Growing up the daughter of immigrants, I’ve lost count of how many racial slurs I’ve been called, by people I knew and strangers alike. I’ve lost count of how many times my language has been made fun of, and how many times my traditions have been mocked. I was born and raised in Quincy, but growing up as an Asian American woman with these repeated instances taught me early to be diligent and aware of my surroundings.
Last week’s horrific killings in Atlanta of Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, and Yong Yue, have brought the anti-Asian racism permeating our communities to the forefront. As a result, I have been challenged to process and acknowledge that the anti-Asian harassment and violence I experienced growing up and that continues today is not OK, and I can no longer resign myself to accepting it in order to get through life. The media coverage and bravery of those who share their stories remind me that each of us is not alone. What we have experienced in our lives is death by a thousand papercuts. It’s slow, it’s constant, and it’s taken its toll.
We need to step up, speak up, and share our experiences. We must challenge ourselves to be vulnerable, to accept what we have gone through, to process it, and most importantly, to create sustainable change so that this doesn’t continue to happen beyond us. Hearing others’ stories and connecting with one another can make us feel less alone — however, it won’t make us feel safe walking alone at night. It won’t make the elderly woman in public housing feel like she understands how to register for a vaccine clinic. It won’t make the high school student feel safe taking the train by herself.
What we are hoping it will do is call people to action.
This past week, Boston city councilor Michelle Wu created a virtual space for over 100 Asian American and Pacific Islander community leaders across Massachusetts to come together and share their reactions to the killings in Atlanta, to the increased instances of anti-Asian racism and hate crimes, and to share their personal experiences. All of us have been active in our communities on behalf of those who are marginalized, and ensuring that their needs are priorities. We’re doing what we can to effect change in the cities and towns we’re from, but we cannot continue to do this work alone. We need to proactively implement concrete, sustainable changes to do away with the things that feed into oppression.
Growing up in, and now representing Quincy as a city councilor — the Massachusetts city with the largest AAPI population — I’ve seen and experienced firsthand what happens when there is a disconnect between city services being provided and those for whom they are meant to serve. Steps are being made in Quincy to address that disconnect, such as implementing a citywide language access plan and the city council’s recent vote to establish a Social Justice and Equity Department, but we can and should continue to do more.
We in the Asian American community need to understand the power of our voices and how important it is to use that collective voice to call attention to the inequities we have faced in our lives, and how others are experiencing the same. We in leadership roles need to take those experiences and hold them front-of-mind when creating policy and when establishing how we choose to engage and serve our constituents. Regardless of what language they speak, residents will reach out for help to cut down a tree, fix a pothole, and express concerns about traffic and increasing taxes. We owe it to those we represent to provide the same quality of service regardless of what language they speak, and we cannot do that without acknowledging the diversity of our community and that regardless of where someone is from, they call Quincy home and want to feel safe and welcome.
As a community, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are made to feel different. Every time we are asked, “where are you from?” it feeds into the feeling that we don’t belong here. But we do belong here. We all do.
We need to take this moment and make sure society is making the changes that will directly impact the daily lives of any of us who are marginalized so we know and feel that we are being considered when decisions that directly affect us are being made, that our existence is validated, that our lives have value — and that we belong.
Nina Liang is president of the Quincy City Council.