WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio — West Chester Twp. Trustee Lee Wong bared his chest during the board meeting Tuesday night‚ revealing a vicious scar from injuries sustained in the U.S. Army and saying he won’t tolerate anyone discriminating against him.
“I have put up with a lot of (expletive) in silence, excuse me the language, too afraid to speak out, fearing more abuse and discrimination,” Wong said.
During the elected officials’ comment section of the meeting, Wong shared his personal history, saying he moved to the U.S. from China when he was 18 and suffered a beating in Chicago because of his race a few years later. He served 20 years in the armed forces and received the scar while he was at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, according to the Journal-News.
He then calmly took off his tie, unbuttoned his dress shirt, pushed the shirt aside, stood and pulled up his undershirt to show the old wound.
“There are some people that will come up to me and say I don’t look American, or patriotic enough. Now that really gets my goat ...,” he said. “I’m getting a little hot on this issue here. People question my patriotism, that I don’t look American enough. They can’t get over this face. I want to show you something, I don’t have to live in fear, intimidation, insults ... Here is my proof. This is sustained from my service in the U.S. Army. Is this patriot enough?”
Wong’s speech came a week after eight people, six of them Asian women, were gunned down at spas in the Atlanta area. Wong told the Journal-News he didn’t do it because of that incident but said if people stay quiet, the violence will continue.
Since the shooting, he said, a friend who owns the Oriental Wok in Northern Kentucky has had his restaurant vandalized several times. That is partly what prompted him to speak.
“I am always considered an outsider. That’s not right, and they are just getting bolder and bolder,” he told the Journal-News. “I’m just afraid it might come down to what’s happening in Atlanta, sooner or later, if we don’t speak up.”
Wong finished his thoughts saying, “Prejudice is hate and that hate can be changed. We are human. We need to be kinder, gentler to one another.”
Since the coronavirus pandemic began more than a year ago, there have been nearly 3,000 hateful incidents against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, according to a reporting group called Stop AAPI Hate. The incidents occurred from March 19 of last year through Feb. 28 and 68.1% were verbal harassment, 20.5% shunning and 11.1% were physical assaults.
Leo Chan, executive director of the Midwest USA Chinese Chamber of Commerce, said he has never seen things as bad as they are now.
“It’s horrible ... the tension, the fear, the anxiety has been escalated to a level that I have never seen before since I came to the United States 21 years ago,” Chan said. “I have never seen something like this, never ever.”
He said the pandemic, which originated in Wuhan, China, may be playing a role, but it is not the root of the problem.
“I think it’s not just the pandemic. The pandemic definitely exacerbates the situation, but the pandemic is not a cause, it’s just a catalyst if you want to call it. I think it’s the systemic issues this country has,” Chan said.
He said he believes everyone should be treated with “equality, with dignity and respect” but everyone is human with flaws that can include bigotry and racism or sexism.
“We start acting in a way that systemically marginalizes certain people in a certain way,” he said. “It builds up over time and if we continue to ignore those issues then of course some day, something happens. There’s a catalyst and things will explode. Right now I think this country is heading toward explosion.”
After Wong said his peace he left the chamber briefly to re-tuck his shirt and tie his tie, then returned to the dais and finished the meeting.
“I have a lot of respect for Mr. Wong and for his service to the county and his service to our community,” Trustee Ann Becker told the Journal-News later. “It’s important to remember our differences shouldn’t drive us apart. It should make us stronger.”