Being Asian: Four New Yorkers Reflect On What It Means To Be Asian In The City Now


For Asian American New Yorkers, the outsized psychological pressure of dwelling by the coronavirus pandemic has been exacerbated by a commensurate rise in anti-Asian sentiment. The bias swept into our area largely attributable to xenophobic rhetoric connecting COVID-19 to Asian Individuals, together with then-President Donald Trump’s behavior of blaming the virus on China.

As bias incidents and hate crimes in opposition to Asian Individuals elevated, the nonprofit Asian American Federation arrange a bias reporting type on its web site to report hate crimes within the tri-state space. It tallied greater than 500 studies between the start of 2020 and February 2021 (and estimated that the precise quantity is considerably larger). Within the metropolis, the Middle for the Research of Hate and Extremism says the variety of anti-Asian hate crimes reported to the NYPD rose from 3 in 2019 to twenty-eight final 12 months.

What follows is a dialog with 4 Asian American New Yorkers about being Asian in New York Metropolis by all of it.

Victoria Lee stands in front of a shuttered storefront


Vic Lee at 135 Eldridge Avenue in Chinatown

Jax F. Floyd

Vic Lee, 31, Chinese language American, Co-founder of Welcome to Chinatown, a company based mostly in decrease Manhattan, the place she additionally lives.

I used to return out with my household each single weekend to Manhattan Chinatown. And that was the place my grandmother lived all her life. And we’d have Sunday dinners in her condominium. So it has a really, very particular place for me. As an Asian-American, you are usually feeling not white sufficient or not Asian sufficient. And on this group, it feels good. So I’ve at all times had this sense of belonging right here.

I even have my grandmother’s condominium constructing, quantity 135, from 135 Eldridge, tattooed on my elbow — as a nod to all of my Sunday dinners in Chinatown at that condominium.

A tattoo of a rice bowl, chops, and the numerals 135 on an arm


Vic Lee’s tattoo

Courtesy of Vic Lee

The one time I felt uneasy has been over the previous 12 months, really. Final February, once I was strolling house from the health club, I did have an incident the place a person adopted me for a few blocks. He was muttering ‘COVID’ underneath his breath and spitting at me in my course. And I used to be so shocked by what was taking place as a result of I used to be simply a few blocks from my house. Even now, I do not really feel too nice about strolling out when it’s extremely late. So after a sure time, I will not step out. I will not take the practice.

I do have a lot of associates which are Asian American. We’re pissed off, angered and saddened by what we’re seeing on the information and the way lengthy it has taken for details about what is going on on with the anti-Asian hate rhetoric to make mainstream media. It has been arduous to grasp why it is taken so lengthy to be seen and to be acknowledged about this problem.

Chong Bretillon  standing in the street


Chong Bretillon in Dutch Kills, Queens

Jax F. Floyd

Chong Bretillon, 40, Korean American, teaches at Baruch School, lives in Dutch Kills, Queens

We had been getting back from the “Cease Asian Hate” rally in Sunnyside, and later that day my [7-year-old] son requested me, “Mother, are we going to get stabbed?” I stated, “No, after all not! We’re secure.”

“Yeah, however one of many audio system stated that Asian persons are getting stabbed.”

And so I needed to clarify to him, “we’re not going to get stabbed. These issues are very uncommon. However there are some individuals who scapegoat different individuals.” So then I needed to outline what “scapegoat” means. Some individuals, you already know, assault different individuals based mostly on who they’re as a result of we’re Asian, you already know. And I gave him “the Speak,” principally. And he sort of slept on it and he hasn’t introduced it up once more. Nevertheless it’s unhappy. And it sort of broke my coronary heart.

I’ve modified some behaviors. I do know associates of mine have. I used to be simply speaking to a pal at present who had a dentist appointment and he or she stated, ‘Nicely, I am sort of nervous about this one subway station as a result of it is actually crowded.’ And we each know, you place your again to the wall, you go searching, you do not put on your earbuds. You simply must maintain your senses conscious.

I am much more suspicious of individuals and I am very offended.

There was a younger girl a bit of bit youthful than me up in Astoria who was strolling, simply minding her personal enterprise by the Ditmars Boulevard practice station. And a few man began hurling, “Why do Asians eat canine?” Accosted her, adopted her round.

And a part of me seems like I want somebody would do this to me as a result of I’m about to go off. I’ve a five-pound Kryptonite bike lock. I simply want somebody would as a result of I do know I am simply so offended proper now.

Rocky Chin, wearing  glasses and a colorful striped mask, stands on a sidewalk


Rocky Chin on the Decrease East Aspect

Jax F. Floyd

Rocky Chin, 74, Chinese language American, retired civil rights lawyer

We’ve got a nation that was actually just about steeped in oppressing individuals of colour however notably African-Individuals. We do not in our academic system actually handle it.

For Chinese language Individuals I feel you sort of study, ‘Oh they constructed the railroads. They labored in eating places.’ You actually do not perceive the entire historical past.

Chinese language who had been right here [in the 1800s], they didn’t have very many rights, together with when you had been a sufferer of against the law, you could not testify. You couldn’t testify for an additional Chinese language who is perhaps overwhelmed or bullied or killed [by a white person]. If you do not know about it as an American, simply studying about historical past, you may actually not perceive why there’s been quite a lot of discrimination even after 1965.

As Chinese language in America, we oftentimes do not even know that historical past. What we realized as immigrants — and I used to be born right here, however my mom was born in China and my grandfather on my dad’s facet was born in China — they do not study that a lot besides once they come to America, you already know what they study? They study who’s on prime and who’s not on prime. In order an Asian-American, you study in a short time African-Individuals will not be on prime on this society.

Rocky Chin stands, without his mask, on a grassy lawn


Rocky Chin on the Decrease East Aspect

Jax F. Floyd

We come from Asian international locations, which have quite a lot of racism and all types of backward concepts of their histories. So we should always acknowledge that. And we even have a historical past in America of being interventionists in quite a lot of Asian international locations. We do not discuss that. However that has additionally a big effect on the Asians right here in America. You recognize, the Vietnam Battle, the Korean Battle.

There’s quite a lot of poverty in quite a lot of our communities. And when these completely different sorts of communities come up in opposition to one another, you are going to have contacts that is probably not nice.

Cathy Park Hong stands in front of a door


Cathy Park Hong in Carroll Gardens

Jax F. Floyd

Cathy Park Hong, 44, Korean American, creator of Minor Emotions: An Asian American Reckoning, and resident of Carroll Gardens

These anti-Asian hate crimes have been happening since I used to be a child [in Los Angeles] once I witnessed my very own grandmother being kicked down by some 11-year-old white child. I recall visiting my kin within the extra working-class neighborhood in Anaheim. I simply felt prefer it might erupt right into a race riot on daily basis, the place there was quite a lot of interracial violence, the place there have been Black, Latinx, white, Asian youngsters. It wasn’t like this comfortable, multicultural society.

Maybe what makes me optimistic is that Asian-Individuals are talking up, particularly this 12 months.

What worries me is the victims. My first concern is with them, however my second concern is how individuals will politicize this.

That footage of a younger black man pushing an aged Thai grandfather is a really despairing and charged picture. (The 84-year-old sufferer died after being assaulted in San Francisco on January 28. The suspect has been charged with homicide and elder abuse.)

There are individuals on the correct wing who’re saying, okay, we’d like extra policing. There are individuals within the left wing — leftists whose insurance policies I advocate — however who typically, I really feel, discuss being cautious about policing earlier than they speak concerning the sufferer, the aged Asian sufferer. And that may alienate, I feel, Asian immigrants.

Individuals of colour — Black, brown, Asian — do not know one another past what white individuals have stated about us, and we have now to determine a approach to sort of perceive one another and study from one another and hear to one another.

Even when we’re sympathetic or listening for a short lived time period to those incidents, we do not bear in mind their names. What number of victims of Asian hate crimes do you bear in mind? Have you learnt? Like, I can not … in addition to Vincent Chin. I do not assume a single American can consider even two individuals.

I feel we have to concentrate and bear in mind these individuals. That is additionally white supremacy, proper? This utterly devaluation of lives that aren’t white.

Hearken to reporter Arun Venugopal’s radio story for WNYC:

Arun Venugopal is the Senior Reporter for WNYC’s Race & Justice Unit the place he spearheads protection of bias and hate crimes. In case you have a narrative or tip for Arun, contact him at or on Twitter at @arunNYC.