Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Hate Hits Home

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Anti-Asian discrimination is a reminder to keep pushing for change.


I was in New York City working at the Hospital for Special Surgery when the pandemic hit. The outpatient ORs in which I was training to advance my skills as a minimally invasive spine specialist were turned into intensive care units. Seemingly overnight, I went from performing advanced surgery to working night shifts taking care of COVID-19 patients. My orthopedics training did not prepare me for what I faced in one of the epicenters of the national outbreak.

Caring for COVID-19 patients was extremely difficult and emotional. We held iPads up to dying patients so their family members could say goodbye. News reports often claimed only the old and frail were succumbing to the virus, but I saw plugs pulled on patients in their 30s and 40s. Some were young parents. One was pregnant. That was the toughest part. I even contracted COVID-19 during the early months of the pandemic. Although I was sick for only a couple days, it was a painful experience. I’m young and healthy, and can’t imagine what patients (and their families) who’ve been hit harder must endure.

One night, after a long shift at work, I found a seat on the New York subway and watched with slight bemusement as people shied away from me because they were afraid of contracting the “Chinese virus.” The experience was surprising, but not overly shocking, and opened my eyes to the prejudice Asian Americans face during the pandemic. It wasn’t the first time I witnessed mistrust directed toward my race, however.

Proud parents

My dad is a physician who started a family medicine practice in the Seattle area, and my mom is a professor at the University of Washington. They’re also community activists. My dad is a pastor of a Chinese church he started, and my mom is the vice president of a local Asian Pacific Cultural Center. Together they also run a Chinese community center, art school and academy for students studying English as a second language. They’re now embedded in the local community, but the racism they faced before being accepted was my first exposure to Asian discrimination.

The church my dad established is in a non-progressive Caucasian neighborhood. It used to share a parking lot with a casino, the owners of which weren’t welcoming to their new neighbors.

The church was targeted by frequent and excessive inspections by the fire marshal and intimidating acts such as the police parking their cars and tow trucks outside the church on Sunday mornings so the congregation didn’t have a place to park. My dad decided to get a law degree to fight back legally and peacefully. He documented every surprise inspection, conversation and act of aggression, and presented it all to the courts.

The legal battle made it to the front page of the local paper. My parents eventually prevailed after several years of proudly standing up for their rights. The casino was shut down, members of the city council were fired and the local police chief eventually stepped down because my parents brought the community’s abusive actions to light.

Part of the solution

Culturally, Asians are a group who don’t often complain about the injustices we endure. How often do you hear of us mobilizing as a group and fighting back? Perhaps that makes us an easy target, like the quiet kid a bully picks on in school. We’re often considered a model minority group, which is sort of a compliment but also somewhat of an insult.

I’ve worked in Chicago, New York City and Seattle over the last decade and haven’t had to deal with anything to the magnitude of what my parents faced, although I have returned to my apartment building carrying takeout and had tenants try to hand me cash because they thought I was delivering their food. I’m also troubled by the recent rash of hate crimes against Asians. My grandmother was pushed over in Seattle’s Chinatown section six months ago, and went to the hospital to get stitches in her head. I know Asian hate is real.

Some of these unfortunate and troubling situations arise because people simply don’t know any better due to their own implicit biases or a lack of exposure to different cultures. I’m not angry about that. I just want better. I like to push back, to get people out of their comfort zone. I don’t mind standing up and sharing my opinion. That’s ingrained in me, probably from watching the brave action of my parents.

At some point you begin to realize there are a lot of people who think the same way you do and they’re willing to lend their support, but unwilling to speak up. I’ve often felt a burden to help them become more active proponents of equity and inclusion, but that burden now feels more like a mission to help rally communities together.

That’s what happened with my parents. They stood up and pushed back with respect, openness and dignity. That wasn’t easy. It took about three years for them to ultimately prevail over the institution of a small township that didn’t want them around.

My parents were eventually embraced by their community because they stood their ground. Watching them taught me to never back down or accept things the way they are. If you feel like you’re being wronged or see people who are and want to make change happen, stand up and act. If you don’t, nothing changes, and the world goes on as it always has. OSM

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