyn-based in-laws to be cautious and to avoid being in isolated places when they are out in public.
Former President Trump’s hurtful language before and throughout the pandemic – calling COVID-19 “Kung Flu” and the “China Virus” – sparked outrage towards an innocent community; My innocent community. Since the beginning of 2020, more than 3,800 Asian people have reportedly been harassed, have become severely injured, or have lost their lives due to backlash by people who believe the lies and start attack the Asian community.
We, the AAPI community, are angry and frustrated.
The increasing number of violent attacks and murders currently sweeping through the AAPI community is jarring. I no longer feel safe and comfortable living in New York City. Unfortunately, I am not the only one that feels this way.
Susan Ng, a project coordinator at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, has experienced subtle harassment and she continues to feel the emotional effects.
She told me that a man approached her and her husband, cursing at them as they waited for the B52 bus on Bushwick Avenue. The man boarded the bus behind Ng and stared at her as they rode. She was terrified and had her phone out to record in case he continued to harass or attack her. Thankfully, he got off the bus about 5 stops down the road.
After this incident, Ng began driving instead of utilizing public transportation and avoided being alone when she was out. She now works remotely and can avoid public transportation all together, which makes her feel safer.
Like Ng, many Asians have had to alter their behavior to protect themselves and their families. Unfortunately, some members of the Asian community are unable to change their daily routines to avoid potentially dangerous situations.
My friend Carolina Cen, a senior Engineering student at The City College of New York, said people suspiciously stared at her on the subway as she commutes to school. Cen is required to be in-person for one of her lab classes. These looks make her feel unsafe and frustrated. She hopes all the hatred towards the AAPI community will stop soon.
Asian people have a history of not reporting incidents of harassment due to language barriers or to avoid further trouble. However, when reported hate crimes began to spike, advocacy groups founded Stop AAPI Hate, to encourage the AAPI community to report attacks or hate actions against us. The website is set up to receive reports of hate incidents in many languages including English, Chinese, and other prominent Asian languages and dialects.
Nevertheless, I know that our fight for equality and fair treatment is just beginning. On March 18, 2021, Congresswoman Grace Meng, D-NY, gave an emotional speech at a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing focused on anti-Asian violence. This hearing was called after Congressman Chip Roy, R-TX, referenced lyncing as he blamed the Chinese government for COVID-19.
Fighting to hold back tears, Congresswoman Meng said, “Our community is bleeding. We are in pain. And for the last year, we’ve been screaming out for help. We want you all to know we are in pain and we need help.”
Later, she continued, fighting to hold back tears, “Your president, your party, and your colleagues can talk about issues with any other countries you want, but you don’t have to do it by putting a bulls-eye on the back of Asian Americans across the country, on our grandparents, on our kids.”
Though I’ve watched Congresswoman Meng’s speech multiple times, every time feels the same. Like Congresswoman Meng, I am angry and grieving but I will continue to fight for positive change. I believe that positive change will spark from the acknowledgement of our community’s collective pain, which is why I was relieved to hear a similar plea from our current presidential administration.
President Biden and Vice President Harris visited Atlanta after the shooting to meet with members of the Asian community. Following the visit, the president said, “The conversation we had today with the leaders, and that we’re hearing all across the country, is that hate and violence often hide in plain sight. It’s often met with silence. That’s been true throughout our history, but that has to change because our silence is complicity.” He also said, “Too many Asian Americans have been walking up and down the streets and worrying, waking up each morning this past year feeling their safety and the safety of their loved ones are at stake.”
Anti-Asian issues like racism have been at the root of U.S. history, but it is time for change. After hearing President Biden’s speech, I see hope for our community’s future.
The AAPI community wants to be treated with respect, as we are in our homeland. The more united we are, the stronger our community becomes. Please do your part to speak up against violence to help us feel safe and comfortable living here.