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Turning anti-Asian trauma into power

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Posted at 12:01 PM, Jun 09, 2022

At some point, everyone walks with trauma.

Reverend Boyung Lee, an academic dean at Denver’s Iliff School of Theology, is no different. She walked daily as a way to spiritually connect with her late husband. 

“I was walking, and then there was a truck. I noticed a very dirty truck with the American flag,” she said. “He was saying anti-Chinese slurs. And I’m not Chinese. Then he started yelling at me with anti-Asian slurs, including, ‘Go back to your country,’ and, ‘Don’t spread the disease,’ and those things.” 

Lee ran home shaken. She wouldn’t walk around the block again for months. 

The incident occurred in May 2020, two months after COVID-19 forced the world to shut down. At the same time, there was a spike in hate against Asian Americans.

“I just didn’t even feel comfortable to go to the grocery store,” Lee said. “I was covering myself with hats and scarves and even glasses and a mask so that people couldn’t tell what my race and ethnicity was.” 

The group Stop AAPI Hate received reports of more than 10,000 incidents of hate between March 2020 and December 2021. Hundreds of victims were elders. Thousands were women, twice as many than men.

“My parents who live in the bay area don’t go to Oakland, Chinatown anymore. And they used to go there on a regular basis,” said Jennifer Ho, a professor
of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado. “This is in keeping with the violence that has begun really since the 19th century when Asian Americans first came to the U.S.” 

Ho built an entire course about anti-racism that’s free on Coursera.

Lee is also fighting Asian hate. She up to curate an art exhibit that amplified the work of AAPI artists. It’s called “Invisible / Hypervisible.” Last fall, it brought crowds to Denver. This spring, it brought them to Boulder. 

“We don’t want to feel helpless. And when you see so much violence happening, you know, I think there are people like me who want to do something, want to act, ” Lee said. “That’s very important to me that we don’t be defined by our experience with trauma, but how trauma – we can work together.”