Soon after I was sworn in on Sunnyvale City Council in 2017, the nation was still in shock at outcome of the national presidential elections. On January 27, 2017, I received a poem in an email addressed to the Council members from a Sunnyvale resident, Flo Oy Wong. She introduced her poem, entitled “Hometown Racist,” by explaining she lived in Sunnyvale 54 years and that she joined a protest of the new President’s inauguration at a major intersection of our city. After a woman harassed her, she shared her experience with us about what had happened in the city we were leading. It read:
She crosses the street,
When the signal turns green.
She reaches the protesters,
With signs held high.
Her face is red.
Her head and neck,
Sink into her body
“Speak English,” she yells.
“Go back to your country.”
It is the day of the new president.
Flo Oy Wong
January 20, 2017
I responded a couple months later that it is the high calling of a poet to take the anger, fear, hope, discomfort – all the wonderful and terrible emotions that make us human – and turn them into art.
Flo and I became friends.
Tragically, more hate surfaced both in Sunnyvale and in the nation since Flo first shared her poem. In March 2020, the President of the United States posted a statement disparaging of Asian people. Researchers have since found that his works increased harsh and bigoted words targeted against Asians. Dr. Yulin Hswen analyzed on-line posts and found an alarming rise in anti-Asian sentiment after the President set a hateful tone.
When a young man in Atlanta shot 6 Asian women dead, I realized that, as hard as this news is to process, it is many times harder for my Asian friends. I remembered the advice of one of the speeches I heard in the Unity event to bring Sunnyvale residents together after a hate crime that it means a lot to members of a targeted group to get emails of support from non-affected friends.
So, I reached out to Flo to let her know she was in my thoughts and I my heart went out to the Asian women in the U.S. who were suffering.
Flo shared with me another poem. Now, four years later, her poem depicts bloodshed, not just hateful words. It is entitled “Pools of Red.”
To stop this madness, we need our leaders to speak and write words of tolerance and calm. We in the majority groups need to speak and write words of acceptance and support. I hereby implore us all: Stop Asian Hate. #StopAsianHate
Flo has now lived in Sunnyvale 58 years, was born and raised in the Bay Area. She views Sunnyvale as her home town as much as any other resident raising a family and making a life here. I will be stand with Flo as she shares her her newer and darker poem at an upcoming Sunnyvale City Council Meeting. It’s time to end hometown racism, to end all racism. #StopAsianHate