“Just when I was so looking forward to being out of isolation and hiding, I now have to be worried, not about the virus killing me, but from some lunatic slashing my face or shooting me with a gun,” wrote Television Director/Producer Joy Rosenbaum of Ocean Beach in an email. “What a world we live in.”
Living in California off-season, the 55-year-old Rosenbaum leaves her mainland home wearing dark glasses in addition to her face mask, and is considering tinted windows for her car.
“My parents left Taiwan hoping to give my brother and me a stable life,” said Dr. Edward Kai Chiu, age 44, of Fire Island Pines. “Now they are isolated in their New York City apartment, which is beginning to take a toll, and sometimes I wonder if they regret coming to this country.”
Chiu is a medical physician working for a global financial firm. He and his partner, Jeffrey Sharlach, have been summering in the Pines for the past decade. They were on their way to a protest march in Union Square shortly after our telephone conversation.
“I’m not sure if publicity helps or hurts this matter,” says 74-year-old Warren Lem. “The spotlight of media attention could encourage copycat incidents.”
Lem was the longtime proprietor of The Out, a popular Kismet nightspot, for decades before retiring from the business in 2010. His father Arthur, a Chinese immigrant, was one of the partners in Lighthouse Shores, a development that would merge with the community of Kismet.
The Robert Aaron Long’s March 16 massage parlor shooting rampage that left eight people dead – six of which were Asian women – has not yet been officially recognized as a hate crime by the state of Georgia. As decision makers continue to ponder that matter, the nation already sees this shooting as a lightning rod incident after a year of escalating violence against Asian people across the country in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Asian bias incidents have seldom been reported on the island itself, the ripple effect on our widely dispersed seasonal residents is evident, as it has been with families across the rest of Long
Island. In response, Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini announced the creation of a Hate Crime Task Force earlier this week to confront this aggressive trend.
As diverse as our three interviewed subjects are in background and opinions, there is agreement that anti-Asian sentiment is long entrenched in our country’s history, and that the former President Trump’s administration enabled a resurgence of it.
“It’s an offshoot of manifest destiny and has always been in the background,” says Lem. “The rise in violence is a direct result of the political divide that has brought it back into the open.”
Chiu supports Lem’s thoughts with historical references: “The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and when Vincent Chin was beaten to death in the 1980s and his killers never received jail time. Then you have a U.S. President saying ‘Wuhan Virus’ and ‘Kung Flu.’ And the stereotypes can become even more magnified within the LBGTQ community,” he added. “Back in college I would go to clubs with my friends and the doormen would ask us to show ID as a means to deny us entry. I also remember the age of newspaper personal ads before online dating, and the often repeated phrase, ‘No fats, no fems, no Asians.’ How can you just exclude an entire race of people?”
Born of mixed race, Rosenbaum has a slightly different take. “Asian and Jewish, I have the double whammy,” she joked. With Spanish European and Chinese heritage, Rosenbaum spent her formative years in the Philippines. The rising threat of kidnappers in the archipelagic republic brought her to the U.S. 35 years ago.
“I know what it’s like to be afraid for my life. The human race can be either wonderful or horrible,” she said. “My heart ached for Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, as it did for the family in Ocean Beach that experienced a racist incident this summer, and my heart is broken now. The Trump administration unleashed a dangerous ideology that created this monstrous culture. It’s scapegoating; let’s call it for what it is. This is not about somebody ‘having a bad day.’”
So where do we go with this?
“Another shooting has already happened and public memory is short,” Lem mused. “We have to go forward.”
“Silence is being complicit,” said Rosenbaum.
“What we lack in this movement is central leadership,” Chiu stated. “Hatred is much more infectious than the coronavirus, and will persist long after it has past.”
The office of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, in partnership with the Suffolk County Asian American Advisory Board, has organized a Stop Asian Hate rally at the H. Lee Denison Building, on Saturday, March 27, at noon.
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