A Filipino-American brutally slashed in the face with a box cutter in New York. An elderly Thai immigrant shoved to the ground in the street and later dies from his injuries in California. A Chinese woman and her daughter spit on and verbally attacked in Wellesley.
The global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has seen rise to a dramatic increase of hate crimes against Asian-Americans. According to California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, hate crimes targeting Asians increased by over 150 percent in 2020 and 2021, especially in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Boston.
Wellesley is not immune to this xenophobia. In early February, a Chinese immigrant and her daughter were walking to the post office when a White woman spat at them, yelling “Chinese! … You Chinese! You brought the virus to us! I hate Chinese!” The perpetrator only stopped shouting cruel remarks when the Chinese woman threatened to notify the police.
“It was astounding. I felt sad. I had never expected to be treated in such a horrible way in such a beautiful, civilized, and peaceful town,” said the Chinese woman, who asked to remain anonymous. “They did not care about anything but my Chinese face. My Chinese face is the root of all my sins. To her, my Chinese face itself deserves all the humiliation and insults she poured down on me.”
The incident was especially traumatizing for the woman because it occurred in front of her young daughter. The pair moved to America for a better life a few years ago, and the woman said that her daughter was usually proud to call Wellesley her hometown.
“It never occurred to me that someone in my hometown would hate me that much, simply because my face is different from theirs,” said the woman.
The Chinese woman said this incident left both her and her daughter fearful of their next walk outside in public. She filed a report to the Wellesley Police Department in hopes of catching the perpetrator. However, when the offender was identified, she denied all charges against her. Because of the lack of video evidence, the police were unable to press charges.
“The Chinese-American lady later posted the incidents in the WeChat group chat titled ‘Wellesley Chinese Family.’ From the discussion, I could tell that the Wellesley Chinese community as a whole was very furious but did not know how to respond properly,” said Li Hai Hong, Principal of Wellesley Chinese Language School (WCLS).
This example of anti-Asian hate does not stand alone in the history of Asian-based discrimination in Wellesley. A Chinese father learned that his middle school son was taunted by a group of teenagers as they kept pointing at him with their middle fingers, and residents have recalled times when they were told to “go back to their country.”
To bring light to the anti-Asian hate crimes in Wellesley and across the nation, Wellesley Chinese Language School co-hosted the Making The Invisible → Visible: A Dialogue To Stop The Hate panel and discussion with World of Wellesley.
About 150 people joined the event, and the guests included Wellesley’s Chief of Police Jack Pilecki, Board of Selectmen Chair Marjorie Freiman, Select Board Member Lise Olney, and Executive Director of General Government Services Meghan Jop.
During the panel, two victims told their stories, and Hai Hong read several statements from those who were unable to participate. Among the many stories, victims recalled times when hateful words such as “Thank you for bringing THIS [Covid-19] to THIS country!” and “Move back to your own country!” were shouted at them.
The panel organizers also invited Professor Elisabeth Chan from Northern Virginia Community College to talk about the history of anti-Chinese racism in the US. She discussed the problematizing of the “model minority myth” and “perpetual foreigner” stereotype as well as how Chinese immigrants were enslaved and labeled as diseased following a series of government acts and ordinances. Chan concluded with a call for Asian Americans to fight together alongside other minorities.
Christina Horner, co-president of World of Wellesley, also attended the panel.
“It was of utmost importance for our Asian community to know that they were in a safe space and would be protected by a caring community,” said Horner.
Eight days after the panel, the town’s Select Board issued a Statement on Anti-Racism and Anti-Bias: “The Board denounces any form of racism, discrimination or intolerance as a threat to the safety and well-being of the public. We call upon the entire Wellesley community to welcome every resident, visitor, employee and resident student in the Town.”
“Our event in February was the start of the conversation,” said Horner. “We need more students to come forward with their experiences. I know that what is happening outside of Wellesley has happened in schools too.”
Pilecki also believes that reporting these incidents can combat the rising Asian-hate crimes.
“The police will certainly take a report on the incident and investigate when possible. These reports make their way to the Wellesley Townsman, where a great deal of people will read about them. Without reporting, many residents feel like these incidents don’t happen in Wellesley,” said Pilecki.
The Wellesley Police Department is working to form a “Rapid Response Team” to assist victims of hate incidents in hopes of encouraging people to report these incidents.
“We can and will bring criminal charges against anyone who has committed a racially motivated crime. We can also help our citizens become aware of these incidents, which hopefully will spark our community leaders to continue to take whatever action is possible,” said Pilecki.
Looking forward, WCLS plans to work closely with the town Select Board on programs relating to anti-racism and anti-bias, including organizing more seminars and hosting a talk from the Police Department to share resources on how victims can work with the police.
World of Wellesley is planning a follow-up to the Making The Invisible → Visible: A Dialogue To Stop The Hate event that is tentatively scheduled for May 2. They will release more information and registration details in the coming month.
“We are inviting representatives from the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and the Attorney General’s office. We are also hoping to draw upon the recent training that our community members have had in the Civil Discourse initiative,” said Horner.
On March 20, WCLS organized a demonstration in support of the Asian community in front of the Town Hall. Around 170 gathered, including Wellesley Select Board members Tom Ulfelder and Lisa Olney, World of Wellesley Co-President Nova Biro, and demonstrators Becca Rausch and Denise Pan, who shared their personal experiences.
“This event really brought the community together and made me feel that Wellesley is taking a stance against Asian violence. The support I see from everyone makes me feel more safe and supported,” said Lilianna Gross ’21.