A surge in hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans has plagued the United States since March 2020, including several violent incidents in New York City. In February, a stranger slashed 61-year-old Noel Quintana’s face, from ear to ear, on a Manhattan-bound L train leaving Bedford Ave.
“I was scared, I thought I was going to die, and nobody helped me,” Quintana told ABC News, after doctors at Bellevue Hospital stitched his face back together.
Longtime Greenpoint resident and Executive Director of the Asian American Federation Jo-Ann Yoo reflects on this local incident, in which no one seemingly offered to help the victim, and no one accompanied the bleeding man, who was simply commuting to work, on his walk off the train to the ticket booth to ask for help.
“We think our neighborhood is hip, cool and immune to this type of thing. We’re not. We’re not immune to racism,” Yoo said. “That is not the Greenpoint that I know and love. Our neighborhood has changed a lot, and sometimes it’s not for better…People need to pay attention. They need to be thoughtful. it’s a really stressful time for the Asian American community. We all know what is happening throughout the city, throughout the country, people are in peril.”
When Yoo moved to Greenpoint in 1997, she remembers the grandmas she shared a block with looking out for her, guiding her to safer walking routes for her nighttime commute home. A stark contrast to March 2020, when Yoo found people doubling back from her on the sidewalk, because she was wearing a face mask before PPE was popular for civilians.
“People have threatened me when I’ve been out for walks during this pandemic,” Yoo recalled. During the first few weeks of lockdown, she stayed inside. She was freaked out, and an empty neighborhood full of closed businesses was dystopian. “I’ve had a lot of anxiety,” Yoo said, about just leaving the house over this past year. “There’s a lot of heightened awareness. I rarely go out for a walk. I am afraid. And that’s me, with all of my privileges. And yet, I live in fear in my own neighborhood because of the instances I’ve had and the microagressions I’ve dealt with.”
The fear has built up over time, many from incidents Yoo’s experienced in the neighborhood over the past few years, including countless people disrespecting her because they think, based solely on her appearance, that she works at an business she’s visiting as a customer. “Greenpoint got gentrified, the racism and microaggressions, come from people who should know better… There are a lot of microaggressions. I can’t go do laundry without someone screaming at me, demanding for help,” she said. “That’s been my experience. People will say crazy things to me, and I bet later they’re talking about how they love Korean barbecue.”
Of course, it’s not up to Yoo or the TK to solve these problems. It’s allies, and aspiring allies, and allyship looks very different in a world where we’re all socially isolated. It starts with awareness.
“White people have an image of what Asians are supposed to be doing as their jobs. I lead a leadership nonprofit organization, and I go to the laundry and people will ask how many minutes a quarter gets. And I’m like ‘I don’t know, and they scream at me. Do they think I should know because I’m Asian and I work here? There’s nothing wrong with the work people do, but what’s troublesome is that people, and it’s always white people, scream at me, because there’s an image assigned to what they think an Asian person’s job is, so when I’m of that image, people are not very nice,” Yoo said. “Service workers need to be treated with more respect, because how people in those instances have spoken to me is rude, condescending and nasty… I don’t live to serve white people. This is my neighborhood. This is my home.”
Greenpoint has a small Asian population, only 8%, so it’s up to the 92% of non-Asians locally to do the work and be better neighbors.
“People need to make conscious decisions to look at Asian Americans differently, and not to put us in a category or label us,” Yoo said. “I love my neighborhood and I will stand my ground, but the onus isn’t on me to change people’s minds. We live here. Asian Americans live here. You can’t blame potential victims. People need to change their minds and check their own racism. People need to educate themselves, and ask, why do I have these biases?”
Asian American Federation provides safety resources for potential victims of anti-Asian racism, as well as means to report and document anti-Asian hate crimes. Donations to help the Asian American Federation in their work with civic engagement, mental health resources, research and more, are also welcomed, and tax deductible. New York City has developed a resource guide as well: Stop COVID Hate: A Toolkit for Addressing Anti-Asian Bias, Discrimination, and Hate.