Three Asian-American residents active in town government along with the superintendent of schools and the principal of Bedford High School expressed alarm at recent national episodes of bias, but also gratification that Bedford remains welcoming and safe.
Their comments were in response to a killing spree in the Atlanta area last week, during which a gunman murdered eight women, including six Asian-Americans. The violence spotlighted evidence of a spike in hate crimes against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders over the past year in the U.S.
Finance Committee member Erica Liu helps run a group called the Chinese-American Association of Bedford, which includes about 40 active households. Over the weekend she reached out to many of the members and reported that no one had experienced “any discrimination or hatred in Bedford. We consider ourselves extremely fortunate to live in this welcoming and friendly community. And we want it to stay that way.”
“I belong here,” asserted Select Board member Bopha Malone. “I feel like we are not perfect but here we have organizations that help to continue the conversation, educate and raise awareness. It’s really important for us to unite across racial and ethnic lines to help move racial justice forward and to talk and learn from one another.”
Alice Sun, the long-time fair-housing representative on the Housing Partnership, acknowledged that she has seen random reports of vandalism on a local Chinese-American social media group. “I personally have not experienced anything,” said Sun, who has lived or worked in Bedford for more than 30 years. “Bedford is better than some other towns.”
Liu, who was born in China and studied in Europe, said her organization “keeps keep people connected and exchanges information. We try to educate people about how to be better citizens for the town, how we can better work in the community.”
“Many people were sad or frustrated about this horrific tragedy,” said Liu. “We will take a shorter time to heal if we treat each other with more equality and respect. We all play a part in how to make it better. What we really want to wish for is to promote a positive response, how to build a more loving community. We can get scared, we can get angry, but it is up to us to make changes if we think we can do better.”
She continued, “We have a lot of commonality and maybe people can treat each other with more understanding. Let’s say, ‘OK, what can I do better to understand your position? That’s the way my community thinks things could happen—to help people heal.”
As a child, Malone related, “I experienced racism and bias, and I know that continues. Some of it I internalized, I learned to live with it. It’s sad that we are still going through this. We still have a lot of work to do. Words and language do matter.”
Malone is especially concerned about her mother, who lies about a half-hour away, doesn’t speak much English, and is “jumpy a lot.” That’s because Malone’s parents survived the Cambodian genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge for four years in the late 1970s.
Malone was born soon after the Khmer Rouge was ousted; she and her family fled to the U.S. when she was a toddler as “the country still was not safe. “It’s amazing that my parents, especially my mother, had the courage of going through that and actually taking me to escape. Now as an adult and a mother I realize the sacrifices and the risks they took to give me my freedom and opportunity.”
She noted, “This morning my daughter and I received an email from Mr. Ackerman at Lane School about this, just making everyone aware and offering resources.”
In a similar mailing to the Bedford High School community, Principal Heather Galante wrote, “My heart is heavy, but I am continuously inspired by young people who are capable of creating change at a time when we very much need it.”
Galante wrote that “as part of our social and civic expectations, our community practices the democratic principles of tolerance and activism. Silence and inaction are not an option. It is important to engage in complex conversations that lead to change. As a high school community, our conversation and learning never ends”
In a letter to the school community on Monday, Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad declared, “Please know that we may not speak out every time there is an incident, but that we spend each and every day engaging students in activities, lessons, literature, the arts, and reflection so that they understand that our human family has so much more in common and that we are where we as a species because of the contributions of individuals from every nationality, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, race, and religion.”
Sun observed that culturally, Asian-Americans place education on a pedestal. “We are a peace-loving people but we are not timid. We need to be united.”
She related that she asked members of an informal Chinese-American social-media group based in Bedford “if anybody has ever been hurt by this Asian hatred.”
There were a few incidents in response—trash bags placed at a doorway, dog excrement in a mailbox. A nine-year-old boy was taunted in school by a fellow student as the pandemic took hold. “There was nothing about people getting attacked,” she said.
Liu hopes people can get together beginning this summer to offset the mental-health impact of lockdowns. “We should have block parties or other events in the neighborhoods. Let’s walk outside and talk to each other – we all fundamentally share a lot of concerns.”
“This town welcomes so many people from so many nationalities,” she affirmed. “Let’s do something positive to bring the best out in people and to understand each other.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763