A group of teenagers are joining the fight to combat xenophobia on Long Island. Syosset High School junior Brian Gao and Roslyn High School senior Arin Siriamonthep created a social media initiative called Asians Speak Up aimed at sharing stories of hate against Asian American students.
“We’ve been thinking about this idea for a while,” Gao said. “Throughout history, xenophobia and attacks against Asians have been frequent. We have all this time on our hands and we want to make a change.”
The pair’s effort started on March 29, and has since told the stories of more than a dozen teenagers on Long Island who have experienced xenophobia. Thus far, the stories have been focused on the struggles these individuals have faced and how their heritage inspires them.
Asians Speak Up aims to continue telling these stories long after the coronavirus pandemic is over. Xenophobia is not going away, and they want to show the bold responses of those who have been attacked, either verbally or physically.
“We’ve gotten a lot of stories,” Siriamonthep said. “It’s only been a month, but we have stories from Massachusetts and Florida. The fact that it’s getting to other states means that we’re on the right track. The reaction so far has been pretty good.”
Gao said that just before the shutdown, as talks of the coronavirus’ spread began, he visited Roosevelt Field in Garden City. He was walking around the perimeter of the mall when the unthinkable happened.
“I would be outside with my friends and a car full of people would pass by and call me something,” Gao said.
Siriamonthep believes that the rise in racist attacks against Asian people is typically surprising on Long Island due to the large Asian demographic. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2017-18 that the number of Asian Americans on Long Island increased to approximately 140,000.
“If it’s happening here, that means it’s even worse in areas with a smaller percentage of Asian people,” Siriamonthep said. “The problem is probably worse in other areas.”
Siriamonthep’s suspicions seem to be confirmed by nationwide statistics showing a notable uptick in discrimination against Asian Americans since news of the coronavirus pandemic first made headlines. Over the past month, the nonprofit Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council has received more than 1,500 reports of verbal harassment, shunning and physical assaults from Asian Americans across the U.S. Locally, even before the shutdown orders came in on Long Island many Chinese American business owners in communities like Great Neck reported huge decreases in customers that exceeded their counterparts of different ethnic backgrounds.
Additional reporting by Mike Adams