Promoting Education and Awareness: The Anti-Asian Racism Town Hall at Bronx Science

S.O. Cabinet President-Elect Skye Lam ’22 and S.O. Cabinet Chair Mamadou Barry ’22 partnered with members of the student body to conduct an Anti-Asian Racism Town Hall regarding the recent spike in racism towards Asians and anti-Asian fueled hate crimes across America.

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Jaymie Paredes

In preparation for the Town Hall, members of the different committees come together to finalize plans. (Student names are organized left to right and up to down): Skye Lam ’22, Mamadou Barry ’22, and Edie Fine ’21 are members of the S.O. Cabinet; Angelina Chen ’24, Reese Villazor ’21, Giyun Hong ’21, Jaymie Paredes ’21, and Caleb Yam ’21 are members of the Educational Committee; Mia Goldberg ’22, Bonnie Huang ’22, and Nicolas Kim ’22 are members of the Discussion Committee; Victoria Diaz ’22, Regan Toriello ’22, Tiffany Zheng ’22, Mysha Rahman ’22, and Avery Look ’21 are members of the Promotional Committee.

With a spike in the number of anti-Asian hate crimes across America during the past year, youth activism has been vital in keeping the public aware. On April 29th, 2021, Bronx Science held an Anti-Asian Racism Town Hall to spread awareness about this crucial issue. The S.O. Cabinet, the Student Diversity Committee, the Anti-Racist Coalition, the Filipino Culture Club, Lunar New Year Productions, and the Asian American Association at Bronx Science all participated in preparation for the Town Hall. 

The Anti-Asian Racism Town Hall was divided into three main sections. First, moderators conducted a Question & Answer session with two guest speakers, Congresswoman Grace Meng and Doctor Kevin Nadal. Following this, members of the Asian American Association conducted a presentation that compared proactive and reactive activism. Finally, the event ended with an opportunity for participants to discuss topics relating to the Asian and Asian-American experience in a safe virtual space. 

Question and Answer Session with Congresswoman Grace Meng

To begin, Bonnie Huang ’22 and Angelina Chen ’24 moderated a Q&A with Congresswoman Meng, who played a pivotal role in passing House Resolution 151. The resolution ensured that local Asian community groups received adequate funding and support.

Congresswoman Meng later discussed her experience of being an Asian female politician surrounded by white male politicians. Despite her initial feelings of insecurity as a result of being in a room full of people who looked nothing like her, she now reminds herself about the reason she is there in the first place. “I have been voted in for a reason,” said Congresswoman Meng. “Even though my background is different, I represent a constituency and district [full of people] whose voices have not always been heard.” 

She also expressed the importance of alliances between the Asian and Black communities. “During last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, a lot of young people, including me, had our very first authentic conversations with our own families about race,” she said. “It was not easy, but it was important.” She calls on younger generations to take the initiative by making it clear to older generations that the Asian and Black communities stand in solidarity with one another.

Question and Answer Session with Doctor Kevin Nadal

Reese Villazor ’21 and I moderated a Q&A with Dr. Nadal, who is a professor, researcher, and author. He studies the effect of micro-aggressions on the mental and physical health of marginalized groups of people. Micro-aggressions refer to subtle forms of discrimination and can take on different forms in everyday interactions. To expand on this idea, he said, “As Asian-Americans, you might experience exoticization, tokenization, or sexualization, especially if you are a woman or queer person.” 

The subtlety of micro-aggressions is what makes them so dangerous, especially because they can be dismissed or ignored more easily than overt forms of racism. “It is problematic that it has taken hate crimes and people to get killed for everyone to start talking about Asian-American issues,” said Dr. Nadal.

Dr. Nadal has also done extensive research on the Model Minority Myth, and he discusses this idea in further detail in his book Filipino-American Psychology: A Handbook of Theory, Research, and Clinical Practice. The Model-Minority Myth is based on the false notion of universal success among members of the Asian-American community. 

“While there are some subgroups [in the Asian-American community] that are doing well, there are others who are not,” said Dr. Nadal. “As a result of this stereotype, there are many Asian-Americans who are left out of conversations and not given the same types of support services.” In the same way that micro-aggressions make Asian-American issues invisible, the Model Minority Myth makes the diversity within the Asian-American community invisible.

Reflection on the Question and Answer Session

Villazor was pleased with the number of students who showed up in support of their Asian-American peers at the Town Hall, but Villazor is aware that this is just the beginning. “The fact that we are having this Town Hall, where we are actively engaging in conversations around anti-Asian racism, is an important and essential first step,” she said. “But there is still work to be done, and I cannot wait for all of us to be a part of it.”

At the same time, Villazor recognizes the heavy burden that members of the Asian-American community carry when constantly engaging in conversations about identity. “As Asian-Americans, we not only have to fight for validation that our experiences exist in the first place,” she said. “But we also have to speak up about these incidents, which can be very emotionally draining.” As much as she acknowledges the importance of speaking up against anti-Asian racism and violence, doing so should not come at the expense of one’s emotional or mental wellbeing. 

Addressing the audience members of the Asian Racism Town Hall at Bronx Science, Villazor said, “I am proud of you for being willing to engage with this topic. I hear you, I feel you, and I understand the experiences that you may also be going through.”

Proactive Versus Reactive Activism Presentation by the Asian American Association

Giyun Hong ’21 and Caleb Yam ’21, President and Secretary of the Asian American Association respectively, distinguished between proactive and reactive activism in their Town Hall presentation. While reactive activism refers to a response after a devastating event has occurred, proactive activism refers to an attempt to prevent such an event from occurring in the first place. 

“With many Asian Americans dealing with exposure to violence against our community, emotions are running high,” said Hong. “Without the right type of discussion, it is easy to get overwhelmed.” 

Hong emphasized the dangers of viewing activism solely as protests, which is an example of reactive activism. “After someone experiences the emotional relief after a protest, their drive to make change will decrease,” they said. “Activism is purposefully framed this way to prevent communities from enacting real life change.” Therefore, they instead urge the public to organize in proactive ways as a means to combat racism in the long run.

Safe Space Discussion

Mia Goldberg ’22, Bonnie Huang ’22, and Nicolas Kim ’22 held a safe space discussion regarding different aspects of Asian-American identity using the Breakout Room function on Zoom. The topics of the breakout rooms included discussions about personal experiences with racism, inter-minority racism, and overall identity, involving micro-aggressions and stereotypes.

With an abundance of news that covers violence against the Asian-American community, it comes as no surprise that members of the community feel anxiety, fear, and other overwhelming emotions. “Safe spaces allow us to feel less alone in these times of uncertainty and find comfort without judgement or critique,” said Goldberg. 

Aside from providing necessary emotional support, safe spaces provide a sense of unity and solidarity. “They build strength within our community and amplify the voices of those who are not typically heard,” said Goldberg. The moderators decided to place emphasis on Asian-American voices, especially considering the aforementioned invisibility that members of the community feel in America as a whole. 

Meanwhile, Kim was the moderator of the breakout room that discussed inter-minority racism. Safe spaces encourage alliances in the sense that people of color can unite against fighting systemic issues of white supremacy. He said, “The discussion made it clear that the struggles of minorities against structures of white supremacy are deeply personalized and interwoven.” 

S.O. President-Elect Skye Lam’s Reflection on the Town Hall

Conducting the Asian Racism Town Hall was a unique experience. “This was one of the first times that the S.O. Cabinet reached out to the student body to help plan for an event,” said Skye Lam ’22. “Everyone on the planning committee was completely dedicated to ensuring the success of the Town Hall.” The Town Hall’s success can be attributed to weeks of preparation, effective leadership, and teamwork.

“In total, we had over five hundred members of the Bronx Science community showing their support across our livestream on Zoom and on YouTube,” said Lam. “The Asian Racism Town Hall had great turnout that will hopefully spark the change needed to make our world a better place.”

Click HERE to watch the Anti-Asian Racism Town Hall in its entirety.

“The fact that we are having this Town Hall, where we are actively engaging in conversations around anti-Asian racism, is an important and essential first step. But there is still work to be done, and I cannot wait for all of us to be a part of it,” said Reese Villazor ’21.

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