New York Daily News

Asian-Americans, raise your voices

- BY SUSAN LEE Lee, a nonprofit worker, is a candidate for City Council.

Acouple of weeks ago, while my husband and I attended the Rally Against Hate 2021 at Columbus Park, less than a mile away at Astor Place, Katie Hou was attacked as her 7-year-old daughter stood nearby. The mother and daughter duo were carrying a sign they made together for the rally at Union Square. When a young man asked for the sign, Katie handed it to him. She thought he planned to use it at the rally. Instead, he destroyed it. As he ripped it and tossed the pieces into the trash can, Katie yelled, “What are you doing?” When she attempted to get their sign back, the attacker punched her in the face and pushed her. Katie’s daughter looked on in horror.

I learned about this recent attack in a tweet by Rita Chan. She wrote, “...I can’t stop thinking about the little girl and how she sat silent and frozen until they took her mom into an ambulance. That’s when she started sobbing.” Those two sentences left a deep impression on me and brought back memories of the many times my own parents experience­d discrimina­tion in our daily lives.

One incident stood out vividly. As my dad and I rode home on the L train, another passenger elbowed him in the ribs. We recognized it was intentiona­l because the train was not crowded. My dad remained silent but his expression was revealing. I could clearly see he was embarrasse­d. He was embarrasse­d not because he was bullied but because his daughter witnessed it. Like most Asian immigrants, my parents believed they should put their heads down, not complain, work hard, and hope for a better future for their children. Their children’s future was the reason they came to the U.S. Having one of his children witness the biased bullying left a crack in that future.

When I decided to run for office during a pandemic, I was prepared to give everything to my campaign. What I didn’t expect was the harm I would face by the constant degrading of my dignity, my humanity, and even my body. All of which tested my ability to speak out.

Recently, I was attacked in a subway stairwell at the World Trade Center station. I was pushed and the assailant attempted to shove me down the stairs. I have been public about it, at the convincing of my family and friends. However, where I have stayed silent is on the quiet and subtle instances of bigotry that I face daily.

What is a typical day like for an Asian-American campaignin­g in New York City? One day while I was out petitionin­g, a man commented on my looks, saying, “Don’t think that I would vote for you just because you have a pretty face.” Another day I was asked, “What are you selling?” an apparent reference to the many Asian street vendors. These are just some of the daily reminders that campaignin­g as an Asian-American woman is different. These comments had nothing to do with my campaign, my policies or my platform. They were directed at me because of what I look like. And yet I stayed silent.

Staying silent is typical for many Asian-Americans of my generation, as our parents quietly endured every micro-aggression. Unfortunat­ely, all that has led to the false idea that Asian-Americans are not discrimina­ted against. We are, we just haven’t been telling anyone.

In 2020, there were a total of 28 anti-Asian hate crimes reported in New York City. So far this year there are at least 32 reported hate crimes. Yes, crimes against Asian-Americans are on the rise, and maybe we are finally starting to talk about them.

Looking back at the subway incident decades ago, I recall feeling sympathy for my dad — but I was too young to know what to say. We exited the subway at First Ave. and pretended it didn’t happen. We never talked about that incident, nor did we ever discuss the racism and discrimina­tion my parents endured since moving to this country four decades ago.

One weekend, while petitionin­g with my mom and husband, I asked my mom if she was afraid to go out. Her response made me pause: “This is nothing new. We’ve lived through this before. We must be vigilant.” The last sentence left an impression on me; I will continue to campaign in public but I will need to be vigilant. This is something many candidates don’t have to worry about, or perhaps never need to think about. I will continue to look over my shoulder, always being aware of my surroundin­gs. I will continue to cross the street when I fear trouble is heading in my direction.

But unlike my parents, I will use my voice.

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