Lee Wong, Town Official Who Bared His Military Scars to Stand Up Against Asian Hate, Explains Why He Did It
From 20 years of service in the U.S. Military to holding a publicly elected position in his Ohio township today, Lee Wong says he has had enough of people telling him he doesn't look American.
“For the first time, I felt I wasn’t safe,” said 69-year-old Lee Wong, who revealed his patriotism at a board meeting for his Ohio township last week by raising his shirt and displaying scars he earned from his service in the U.S. Military. After the veteran and chair of West Chester’s board of trustees’ story went viral, he spoke to Inside Edition Digital about why he made that impassioned speech.
Wong explained that he has lived in West Chester Township since 2001. His town is unique, in that instead of a city council, they have an elected, three-member board of trustees, all of whom have equal say in governing the town. He became publicly elected into one of those positions in 2005.
“I’m very lucky, my township is very good,” he said. “I would say over 90% are Caucasian people. I love them, they love me.”
Despite having felt at home in West Chester Township all these years, he said anti-Asian discrimination around the country, which has been recently amplified by the coronavirus pandemic, has always bothered him.
“They still treat me like a second-class citizen,” he said. “Like I don’t look American. What Americans should look like? It makes up all kinds of people, different faces, color, background. This is why they make our country strong. Diversity.”
In the aftermath of the Atlanta spa shootings, which targeted Asian American businesses and left six Asian American women dead, Wong decided it was time to stand up and say something.
“It was just a normal meeting, sleepy town meeting, five people sitting there,” he recalled. “At the end is my trustee comment time, so I thought, Well, let me say something. I was not prepared for it. I didn't even have a script. It was just I wanted to say something but it is a tough subject to talk about.”
Caught up in the heat of the moment, he decided to bare his chest and reveal extensive scarring he acquired in his 20 years serving the U.S. Military.
“I was in basic training,” Wong recalled. “You get onto the ground, low crawl, and you got cut up on a sharp object. I didn't think much of it at first. I thought, oh, just a few cuts, but [they] got infected and stuff like that.”
During his service, he also took a position as military police, and eventually a criminal investigations special agent (CIDs).
“I served my country honorably for 20 years, 24/7, active duty,” Wong said. “I'm very lucky to get this scar because there are other people, colleagues, that never came back, who lost a limb, legs, got killed. Those are the real heroes.”
Despite a lifetime of service to the country – both in the military and today as a public servant – Wong explained that he too had once been a victim of a hate crime when he was living in Chicago in his 20s. “It was a plain, unprovoked attack,” Wong recalled. “In the court, he was not punished. I had to go to a hospital.”
He was reminded of the incident recently when friends and family members from around the country called him to say they didn’t feel safe sitting in restaurants or walking through Chinatowns.
“Just turn on a news station or social media – everywhere, attacks on Asian Americans, day and night,” Wong said. “It's going on for years, but it definitely escalated in the last couple of years. The mishandling of coronavirus, and then they all blame it on China. And then they're bringing it to us, Asian Americans, who are law-abiding citizens. We are good people.”
Nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate has been tracking incidents of hate against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and recorded more than 3,000 incidents of “verbal harassment, discriminatory treatment, threats, intimidation, and some physical assaults” around the country between March and December of 2020, the organization’s co-founder Cynthia Choi told Inside Edition Digital.
“We're seeing that vulnerable members of our community, including women and the elderly, are being attacked while living under this pandemic while they're at the grocery stores, when they're out on public streets, walking around their neighborhood, the few places that we are allowed to go during this pandemic,” Choi explained, “And it doesn't seem to be stopping.”
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