ASIAN AMERICANS OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY

Over the last several months, we’ve seen a disturbing rise in attacks against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 global pandemic. We at MetroFocus, first reported on these stories of hate with Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, who shared firsthand, the racism she and her constituents have faced since the arrival of the coronavirus. Then we explored the links between today’s climate, and America’s often dark history of anti-Asian hate with comedian and activist Hari Kondabolu. But tonight, in anticipation of Monday’s premiere of a new PBS series, Asian Americans and the launch of an online initiative called Asian Americans of New York and New Jersey, we’d like to broaden the conversation to include all stories about the Asian American experience in our region. Check your local listings for the air dates and times you can catch the PBS series on Thirteen and WLIW, and visit us at WLIW.ORG/ASIANAMERICANSNYNJ to add your own story to the ones we’ve already received, that are featured tonight.

Aired on May 8, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

> OVER THE LAST SEVERAL MONTHS WE'VE SEEN A DISTURBING RISE OF ATTACKS AGAINST ASIAN-AMERICANS DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC.

REPRESENTATIVE FROM CHINATOWN TOLD US ABOUT RACISM HER CONSTITUENTS HAVE FACED.

COMEDIAN AND DOCK MEN TARYN TALKED ABOUT OUR PRESENT REALITY AND AMERICA'S SOMETIMES DARK PAST.

TONIGHT WE'D LIKE TO CHANGE THE CONVERSATION.

IN AN TIGS, ASIAN-AMERICANS, LAUNCHING AN INITIATIVE CALLED ASIAN-AMERICANS OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY.

CHECK YOUR LOCAL LISTINGS FOR THE AIR DATE.

VI SEE FIRST PERSON STORIES ABOUT THE ASIAN-AMERICAN EXPERIENCE IN OUR REGION AND TO SHARE YOUR OWN STORIES.

HERE IS A LOOK AT SOME OF THE STORIES WE'VE ALREADY RECEIVED.

I AM OF KOREAN DESCENT, FIRST MOVED TO ELIZABETH, NEW JERSEY, IN THE EARLY '70 SZ AND MOVED TO EDISON.

I GREW UP IN NEW JERSEY BUT WENT TO COLLEGE IN BOSTON.

THERE WAS THE KENNEDY LURE, THE KENNEDY IDEALISM OF THE '60s WAS AN INFLUENTIAL FORCE IN MY LIFE.

LATER I WAS FORTUNATE TO RUN FOR SENATOR BILL BRADLEY WHEN HE RAN FOR PRESIDENT IN 2000.

I RAN FOR MAYOR OF EDISON IN 2005, THE FIFTH LARGEST MUNICIPALITY IN NEW JERSEY.

WHEN I WAS FIRST ELECTED IN 2005, THE MEDIA TOLD ME I WAS THE FIRST POPULARLY ELECTED MAYOR OF KOREAN DESCENT IN THE CONTINUITIAL UNITED STATES.

THAT WASN'T THE REASON I RAN.

IT WAS THAT I SAW AN OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN MY HOMETOWN.

WE MADE VERY GOOD IMPACTS.

WE'VE IMPROVED GOVERNMENT SERVICES.

AS ASIAN-AMERICANS WE SHOULD REALLY CONSIDER OURSELVES AMERICANS, THAT WE ARE AMERICAN CITIZENS WITH NOT JUST THE RIGHTS OF AMERICAN CITIZENS, BUT THE RESPONSIBILITY TO HELP SHAPE AMERICA FOR THE BETTER.

MY NAME IS OLIVIA MORITANI BORN AND RAISED IN PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA, JAPANESE AMERICAN, THIRD GENERATION.

I CAN REMEMBER GROWING UP IN PHILADELPHIA, NORTHEAST PHILLY AS THE TOKEN ASIAN-AMERICAN.

THERE WAS NOT A GREAT DEAL OF DIVERSITY AT THAT TIME.

ONE OF MY EARLIEST MEMORIES WAS COMING HOME FROM SCHOOL AND HAVING SOME BOYS CHASING AFTER ME AND THROWING ROCKS AT ME AND BLAMING ME FOR THE BOMBING OF PEARL HARBOR.

I NEVER TOLD MY PARENTS ABOUT IT, BUT I CAN REMEMBER LISTENING TO MY FATHER WHO AT THAT TIME WAS AN ATTORNEY AND WAS VERY INVOLVED IN CIVIL RIGHTS ALWAYS TALKING ABOUT STANDING UP FOR PEOPLE.

ONE OF MY FAVORITE STORIES THAT HE HAD TOLD ME BECAUSE HE WAS SUCH A GREAT INFLUENCE OF ME WAS WHEN HE WAS A VOLUNTEER CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY DOWN IN THE DEEP SOUTH, SENT THERE TO HELP DESEGREGATE ONE OF THE SCHOOL SYSTEMS.

THEY HAD NEVER SEEN AN ASIAN-AMERICAN IN THIS TOWN.

SO THEY DIDN'T KNOW, WAS HE ALLOWED TO DRINK OUT OF THIS WATER FOUNTAIN, WHERE WAS HE TO BE SEATED ON THE BUSMENT MY FATHER ALSO WAS THE FIRST ASIAN-AMERICAN JUDGE TO BE APPOINTED TO THE COURT SYSTEM IN A GENERAL JURISDICTION.

HE WAS A JUDGE OF THE COMMON PLEAS COURT IN PHILADELPHIA.

TWO YEARS AFTER HIS APPOINTMENT HE RAN FOR RE-ELECTION AND WAS UNANIMOUSLY ELECTED TO THE BENCH FOR A TEN-YEAR TERM.

HE HAD SERVED IN THE MILITARY.

HE WAS IN POST WORLD WAR II OCCUPATION OF JAPAN AND WORKED IN MILITARY INTELLIGENCE.

THEY, HOWEVER, MADE HIM A JAPANESE INTERPRETER BECAUSE HE WAS OF JAPANESE-AMERICAN ANCESTRY.

HE ACTUALLY DIDN'T SPEAK JAPANESE.

HE HAD TO TAKE THE CRASH COURSE, AND THAT'S HOW HE MET MY MOTHER WHO IS ESAI, BORN IN JAPAN, FIRST GENERATION.

WHEN HE CAME BACK TO THE UNITED STATES, THEY CORRESPONDED A LOT BACK AND FORTH, AND HE HAD TO GET THE LAWS CHANGED SO SHE COULD EMIGRATE TO THE U.S.

HE JOINED THE JAPANESE AMERICAN CITIZENS LEAGUE AND ENDED UP BECOMING LEAGUE COUNCIL.

AS COUNCIL FOR THE JACL, HE WAS ADMITTED TO ARGUE AN AMICUS BRIEF BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT IN VIRGINIA, THE ANTI MISCEGENATION LAW.

IT STRUCK DOWN MISCEGENATION IN 17 STATES AND FOUND IT TO BE UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

ONE OF THE OTHER GREAT ACHIEVEMENTS MY FATHER HAD DONE, HE SERVED ON PRESIDENT CARTER'S COMMISSION ON WARTIME RELOCATION AND INTERNMENT OF CITIZENS.

I CAN REMEMBER AS HE TRAVELED AROUND THE COUNTRY AND COLLECTED STORIES OF FORMER INTERNEES HOW MUCH THIS AFFECTED HIM.

HE COULD NEVER SPEAK ABOUT THEIR STORIES WITHOUT GETTING TEARFUL.

HE ENCOURAGED ME TO READ -- THERE'S A HUGE BOOK THAT HAS ALL THEIR STORIES THAT HAD THE COMMITTEE FINDINGS AND INCLUDED THE STORIES OF THE INTERNEES.

HE ENCOURAGED ME TO READ THAT.

IT WASN'T UNTIL LATER THAT I FOUND OUT MY FATHER WAS ALSO AN INTERNEE AS A TEENAGER WITH HIS MOTHER.

EVEN THOUGH I KNEW WE WERE THE ONLY PEOPLE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD THAT WOULD CELEBRATE BOYS DAY WITH FLYING CARP AND GIRLS DAY WITH THE DOLLS OUT THERE AND EATING WEIRD THINGS LIKE DRIED SEAWEED, IT WAS NEAT TO BE UNIQUE LIKE THAT.

MY FATHER'S EXPERIENCES AND THE TENETS THAT HE INSTILLED IN ALL OF THIS OF HARD WORK AND HONESTY THAT THINGS WILL EVENTUALLY COME AROUND AND JUSTICE WILL WIN OUT, HELPED ME BECOME A STRONGER PERSON.

I THINK I BECAME A LITTLE BIT MORE EMPATHETIC AND UNDERSTANDING WHEN PEOPLE WOULD SAY OR DO CERTAIN THINGS THAT THIS WAS DONE OUT OF IGNORANCE.

MY NAME IS GINNY MENTELLO, BORN AND RAISED IN THE COSMOPOLITAN CITY OF MUMBAI OR BOMBAY.

IT'S VERY KROUTDED AND OVERPOPULATED AND VERY DIVERSE.

MUCH LIKE A LOT OF INDIA, IT'S REALLY SENSORY OVERLOAD.

YOU FIND CONSTANTLY VIBRANT COLORS AND LOTS OF NOISES, PARTICULARLY HONKING OF CARS.

MY PARENTS WERE BOTH PROFESSIONAL AND THEY'RE TRANNINGFULLY STILL ALIVE AND RETIRED, LIVING IN NEVADA WITH MY SISTER.

MY MOM IS A PHYSICIAN AND DAD TRAINED AS A MECHANICAL ENGINEER.

THEY CAME FROM VERY -- NOT JUST EDUCATED, BUT VERY LEARNED FAMILIES.

AND I REMEMBER MY MATERNAL GRANDPA ACTUALLY CITED THE SCRIPTURE, THE ANCIENT VEDAS AND ACTUALLY TAUGHT ME WHEN I WAS LITTLE AND STAYED WITH HIM FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS WHEN MY PARENTS WERE FINISHING THEIR HIGHER EDUCATION BACK IN ENGLAND.

SO GROWING UP I WATCHED MY PARENTS WORK REALLY HARD AND SACRIFICE FOR THEIR FAMILIES, AND THEY TAUGHT US THINGS LIKE BEING KIND AND HUMBLE.

FOR US GROWING UP, THE ONLY ONE REQUIREMENT THAT THEY HAD WAS WE HAD TO WORK REALLY HARD AND DO REALLY WELL IN SCHOOL.

I SORT OF REMEMBER DAD TELLING ME AS WE WERE GROWING UP AND TELLING ALL OF US, THE ONLY ONE THING THAT WILL STAY WITH YOU FOREVER -- THINGS WILL COME AND GO.

YOUR WEALTH WILL COME AND GO.

BUT YOUR KNOWLEDGE AND O YOUR WISDOM WILL STAY WITH YOU FOREVER.

I WOULD SAY MY UPBRINGING WAS MORE SPIRITUAL THAN RELIGIOUS.

MY DAD AND MOM, THEY TAUGHT US YOGA, MINDFULNESS, MEDITATION SINCE WE WERE REALLY LITTLE.

I STILL REMEMBER DAD FOR MANY, MANY YEARS, INTO HIS LATE 70s, WOULD SPEND A GOOD PART OF HIS DAY IN THE MORNING DOING MEDITATION AND MINDFULNESS AND YOGA AND WALKING.

MOM TAUGHT US ABOUT EATING HEALTHY AND HEALTHY LIFESTYLES.

SO THAT REALLY BECAME A PART OF THE FABRIC OF WHO I AM AND INFLUENCED VERY MUCH WHAT I DO TODAY.

SO I GREW UP, FINISHED MY EDUCATION BACK IN BOMBAY AND THEN MOVED -- FINISHED MY MEDICAL SCHOOL THERE AND MOVED TO THE UNITED STATES AROUND 1990, TOOK MY MEDICAL BOARDS AND STARTED MY MEDICAL INTERNSHIP AT ST. VINCENT'S MEDICAL CENTER, THE THEN SINT VINCENT'S IN STATEN ISLAND.

AFTER THAT I DID FOUR YEARS OF RADIOLOGY RESIDENCY AFTER WHICH I WENT TO THE BRONX TO DO A FELLOWSHIP IN NEURORADIOLOGY AT MONTH VEER HOSPITAL AND ALBERT EINSTEIN COLLEGE OF MEDICINE.

IN 1992 WHILE I WAS STILL IN TRAINING, I HAD MY DAUGHTER.

I'M PROUD TO SAY SHE IS NOW A FULL-FLEDGED PHYSICIAN DOING HER RESIDENCY IN PSYCHIATRY AT NYU.

IT'S REALLY WONDERFUL AND MAKES ME VERY, VERY PROUD.

SO IN 1999 I MOVED BACK TO STATEN ISLAND.

IN 2000 I MARRIED MY CURRENT HUSBAND AND HAD MY TWO BOYS.

AS MY JOURNEY CONTINUED, WHEN MY BOYS STARTED TO GO TO SCHOOL, MY DAUGHTER WAS THEN IN HIGH SCHOOL.

SHE WENT TO A SPECIALIZED HIGH SCHOOL IN STATEN ISLAND.

I REMEMBER HER SAYING TO ME ONE DAY, MOM, YOU LEARNED MINDFULNESS AND MEDITATION AND YOGA FROM YOUR DAD.

HOW ABOUT HELPING ME PUT TOGETHER HEALTH AND FITNESS WEEK AT MY SCHOOL.

IT ALSO HELPED ME REALIZE THE NEED IN MY COMMUNITY.

I STARTED TO VOLUNTEER.

I STARTED TO HAVE HEALTH FAIRS AND DO WORKSHOPS IN THE COMMUNITY, ACTUALLY INVITE PEOPLE OVER TO TALK TO THEM ABOUT HEALTHY LIFESTYLE.

THE CURRENT BOROUGH PRESIDENT WHO IS NOW A COUNCILMAN, HE HEARD ABOUT WHAT I WAS DOING.

IN 2014 WHEN HE BECAME THE BOROUGH PRESIDENT, HE APPROACHED ME AND ASKED ME IF I WANTED TO OVERSEE HIS HEALTH PLATFORM.

YOU KNOW WHAT THEY SAY.

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR.

ALL OF A SUDDEN I HAD ALMOST 500,000 PEOPLE IN THE BOROUGH OF STATEN ISLAND THAT I HAD THE ABILITY TO IMPACT IN TERMS OF HEALTH AND WELLNESS.

I GUESS THE HINDU IN ME WOULD SAY THAT NOT EVERYBODY HAS THE GOOD FORTUNE AND THE OPPORTUNITY TO BE IN THE POSITION TO BE ABLE TO HELP OTHER INDIVIDUALS AND MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN OTHER PEOPLE'S LIVES.

THIS IS WHAT WE AS HINDUS LEARN WHEN WE TALK ABOUT KARMA, YOU DO GOOD AND IT COMES BACK TO YOU MANY FOLD.

I FEEL BLESSED AND FORTUNATE TO HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN PEOPLE'S LIVED LOOIFSZ.

I'M DONNA FRIEDMAN.

I'M CHINESE AMERICAN.

BOTH MY PARENTS CAME FROM CHINA.

MY MOTHER IS FROM SHANGHAI, AND MY DAD IS FROM THING POE WHICH IS A SEAPORT SOUTH OF SHANGHAI.

I WAS BORN AND GREW UP IN FOREST HILLS QUEENS.

AT THAT TIME THERE WERE VERY FEW ASIAN-AMERICANS THERE.

MY FEELING ABOUT BEING ASIAN-AMERICAN AND EYE IDENTITY ABOUT BEING ASIAN-AMERICAN HAS CHANGED AND EVOLVED OVER THE YEARS.

I THINK IT HAS A LOT TO DO WITH HOW I FELT ABOUT MYSELF DURING DIFFERENT STAGES OF MY LIFE.

WHEN I WAS AN ADOLESCENT, I'M SURE MANY PEOPLE FEEL THE SAME WAY, YOU FEEL MORE INSECURE.

YOU DON'T HAVE A SENSE OF SELF OR CONFIDENCE.

ALL YOU WANT TO DO IS BLEND IN AND BE LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE.

WHEN I WAS ABLE TO UNDERSTAND AND EMBRACE MY PARENTS' STORIES, I REALIZED THEIR STRUGGLES.

THEY CAME FROM CHINA TO THIS COUNTRY WITH NO MONEY, PENNILESS AND THEY WORKED HARD TO GIVE ME A LIFE FILLED WITH OPPORTUNITY.

I HAVE TO SAY, WHEN I WAS MATURE ENOUGH TO UNDERSTAND THAT, MY CONNECTION TO MY ASIAN IDENTITY BECAME MUCH STRONGER.

NOT ONLY AM I PROUD TO BE ASIAN-AMERICAN, BUT I'M VERY GRATEFUL TO HAVE BEEN GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO HAVE THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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