"I'm not afraid; I don't have to live in fear, [of] intimidation or insults," he said. "I'm going to show you what patriotism looks like."
An Ohio official's moving speech about anti–Asian American racism took the internet by storm last week. Lee Wong, a board of trustees chairman in West Chester Township, made a powerful case against the recent wave of hate crimes across the United States during a meeting Tuesday when he revealed scars sustained during his service in the US military. "For too long, I have put up with a lot of sh*t in silence," the 69-year-old said. "Too afraid to speak out, fearing more abuse and discrimination." Wong explained that while he felt loved by those in his community, he'd also been witnessing racism against Asian Americans becoming "worse and worse" in the past few years.
"Now is this patriot enough?” asked Ohio official Lee Wong. https://t.co/XWKChn848t— HuffPost (@HuffPost) March 27, 2021
Wong's speech came days after a gunman opened fire at three massage spas in the Atlanta area, killing eight people — six of whom were women of Asian descent. Wong revealed that he has faced questions about his patriotism ever since coming to the U.S. after graduating from high school and that as a college student in the 1970s, he was attacked by a White man hurling anti-Asian insults at him. The man was never punished for the crime.
"People question my patriotism, that I don’t look American enough," Lee Wong, an elected official in Ohio, said at a public meeting. He lifted his shirt to show scars that he said he got in the U.S. Army.— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 29, 2021
"Here is my proof. Now is this patriot enough?" https://t.co/mGKbf1nKD9
The discrimination continued throughout his life, he said, recalling the time his application to be a police officer was immediately thrown into the trash as the officers laughed about the "Chinaman" who wants to be a policeman. Even after serving 20 years of active duty in the US Army, Wong said he has experienced discrimination from people who questioned his loyalty to the nation because of his race. "There are some annoying people that would come up to me and say that I don't look American, or patriotic enough," he said. "People question my patriotism, that I don't look American enough. They cannot get over this face."
Lee Wong, chairman of the West Chester, Ohio, Township Board of Trustees, condemned anti-Asian violence during an unscripted moment that has gone viral. https://t.co/KgN8nZIHBZ— NBCWashington (@nbcwashington) March 28, 2021
"I'm not afraid; I don't have to live in fear, [of] intimidation or insults," Wong continued. "I'm going to show you what patriotism, the questions about patriotism, looks like." Removing his tie and unbuttoning his shirt, he said: "Here is my proof." Wong then stood up while raising his undershirt to reveal a large dark scar across his chest. "This is sustained through my service in the U.S. military. Now is this patriot enough?" he asked. Buttoning his shirt back up, Wong added: "Prejudice is hate. And that hate can be changed. We are human."
Lee Wong, an elected official in West Chester, Ohio & @USArmy veteran with 20-years of service, took his shirt off during a town hall meeting on Wednesday and revealed scars he received during his service. “Is this patriot enough?” he asked #StopAsianHate https://t.co/3nCwTlVGxD pic.twitter.com/0R1TX3MTtp— James LaPorta (@JimLaPorta) March 26, 2021
"We need to be kinder, gentler to one another. Because we are all the same. We are one human being on this Earth," he concluded. As Wong's speech went viral after it was shared by Associated Press reporter James LaPorta — who is also a veteran — netizens thanked the local official for his service and for speaking out about the rise in hate toward Asian Americans. "No one should prove how 'American' they are to deserve dignity and respect. But damn. Lee Wong went hard on them and it is very satisfying to watch," tweeted Jenny Yang.
"When will Americans who DO NOT look white, blonde, and blue-eyed, be accepted for being American? This is infuriating that a distinguished Veteran of our armed services is compelled to have to prove himself to his peers that he is American enough. Thank you for your service, Mr. Wong," wrote one Twitter user. Speaking to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Wong explained why he decided to bare his scars and speak on the topic. "The timing was right in light of what's happening in this country. In that moment, I don't know what came over me," he said. "I just knew I had to say something." He added that he's grateful for the positive response and support he's received since his speech. "People thank me for my service. People are glad I spoke," Wong said. "West Chester is a diverse community, and we don't need that kind of [anti-Asian] rhetoric."