What started as a horrific brush with unbridled racism in New York City has been transformed into something else: A rallying cry for Asian-Americans to share their personal experiences with discrimination, and highlight the injustice of anti-Asian bigotry in the 21st century.
This weekend, New York Times reporter Michael Luo penned a heartfelt essay in which he described being angrily accosted by a stranger who demanded he “go back to China” as Luo walked to lunch with his family on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
“Maybe you don’t know this,” he wrote, addressing his anonymous heckler, “but the insults you hurled at my family get to the heart of the Asian-American experience. It’s this persistent sense of otherness that a lot of us struggle with every day.”
Luo, who was born in the United States, went on to describe both his gratitude for the outpouring of support following the incident, as well as the sense of frustration he feels knowing he’s still seen by many as an outsider.
The day after his essay was published, Luo opened the conversation he’d begun in the Times to the public, asking other Asian Americans to share their own experiences with racism.
Immediately, stories began pouring in from across Twitter, as people opened up about what it means for them to be subject to the sort of hurtful stereotypes—and overt racism—Luo described in his powerful open letter.
As Luo explained in his essay, this recent encounter with overt racism—while not his first—felt different somehow. “And, yes,” he admitted, “it probably has to do with the political climate right now.”
Political climate or not—this is 2016, and bigotry is alive and well.