Asian Americans reflect on discrimination, experiences

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – For Rep. Tackey Chan, growing up as an Asian American in Quincy was a lonely experience, as most of his friends were either Irish or Italian.

“I am very aware of what it’s like to be left out of the conversation, very aware of not being part of the picture, very aware of being left alone, and very aware of being ignored thinking that your voice is irrelevant,” the sixth-term Quincy Democrat said. “And to me that’s a big part of the silent struggle, or sometimes the loud struggle that no one hears, of being an Asian American.”

Chan spoke at a virtual discussion Wednesday hosted by Nutter Law Firm on Asian American and Pacific Islander discrimination and their experiences in public-facing fields. For Chan, who graduated from Brandeis University in 1995 before joining former Sen. Michael Morrissey’s office, being an advocate for a population of about 12,000 Asians in Quincy during the 1990s was “a lonely place to be sometimes.”

“You can’t get more Quincy native than me because I remember what everything was in my neighborhood before and I would shock people — I could name things that were there 35 years ago,” he said. “I represent a district that threw rocks at me as a child and I haven’t left.”

Shirley Leung, an associate editor and columnist at the Boston Globe, said her parents immigrated to the United States in 1971 and saw America “as the promised land and even though they spoke very little English, they decided we are going to settle in America and raise a family.”

“When I think about the past year and all the hate crimes against Asian Americans, especially the murders in Atlanta, I think about my parents, and if they were 25 and living in Taiwan in the year 2021, would they make that same decision to come and live in America?” Leung said. “And I don’t know if they would. I think they would stay in Asia. I’m not sure if they would come and raise their family here in America and that troubles me because what makes America so amazing is this melting pot of people.”

A series of shootings in March at several Atlanta spas left eight people dead — six of whom were women of Asian descent. A 22-year-old man is facing the death penalty for the murders, the New York Times reported

That shooting and a number of other incidents including racism stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic against Asian American and Pacific Islanders spurred a movement to stop hate crimes against people who identify as AAPI.

“We Need To Speak Up More”

Vietnamese American Volunteers Association President Nam Pham said there are several lessons that AAPI advocates can take from the Black Lives Matter movement including speaking up for your beliefs.

“Our Asian community tends to speak up less than others so we need to speak up more,” he said during the discussion. “The second thing is you need to have a good alliance with the media so they can amplify your voice and minimize any mistakes you may make.”

The third lesson Pham takes away from the Black Lives Matter movement is “you should not destroy the neighborhood that your people are living in.” He recalled a business trip to Korea in the 1980s where thousands of students were demonstrating night after night against an authoritarian regime.

“I was there one night, I could still smell the tear gas and all of those things. But the next morning, when I came back to the same place, it looked like nothing had happened. No shop was vandalized, it looked clean, neat, and business back to normal,” he said. “I think for us to have a more effective voice, to represent our voice, our community, and to make a bigger contribution to the bigger community, we need to keep those things in mind.”

What about the private sector? Is there a role for the business community to play in addressing issues of Asian American discimination? People’s United Bank Director of Government Banking Grace Lee says absolutely and points to statistics from Stop AAPI Hate which says a majority of “hate incidents” occur outside of the home.

The organization cataloged 9,081 incident reports from March 19, 2020 to June 30. Verbal harassment and shunning — the deliberate avoidance of Asian American and Pacific Islanders — make up the two largest proportions of total incidents reported, the organization reports.

Incidents on public streets, or spaces open to the public, accounted for 31 percent of incidents, while incidents at workplaces accounted for 30 percent — and both remain the top two sites where anti-AAPI hate occurs, according to the organization.

“So if you look at that, it’s not just we have a role, it is we have to have a role because we spend most of our living days in our work environment,” Lee said of the role businesses can play in mitigating discrimination. “I think corporations and businesses are embracing that role. And whether we like it or not, where our governments are failing us, the private sector is actually stepping up.”

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