In elementary school, I was told that “Chinese people suck” and was called many names… even in the diverse “melting pot” of New York City. I laughed or shrugged it off, but these are things that stick with you.
When COVID began to spread rapidly, my hometown, New York City, was hit particularly hard and shut down with a mandated quarantine. To relieve the monotony of being stuck inside small NYC apartments all day, many residents would take walks for fresh air and exercise. My elderly Chinese grandmother, who had just moved to New York City, loved taking long walks and exploring. However, NYC became very unsafe during the pandemic, particularly for Asians, and my grandmother did not feel comfortable walking around the city alone. She would call me and jokingly request that “her bodyguard” accompany her. These walks got both of us through the long quarantine and we spent many hours trading stories and getting even closer, making lemonade out of lemons.
Unfortunately, not all people had this freedom as they were also afraid of being attacked for their race and did not have anyone to walk with them. Media coverage and social media increased awareness of hate crimes against Asians, especially in San Francisco and New York City. My family and I attended a few anti-Asian hate rallies. This conflict that I was a part of opened my eyes to how deeply rooted systemic racism against Asians really is and led me to become more invested in solving the problem. A little more than a year later, I had time to think, wondering how I could help others experience the “freedom” that my grandmother had during the height of the pandemic and Asian hate crimes. This eventually led me to where I am today, with new ideas and a desire to take action.