A local official in Ohio has gone viral after a powerful speech about anti-Asian American racism in which he revealed scars sustained during his service in the US military.
“For too long, I have put up with a lot of shit in silence,” said Lee Wong, a board of trustees chairman in West Chester Township, Ohio, during a meeting Tuesday. “Too afraid to speak out, fearing more abuse and discrimination.”
Wong, 69, said he felt loved by his community, but that he’d also witnessed racism against Asian Americans in the past few years becoming “worse and worse.” His remarks came after a mass shooting left eight people dead in Atlanta, including six Asian women, as well as a documented rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans during the pandemic.
Even after serving his country, Wong said he has experienced discrimination from people who questioned his loyalty 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,” Wong said. “People question my patriotism, that I don’t look American enough. They cannot get over this face.”
Wong described an incident that occurred several years after he’d arrived in the US from Borneo at age 18, in which he was beaten by a man in Chicago who was never punished for the crime.
The traumatic event changed the course of his life, Wong said, adding he went on to serve 20 years of active duty in the US Army.
“I’m not afraid, I don’t have to live in fear, [of] intimidation, or insults,” Wong said. “I’m going to show you what patriotism, the questions about patriotism, looks like.”
Wong then rose from his chair and removed his shirt to reveal visible scars across his chest, sustained in the line of duty.
“Here is my proof,” he said. “Now is this patriot enough? I’m not ashamed to walk around anymore.”
The powerful clip went viral after it was shared by an Associated Press reporter who is also a veteran. In response, people thanked Wong for his service and for speaking out about the rise in hate against Asian Americans.
Wong told the Cincinnati Enquirer that his speech was not planned, but he was inspired to speak after the Atlanta shootings and other anti-Asian violence.
“In that moment, I don’t know what came over me. I just knew I had to say something,” Wong told the Enquirer, also recalling a recent incident at a grocery store in which a father and son mocked his eyes.
Wong said told the Enquirer he’s grateful for the positive response and support he’s received following 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 rhetoric.”
BuzzFeed News’ requests for comment from Wong were not immediately returned Sunday.
You can watch Wong’s full remarks around the 25 minute mark.