Meet the 16-year old who got thousands home safely after protesting

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a spark in the Black Lives Matter movement.

The wrongful killing of George Floyd by police has resulted in protests organized in all 50 states and abroad in places like Berlin and Barcelona. Last week, with curfews in effect across the nation, protesters were met with higher rates of violence. During this time, many police agitated and arrested protesters as an attempt to suppress their voices. 

Though many are being tear-gassed and injured by the very people whose job it is to keep them safe, the compassionate American spirit continues on. This is true with protesters like Stefan Perez, a teenager from southwest Detroit who led thousands home safely after a peaceful protest. The 16-year old has since emerged as a powerful leader for the Black Lives Matter movement and even spoke to Detroit’s own mayor. 

SEE ALSO: Very Good Light stands with Black Lives Matter

But being vocal about social injustices isn’t new with Stefan. “My first few raps that I actually wrote around sixth grade were directed towards civil rights and activism,” he recalls to Very Good Light. “I used to write about how it’s unfair that we have to live like this. I talked about social injustices and systematic oppression we must endure on a day-to-day basis because of the color of our skin.” 

The high schooler didn’t plan on becoming a leader in the protests—it happened naturally. “I actually didn’t organize the protest. I just came and attended,” Stefan explains. “There was an organization that was there and I was with them at first, until I realized they wanted to keep people after curfew. This is not a problem, people protest when they want to protest, but I still wanted to make sure people got home.” 

Stefan took the moment to speak out to almost 2,000 protesters. “That was a very different type of adrenaline and I knew I had to get the people home safe because they were listening to me.”  

Stefan and friends at a protest

But it’s his devotion to his hometown that he cares for most. 

He recalls a time in life where he put himself in a predicament that led to housing insecurity. “I left the house and my mom moved out of state,” he says. “At first, I was with my grandma, but then I left and it was just me on my own.”

Stefan describes at this point living out in the streets. He was living with no money in his pocket, little to no food in his stomach, barely any clothes on his body, and couch surfing from place-to-place.  

While advocating for Black Americans, Stefan’s time living on the streets led him to also value helping out the homeless in his community. After protests, if there’s any food or water leftover, Stefan passes it out to the often-overlooked homeless population. “We do have [homeless] people that walk by and so we say, ‘Hey we’re giving out food and water. Take what you need, take what you want to sustain yourself.’ Right now, I’m fighting Black Lives Matter, social injustice, etc. and at the same time. I’m still trying to help fight the battle against homelessness and stuff like that. I’m just trying my best.”

Stefan has experienced many tragedies in his years but he knows he isn’t an isoloated case. He describes the power behind his strength to be through his brothers and sisters that have passed away. 

“I’ve lost many people through gang violence, car crashes, sickness, and jail,” he tells us. “I actually saw one of my close friends die in a drive-by shooting. They always told me that I was going to be something great all my life. But I saw me ending up like them, not being here and alive. I was going to be in a box either way, whether that was going to be a box in jail or a box in the ground.”

Stefan beat the odds that he never knew he would. “I never expected to hit 16, so the fact that I’m here made me question, ‘What does that mean?’” he says. “Every time I march—every time—I think of them, I just remember how they told me, ‘You got this.’ The death that affected me the most was my brother Reggie. He was supposed to be graduating so I’m going to walk across that stage for him. But who knew I would have walked across so many stages before I hit that graduation stage?”

Even though protesting is new to Stefan, he wants to continue doing it and working towards his future. “Besides school and music, I am also trying to support my friend’s real estate businesses. With the connections that I have now with the city, hopefully, I can get them grants and properties. This is, ironically, not just flipping houses, but flipping the community towards us. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted a peaceful protest—because I should be filled with rage, but you have to break down the system, not the buildings.” 

Finally, Stefan describes the future as being like a computer. “Everything needs to update eventually. Systems need to update, such as the police, Congress, and the government. We can achieve that if we put enough power. Even when I was given the platform and opportunity to discuss other things,  I still talked about the message. Because that’s the main focus of what we’re trying to get in there. So in five years, I hope to be alive. I hope to see the people that I’ve marched with and fought with and continuously done this stuff with alive also. I just hope that we can continuously build a future for ourselves.”

Change is coming – and Stefan proves it’s never too late (or early) to fight for it.

What it’s like to be a young Black activist in a country that forces you to grow up

Little Miss Flint collageWhen we imagine discrimination we often imagine adults, not children.

Fighting for civil rights can come in all shapes and forms—the #BlackLivesMatter initiative came to life after the wrongful killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.  When the senseless murder of Trayvon Martin occurred, the murderer, George Zimmerman, stated that he felt “threatened” and that Martin looked suspicious because he was wearing a black hoodie. While holding Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea in his hands, this young Black man was fatally shot.

Zimmerman fired his gun based on a prejudice and racist mindset that American society feeds off of. Historically, our country has dehumanized Black people. This, including children, a term called “adultification bias.” Adultification bias is described as a form of racial prejudice against minors from PoC backgrounds who are treated as more mature than they actually are by a reasonable standard of development. 

This means that the minor will oftentimes find themselves under conflict more so than not. A look at the Tamir Rice case, for example, proves this to be true. Tamir was only 12-years old and shot on sight by a police officer twice his age because he had a toy gun in his hands.

Adultification leads to a world of turmoil for Black children. While young White children are often disciplined with special considerations for age, Black children are not. According to a finding, Black children are perceived to be nearly five-times older than they are. They are 18-times more likely to be tried as an adult in court, and Black children make up 58% of children that are incarcerated in adult facilities. 

The law is designed to treat all people as equal, but the systemic racism that operates within the current bounds of the law leads to a Black child walking into a courtroom that immediately discriminates based on the color of their skin. Because of adultification discrimination, America has forced these young kids into fight or flight mode. It’s also created a new generation of young Black activists. One such person is Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny, aka Little Miss Flint, who’s become a powerful advocate for clean water and continues to use it in the current #BlackLivesMatter movement.

“The first time I used my voice to fight for human rights, I was 8 years old, marching for clean water in my hometown Flint, Michigan,” Mari tells Very Good Light

In an effort to cut costs in 2014, Flint switched its water source to the Flint River. Due to poor treatment and a lack of testing, the water caused many health issues, ranging from skin rashes to hair loss. As Flint’s citizen’s cried out to government officials, the topic was wrongfully overlooked.

As a result, Mari took to social media to raise awareness of the water crisis going on in her hometown. At the young age of 12, through activism, she is aware of the discrimination that falls upon her race. “Being a Black female activist I have found that I have to work a hundred times harder than some of my white counterparts to earn even a fraction of the attention that they get.”

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission stated that the lack of response from the government was a “result of systematic racism,” as 57% of Flint residents are Black and 41% of residents live under the federal poverty level. A town that many were not previously familiar with quickly began to make national news, and President Obama even flew to the State to address the issue, and met with Mari himself.

Through fundraising, Mari was able to share 1 million bottles of water with her city and now works with the Hydroviv-water filtration company for a more sustainable approach. As a seasoned activist, she highlights the importance of mental health during a time where America is marching nationwide. 

Little Miss Flint showcashing her water filternationIf you need to take a day off to make sure you are taking care of yourself, please do. You can’t go out to fight for justice if you are running on fumes,” she says. “I love to vibe out to music and watch anime. I also love to draw and skateboard. I have to make sure I balance myself, or else I get drained both physically and emotionally.”

While she has spent the last few years lifting up her community, she looks to her own future as well with great hope. “In five years,  I will be getting ready for my senior year of high school, applying to schools, and deciding what I want to focus on in college. I hope the world will be at a point where when Black people’s names become a hashtag, it is because they are doing something amazing, and not for being killed by the police. Lastly, I would hope that Flint finally has clean water.” 

At just 12 years old, Mari continues to be a voice for human rights. Her Instagram showcases her efforts daily, and activism runs in her family, as she just recently posted a video of her little sister leading a chant during a protest. 

While trying to understand the Black American experience from a youth’s perspective, she had one impactful thing to say: “It’s not easy,” she starts, “People can be cruel, and you have to work hard to be able to succeed, but being a Black girl in America I am magical.” 

Very Good Light stands with Black Lives Matter


We are experiencing a collective pain that’s shouted from every street across the country. The senseless murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black and Brown Americans have forced America to reckon with its past. This outrage that we’re witnessing is justified; our Black and Brown American family has experienced systemic racism in the form of violence—deeply rooted in the very fibers of our country’s foundation. It’s festered in the form of silence from those with privilege who have actively turned a blind eye when it comes to breaking this oppressive cycle. It’s decayed and permeated into our culture, one where complacency equates to complicity.

At Very Good Light we continue to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. We are a brand that was created to fight for inclusion, advocacy and diversity. And now more than ever, we demand justice from our government and are committed to continue fighting for equity, parity, agency, and visibility for our Black and Brown communities. 

Beauty has always been a powerful tool that has historically pushed culture forward. Beauty has never withered away in silence, rather, lived and breathed in utter defiance. Often countercultural, beauty has been a physical display of activism that’s challenged power and the status quo. But for centuries,  the industry has silenced Black American voices and attempted to erase Black bodies so they don’t hold space. This, while profiting off of Black culture. As a beauty industry — and as a country — we need to do better and hold each other accountable.

We will continue to support our Very Good Light family, from our interns, our freelancers, readers, followers, and editors to uplift Black American voices, tell authentic stories from the community, and be as fearless as ever. We acknowledge that it’s not enough to sit idly in these times and we are committed to understanding our responsibility by reexamining our own world views, actions, and further educating ourselves. We all must do more than stand in solidarity. We must act. We must vote. We must dismantle the current system. 

To our Black community: You are not alone. We see you. We hear you. We love you. Your lives matter. 

David Yi, editor 


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Asian Americans have never been welcome in music. In 2020 that’s all about to change

May is officially Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, celebrating the journey of Asian Pacific Americans, what they’ve accomplished, and what’s to come. For an entire week, Very Good Light is kicking off a series of Asian American stories, highlighting the future of Asian America. From Generation Z activists, healthcare workers on the front lines, music artists, and more, we’re uplifting Asian stories. We’ve partnered this week with Hate Is A Virus, a grassroots campaign that aims to raise $1 million to businesses affected by COVID-19. Together, we hope to spark conversations, change, and community. After all, the Asian American experience is the American experience. We’re in this together. For more on Hate Is A Virus, go here. 

Asian Americans in music

Photo courtesy of HIAV/talent for Very Good Light

Four years ago, a black-and-white clip of a musical number on a mid-century The Ed Sullivan Show circulated Twitter.

The guests, a female trio angelically harmonizing an American classic in coordinating sequined-hemmed outfits, would grace the variety show’s stage more times throughout their career than any other act. They were also Korean. 

SEE ALSO: Why white people are so triggered by BTS

The Kim Sisters” became the blueprint for the Korean-US crossover. Composed of the two daughters and niece of famous Korean diva, Lee Nan-Young, the group arrived in Las Vegas unable to speak English in a still-segregated America and began to sell-out venues before becoming the first Asian group to release an album in the States. Soon, Americans would stop to applaud them on the street, and compliment them on their “kimono.” The sisters would respond, ‘No, it’s a hanbok—a traditional Korean dress.”

Flashing-forward fifty years, it seems history’s repeating itself. South Korean boy band BTS incites frenzy whenever they touch down Stateside breaking records and selling out stadiums. Blackpink, a band that has hit the Coachella stage and featured on Lady Gaga’s upcoming Chromatica, is the highest charting K-Pop girl group in history. Jackson Wang, a Chinese-member from the K-pop group GOT7, sings in American-affected English over trap beats, and is enjoying solo-success in the U.S.

Asian American music, however, appears has still yet to translate. There isn’t an Asian American artist who is currently charting, or can be pointed to as a pop culture mainstay. Not that they haven’t tried. From Coco Lee to Utada Hikaru, Asian Americans have long-since attempted to conquer the American music scene, often retreating across the Pacific to find success in East Asia. It perhaps explains why the few American artists with Asian heritage – but aren’t Asian-passing – choose to keep their ethnic identities hidden. Supernovas  Bruno Mars and Nicole Scherzinger are both of Filipinx descent. Tyga is Vietnamese-Black.

“The only people who really found success in entertainment en masse were white.” – Yano

But perhaps things are changing. Rappers such as Rich Brian, movements like 88rising, singer Slayrizz, or indie stars from Keshi to Yaeji are creating a new Asian American musical identity and sound, and armed with an array of social platforms, Asian Americans are no longer at the mercy of record labels for discovery and promotion. Instead, they’re finding their own fans. 

Only a decade ago this feat was near-impossible, affirms music manager John Kim. While Kim played a significant part in K-Pop’s explosion, introducing Korean group Girls’ Generation and singer Boa Kwon to the Western market in the mid ‘00s, he admits Korean artists of the era were “too early” for major success. At the time, Hollywood still insisted white actors don yellow face — or simply whitewashed them altogether — while Asian actors were, for the most part, relegated to the same roles on screen. 

“It was bad timing [for Korean artists]. Back then and still now, the perception of Asians has always been studious, polite, keep to themselves, and then you had someone like Boa come along who sings and dances — [it was a shock],” Kim remembers of the reaction. “Now with technology stereotypes are slowly breaking for the better. No one knew what Kpop was just [back then], look at it today.”

The genre’s popularity has brought awareness to the stereotyping of Asian musicians, says Kim, facilitating a palpable shift toward inclusion. One would expect homegrown talent to welcome the progress — more eyes on Asian entertainment should mean more investment in Asian entertainers, particularly in those who don’t have to overcome the East-to-West barriers of Asia-born artists. But the flood of talent from across the Pacific hasn’t unlocked the door to mainstream approval for Asian American artists. In reality, Taiwan-American singer Pinky Swear believes it’s had the opposite effect. 

“Music from Asia is growing in the US – and that’s cool – but on the flip side, [I feel] it’s kind of continuing to exoticize Asians as a whole,” Pinky Swear (née Effie Liu) tells Very Good Light. “The message is kind of like, ‘We need to look across the pond for Asians who are popping, because the domestic ones aren’t.’” 

It also perpetuates a long-held image and expectations of Asian American artists. 

“When there is an artist of color or a certain ethnic background, there are typically assumptions that it has to display a certain ‘heritage’ or some type of social commentary,” says Nina Lee, director of publicity at entertainment firm Shorefire. To combat this, she says that the music industry at large needs to become a lot more diverse. “We need label execs, agents – folks in the industry with a voice – to step up and advocate for Asian artists, and frankly, all artists of color.”

“I still feel stereotyped, but I’d rather not play the victim.” – Yeek

Which, in turn, might give Asian Americans the agency to pursue music in the first place. For many Asian Americans with immigrant parents, a career in the arts doesn’t seem like a viable option. Long-time music supervisor and current SVP of film music at Universal Pictures Angela Leus, whose family hails from the Philippines, pegs Asian parents’ aversion to creativity on their “cultural upbringing.” 

“The arts are something that we do growing up so it looks good on a college application,” she adds. “You aren’t encouraged to make a profession out of it. I’m lucky that my parents encouraged and supported my interest in music and desire to make it my livelihood.”

Fellow Filipino-American Sebastian Caradang, known professionally as Yeek, was herded toward “financial stability” throughout his adolescence, only experiencing familial support for his career choice when music finally began to pay the bills. The singer-songwriter has long since eclipsed his parents expectations of his potential in pop music – his famous fans (read: hip hop heavyweight A$AP Rocky) earn him well-deserved cultural cache. 

Despite the industry recognition, Yeek feels as if he needs to fight preconceived notions and stigmas. 

“I still feel stereotyped, but I’d rather not play the victim,” he shares. “I want show what I am capable of off the strength of my music to make it easy for the masses to focus on what’s important – not the fact I’m Filipino-American….At the same time I’ll still be putting on for my people in the subtle-but-impactful way I’ve always wanted to.”

When singer-songwriter Jonah Yano told his Japanese mother music was more than a hobby, she advised him to “find a talented white man and stick with him.” Yano says while he was initially discouraged by his family’s objection to his pursuing a career as a performer, he’s since realized it was for his own protection. Because “the only people who really found success in entertainment en masse were white,” Yano’s parents simply couldn’t imagine an East Asian musician making any kind of living, let alone achieve chart-topping success.

But they did.

Breakout hit “Like A G6,” easily became one of 2010’s most-memorable tracks, performed by an electro-hip hop group whose Asian pride was worn on their sleeve, or articulated in their name: Far East Movement. That’s not to say the moniker was an easy victory. On a 2016 press tour to promote their album Identity, the group alleged they were told to reconsider the name ‘Far East Movement.’ Executives also advised they wear glasses to obscure their eyes, presumably so as to seem more racially ambiguous. While the name stayed, sunglasses appear to have been the compromise

“There was an identity crisis in the sense that you’re from the U.S., and you’re 100 percent American, but you don’t necessarily feel that way, and you don’t feel that people see you that way,” member Kevin Nishimura told NBC News at the time. “You get execs that say, ‘You’re too Asian, how do we make this less Asian?’”

“I think what entertainment is getting wrong with Asian Americans is similar to what they get wrong with other backgrounds,” echoes Pinky Swear, four years later. “Everyone is not defined by their ethnicity or how they look — the more we are out there, the more normalized we are, and people can learn that we are not so different from everyone else.”

Swear claims that while Asian representation in film is on the rise – from Henry Golding’s international heartthrob status to the critical success of Korean film Parasite – music is yet to show substantial progress.

Leus disagrees, revealing there’s been a conscious shift from studios toward inclusion in casting and even a diversity program enacted for composers. Nonetheless, in the pop music realm, it’s difficult for Leus to pinpoint a present day Asian musician. Society privileges what it’s used to seeing, she says, or what’s believed to be “appealing to mainstream culture.” 

“To be honest most of the major US pop artists look like they are from the Western Hemisphere,” seconds Swear, “so perhaps when an Asian American artist approaches a major label, they do not see the same potential.”

Nina Lee affirms there’s still “plenty of work to be done” when it comes to Asian representation in music, but she remains optimistic, especially as Asian-owned organizations like 88 rising, a management-recording label hybrid that champions Asian artists, gain traction. “I think we’re just now coming into this renaissance of pushing forth the careers of Asian-Americans. It’d be a sign of a much more healthy, diverse climate when there is more than just one singular label to point to that champions Asian artists. It would be nice to see Asian artists integrated in all labels and not just to hit some type of quota.”

Then again, many aspiring Asian artists may need to sell themselves of their own star power long before they win over label executives. The systemic racism rooted in entertainment means that Japanese men rarely find themselves rewarded in media depictions, and as a result,Yano feared he would never be considered a worthwhile artist. 

“I think the main [stereotype] that sticks out to me is the perception of the Asian male as non-masculine, or lesser-than all other men,” the 25-year-old explains. “It really had me convinced for a long time that because of the way I looked no one would ever take me as seriously as an artist as non-Asian men. It’s a concept I’ve since overcome, but let me tell you, it’s hard to unlearn these things.”

The new frontier, Yano believes, will be when ‘Asianness’ is no longer referenced as a point-of-difference. Most publications brand him as the “Japanese-Canadian singer,” which, to him, feels like sugar-coated othering. 

Despite his reservations, Yano acknowledges that any Asian visibility in mainstream media is progress – regardless of the intentions of those behind-the-scenes. “I still think that a lot of how Asian people are becoming integrated into media is tone deaf and stupid,” he says. “But every path to normalization is uncharted territory and therefore impossible to be done without some mistakes. How could we learn the right way if we never get anything wrong?”

It’s because modern social guidelines dictate demonstrations of “wokeness” says Pinky Swear of the recent focus on inclusion: “There has been a shift, but mostly because tolerance is being demonstrated.” Still, the unprecedented commercial and critical success of films and books such as To All the Boys I Loved Before and Crazy Rich Asians in the United States, as well as that of Asian music performers, proves there’s an appetite for Asian entertainment that is yet to be satiated.

The floodgates have burst, it’s now just a matter of keeping them open. 

Being an Asian American healthcare worker means you’re called a hero and villain

May is officially Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, celebrating the journey of Asian Pacific Americans, what they’ve accomplished, and what’s to come. For an entire week, Very Good Light is kicking off a series of Asian American stories, highlighting the future of Asian America. From Generation Z activists, healthcare workers on the front lines, music artists, and more, we’re uplifting Asian stories. We’ve partnered this week with Hate Is A Virus, a grassroots campaign that aims to raise $1 million to businesses affected by COVID-19. Together, we hope to spark conversations, change, and community. After all, the Asian American experience is the American experience. We’re in this together. For more on Hate Is A Virus, go here. 

Asian American healthcare workers

Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear scrubs.

Asian American frontline medical professionals are working to save the country despite falling victim to blatant racism.

As quarantine continues and coronavirus-related anxiety reaches fever pitch, hate crimes against Asian communities across the United States have also experienced an upswing. Asian Americans are being targeted, verbally and physically harassed at alarming frequency. It doesn’t help that President Trump’s branding of COVID-19 as “the Chinese virus” prompting insults such as, “Go back to China,” or inferring that a Chinese American reporter doesn’t belong. 

For Asian American medical professionals, weathering a pandemic on the frontlines is much more political than simply showing up to save lives. Not only do they work day-in and day-out in conditions they have never before encountered, but forced to confront and ease racial tensions in the process. A new video of Asian American healthcare workers published Tuesday, proving how these professionals are both heralded as heroes but also vilified as well. Another video from TIME tells the story of Dr. Chen Fu, a hospitalist at NYU Langone Medical Center who shared with of his experiences with racism as a health practitioner in a pandemic. “It’s tough to reconcile being both celebrated and villainized at the same time.”

Though Asians make up about 5.6 percent of the population according to the last U.S census, they compose 18% of the medical field according to a 2018 report from the Association of American Medical Colleges. They’re sacrificing their lives and putting themselves at risk for the betterment of others.

To celebrate the hardworking individuals in the medical field represented in Asian American communities, we’re uplifting 15 doctors and nurses around the country. We’ve asked them to share with us how they’re navigating this new world and what their important experiences have been. Here are their real stories: 

AJ Angelia , New Jersey, RN

I work as a registered nurse in the Intensive Care Unit of a hospital. I graduated from nursing school in May 2019 and have been working as a nurse for 10 months now.

When COVID-19 hit my hospital, it was a shock to the system. Cases were rapidly increasing, the demand for staff shifted between departments, and policies and best practices were constantly changing. In the ICU, we quickly became short-staffed. We had reached our patient capacity. 

We are required to wear surgical masks at all times. When we enter the room of a COVID-19 patient, we must don personal protective equipment for “airborne” precautions, which include: a gown, two pairs of gloves, an N95 mask, and a face shield or goggles. We put on and remove each of these items with each pass into and out of a room. In efforts to preserve PPE (personal protective equipment), other nurses and I try our best to cluster our care so that we can do our job properly while entering the room the least number of times possible.

Being Asian-American during these times has shown how false the Model Minority Myth is as we were swiftly stabbed in the back by Yellow Peril. In the context of being in the medical field as an Asian-American, I have raised my voice louder for both the safety of my colleagues facing COVID-19 head-to-head and my Asian-American brothers and sisters experiencing racism. While I have yet to experience the levels of blatant racism that I have read about — and I hope I never will — I continue to see and hear microaggressions.

Sometimes when I’m in the store to pick something up from work, I often feel that my obvious Asian ethnicity coupled with hospital scrubs marks me as a target. I wonder if the person from down the aisle will be the one to break the silence and say, “Thank you for all that you do” or, “Please don’t come any closer,” with a touch of racial slurs. 

Dagny Zhu, California, MD 

I was born in Shanghai, China, and immigrated with my parents to the U.S. at a young age. I graduated from UCLA college and from Harvard Medical School where I discovered my love for ophthalmology. I now work as a cornea, cataract, and LASIK surgeon as an owner of a practice.

We shut down our clinic and furloughed about 75% of our staff for about one month. I continued to only see urgent patients about two times a week. As a small practice owner, it has been very difficult financially because, without surgeries, our clinic does not generate any revenue, but continues to accumulate high expenses like rent. It’s been especially difficult for my staff as they have had to file for unemployment during this time to get by. Fortunately, we are slowly opening back up as non-urgent surgery restrictions have been lifted in California, but we are continuing to be very cautious and taking multiple safety precautions.

I have had colleagues who have had patients refuse to see them because of their race, so every day, I am self-conscious about how my own patients view me and whether I may experience the same. It’s disheartening to hear about people of Asian descent including children and the elderly being attacked verbally and physically solely based on their race. They have to worry not only about contracting the virus but also about being attacked whenever they leave their homes. 

There’s irony in the situation. Asian Americans make up almost 20% of medical doctors in the country, many of whom are on the front lines risking their own lives to save others. Sadly, many of them have either been personally discriminated against or had their family or friends experience first-hand attacks. Regardless, as physicians, we do not discriminate against who we treat and will continue to provide the best care possible to all our patients. 

Jerry Tsong, New York, MD

I’m an ophthalmologist and retina specialist. I’m Taiwanese-American, both of my parents are immigrants from Taiwan but I was born in New Jersey and grew up there.

I am an attending physician in a private practice in a group of other eye doctors. We operate at the local hospital and cover the ER and consulting services too. COVID-19 has been very stressful to me, my fellow doctors, and my medical teams. We have had to provide eye care to patients with new diagnoses of COVID-19, we worry about getting COVID-19 and spreading it to our loved ones, and as small business owners we worry about keeping our business afloat in the face of severely reduced numbers of patients and lost revenue. 

In March we limited our practice to only seeing emergency patients and patients with unstable eye conditions. Instead of six doctors working full-time, we reduced it to one doctor each day, and for a limited number of patients. We stopped operating except for emergency cases. We have had to deal with shortages of PPE and have had to purchase directly on Ebay and online with a huge mark-up. We reuse masks and provide masks to patients who are not wearing them.

The federal government and other government leaders have not done enough to stand up against Anti-Asian racism during the pandemic. The President and other officials calling it the “Chinese virus” is clearly inciting racism and, in turn, Asian-American discrimination. This is incredibly disturbing and flat out wrong. There is a distinction between the Chinese government and Chinese citizens in America. Just like there is a distinction between the Chinese government and Asian-Americans – totally different groups that should not be lumped together.

As doctors, we are taught to treat everyone with the same compassion and care. I do this every day when I see patients at work. It’s the same with my fellow Asian-American physicians. There’s no hesitation involved. It’s what we’re trained to do. It’s just what’s right. But it’s especially painful to experience anti-Asian-American discrimination now. This is at a time when Asian-Americans make up a significant portion of healthcare workers and are fighting the virus on behalf of all Americans.

Fortunately, I have not had anyone shout racial epithets at me or experienced violence against me. But I know it could happen anytime, anywhere. I live in New York City and I avoid going outside at night, even in “safe” neighborhoods, out of concern for my safety as an Asian-American. This is the first time that I have avoided going out at night in NYC, ever. I am also more careful and more aware of others around me.

Racism towards any one group of Americans is flat out wrong and distinctly un-American. More Americans need to realize that and other minority groups need to come together to promote this. We are all Americans.

 Kimberly Shao, Connecticut, MD

I am a Chinese-Polynesian American. I was born in the States and I grew up in New York. I went to medical school at the University of Pennsylvania and I am currently in Connecticut doing my dermatology residency.

For dermatologists, limiting face-to-face encounters while still seeing urgent in-person patients in order to steer them away from overcrowding emergency rooms is key. The majority of our patient visits have been through telemedicine, with the exception of 4-5 clinics a week seeing in-person urgent appointments.  We stopped all elective procedures, and surgery has been limited to only melanomas (which are lethal if left untreated), and high-risk squamous cell cancers.

Being in the medical field as an Asian could mean I am tasked to treat patients who hold bigoted opinions. It means that I may be confronted with harrowing news of members of my ethnicity being attacked, while I have no other moral choice other than to maintain my job and oath to help others. It means that some Asian health care workers, especially those in major cities, may be harassed on public transport on their way to risk their lives to save others. 

I called a patient the other week to let him know we needed to change his appointment to a phone visit and reschedule his in-person appointment for a later date. He became frustrated and irate. Telling me that our clinic was making a big deal out of nothing, that this “China virus is hocus pocus.” Questioning how we could be real doctors. Though I introduced myself as Dr. Shao, I wondered if he would have said the same things to my face seeing as I was Asian. The next day we saw a woman with a diffusely pruritic rash. She thanked us profusely for seeing her and for what we do as physicians. It’s definitely a strange time to be an Asian doctor. On one end, doctors are being applauded for their sacrifice. On the other end, Asians have increasingly become the target of hate crimes.

It hit home for me when it started affecting my grandma. She normally goes to a senior center in NYC for Asian women. Obviously they had to put that on hold during the pandemic, but her senior center friends stayed in touch via WeChat. They would share stories – many about the uptick in verbal and physical hate crimes towards Asians. My grandmother became afraid to leave her apartment – just as scared of the virus as she was of the possibility of harassment.

This is all while racism against Black people runs rampant in China. Chinese-Americans have landed in the middle, and as a result, this has stirred even more negativity towards Asian minorities. I do not condone xenophobia of any nature. But it is disheartening to see Asian Americans here, many who have and continue to contribute to the health and wellness of our country be demonized. 

Leslie Kim, New York, MD & MPH

I was born in Seoul, South Korea, and emigrated to NYC when I was one-year-old. I’m a double board-certified facial plastic surgeon and otolaryngologist (ENT). I practice exclusively in aesthetic and reconstructive procedures of the face, head, and neck.

Being a sub-specialist, I have been largely “sidelined” by the COVID-19 pandemic.  I stopped seeing patients in the clinic and doing elective surgeries in mid-March. For the past seven weeks, my practice has been reduced to virtual visits, post-op/urgent clinic visits, and cancer reconstruction cases. However, it is well-known that otolaryngologists or ENTs are one of the specialists at the highest risk of occupational exposure to COVID-19 due to our work in the nose/mouth/throat. So we have had to take extra precautions in surgeries and when seeing patients. 

COVID-19 has also impacted me because my mom is a registered nurse on Long Island, NY.  She has been on the frontlines, working tirelessly to treat all/only COVID-19 patients. She ran out of PPE and I had to mail her some. Despite this, she messages me after every shift to make sure WE are doing okay.  She is my personal hero and now has been a hero to many.

My heart breaks, hearing about fellow Asian-Americans struggle with racism and xenophobia during this novel coronavirus pandemic. Being attacked for no reason. It is not something I have personally experienced but I find myself being more vigilant these days.  So many of us are immigrants or the children of immigrants who came to this country to seek a better life and career in the land of opportunity. Now, many of us have become physicians and other health care workers who work so hard to give back to our communities. 

Especially in times of crisis, there is no place for hate. We are all human and underneath the color of our skin and our appearance, we are all the same people.  We all seek to live our best life of love, health, success, and happiness. We all struggle similarly in this pursuit with heartbreaks, losses, failures, disease, and death. Yet, our differences are what make this world, and this country in particular, so wonderful and interesting. 

Victor Liou, Massachusetts, MD

My parents immigrated from Taiwan and I was born and raised in the Midwest. My fellowship training is in ophthalmic plastic surgery, a small but amazing subspecialty of ophthalmology. We perform surgeries on the eyelid, orbit, and tear duct system as well as facial cosmetic and reconstructive surgery.

To protect the patients and staff, our hospital has postponed all “non-essential” surgeries and appointments. This means we are only seeing urgent issues that might potentially result in blindness. For non-urgent issues, I have had to find ways to help the patient virtually rather than in person. COVID-19 has forced me to make these decisions with a blurry photo or pixelated video call. Patients are afraid to come to the hospital because they do not want to contract the virus. I often give out my email address and phone number so patients can update me on their symptoms from home.

Still, we occasionally have patients who are very sick and need to stay in the hospital. I must examine them face to face. Early during the pandemic, COVID-19 test results took almost a week to come back. It was nerve-wracking to enter a room of a potentially infected patient. I was constantly worried there was a leak in my N-95 face mask. After exiting the room, I would wash my hands three times, my face once, and then use antiseptic. I was not worried about overkill. Fortunately, obtaining COVID-19 results is much faster now.

Though I am hopeful for a brighter future, we cannot expect discrimination and ignorance to cease overnight. It is important for us Asian-American physicians to recognize that our contributions are a product of not only our medical training but also our personal histories. We should acknowledge not only the expertise we provide but also the diversity in our understanding of each person and our approach to patient care. Both parts coexist and should be celebrated together.

Ari , Pennslyvania, RN

I am a second degree BSN, which means that I earned my first bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field (for me it was hospitality management) and then applied to an accelerated BSN program. 

I am not currently working in a hospital. I finished my ABSN program in December 2019 and passed my RN board exam at the end of April. Since my program ended, I have been volunteering my time with the Medical Reserve Corps to conduct COVID-19 tests. My husband is a physician and is also a frontline worker. We are anxious over every occasional cough or tickle in our throat. We have both been feeling a certain level of anxiety because of the pandemic. We are worried about our family in CA, each other, and our own health. 

It is difficult to put into words. Violence against Asians in America has been glossed over for decades. I would encourage any Asian American who does not know the name Vincent Chin to Google his name and learn his story. My message to other Asian American medical workers is to try and rise above hatred. We are integral parts of our country’s response to COVID-19. We play a vital role and no one can take that away from us. We are Americans, period. Pity those who throw hateful words at us because they are being un-American. 

I was called racial slurs in broad daylight by someone a few weeks ago after I had come off a string of days conducting COVID-19 tests. I feel that as much as all healthcare workers (HCWs) are celebrated right now, there needs to be equal energy directed at supporting HCWs of Asian descent. I implore HCWs of every ethnic background to support their Asian American colleagues and call out problematic speech and behavior when they see it (in a safe way, of course). 

Shim Ching , Hawaii, MD

I’m a board-certified plastic surgeon. I was born in Japan but was raised in Vancouver, Canada. I was trained in Canada and moved to the U.S 15 years ago. I specialize in cosmetic plastic surgery.

I no longer work at the hospital, but we shut down our private practice for five weeks for the good of our community. I do feel fortunate in that I have not experienced racism in our current situation. The population of Hawaii is predominantly Asian so we are sheltered from those concerns.  

Although the origin of COVID-19 may have been from China, blaming people of Asian heritage for this pandemic is ignorant and wrong. I would hope stories like Dr. Chen Fu will raise awareness of this issue and prevent this from happening to Asian American doctors and healthcare workers.

Scott Fujimoto , California, DO

I am a Japanese-American, born and raised near Philadelphia. I am an interventional radiologist, meaning I perform minimally-invasive image-guided therapies for anything from oncology to vascular disease. 

We have had to postpone many outpatient procedures to minimize risk to HCWs and at-risk patients. Unfortunately, this often means that patients with the diagnosis of cancer or potentially have cancer will have to wait for their diagnosis and treatment. However, much of our procedures are inpatient or considered urgent so we have remained pretty busy. Because of the essential nature of our service, we tried to split our teams as much as possible to prevent a mass exposure from causing illness or quarantine that would limit the availability of people throughout the hospital. Procedures done on COVID-19 positive patients are done at bedside if possible, or in a converted negative pressure cardiovascular lab in the operating room if fluoroscopy is required. 

Thankfully, I have not encountered any personal attacks or discrimination. I have had colleagues that have been heckled leaving the hospital or who have had patients themselves make comments about their race. The doctor who could save your life might end up being Asian, and we will treat you compassionately no matter your race.

The thing that struck me most about Dr. Fu’s story is the racism he encountered when he was in scrubs obviously on his way to the hospital. I have treated all kinds of people, from inmates to white supremacists, and everyone is respectful to their doctors because they know their lives are in the doctor’s hands. Now, with this irrational fear of Asians, that line of respect is being blurred. I don’t need to be treated like a hero, but I do need to be able to do my job without fear for my safety.   

Also, as a Japanese-American whose family was impacted by the internment during World War II, it has saddened me that there have been calls on Asians to increase their patriotism. This mindset led to the assimilation of Japanese-Americans to the point where their unique culture was lost. I don’t believe that we need to prove our American-ness, we are just as American as everyone else.  

Katrina von Kriegenbergh , California, MD

I am the daughter of Filipino immigrants. My parents immigrated in the ’70s during the large healthcare worker immigration- my father is a general surgeon who was educated in the Philippines, but completed his residency in the US. I am a double board-certified pain management physician and anesthesiologist

Prior to the pandemic, I was doing outpatient chronic pain management 90-95% of the time and surgery center anesthesia half a day a week. I performed injections and minimally invasive surgery for pain from the low back, neck, abdomen, pelvis, etc. Since the pandemic, I joined a group of anesthesiologists to form the invasive lines team to take care of COVID-19 patients

Some people have targeted Asian and Asian-Americans because the first outbreak of the disease was in Wuhan, China. I personally have not experienced anything, but I have read about Chinese and Chinese Americans being physically assaulted for not wearing a mask or for simply being Asian and may have also endured racial slurs. 

Many people are thankful that we continue to work and we will continue as long as we need to. Honestly, many healthcare workers, including myself, are uncomfortable with the “hero” title. I feel like I have a specialized skill set as an anesthesiologist that is of great use, especially during this time. However, I am merely showing up and doing my job. I am fortunate to have appropriate PPE at my hospital. I realize this is not the case everywhere. I feel like we are also being villainized when we try to give guidelines that people do not want to hear, especially regarding how and when to reopen the country. 

Micah Yu , California, MD

I am Chinese American and I decided to become a rheumatologist because of my own disease. A rheumatologist mainly treats arthritis and autoimmune disease. My struggles with my own disease have motivated me to help others and empathize with those who are dealing with the same medical problems.

My office has stopped all procedures and have switched to telemedicine. I am taking care of more coronavirus patients on top of taking care of rheumatology patients while in the hospital.

Being Asian-American in the medical field has not changed much for me. However, some of my colleagues have had racist comments made towards them just because they were Asian. It is hard being Asian-American at this time even though we are taking care of coronavirus in the hospital as we also have to fight the racist virus outside the hospital. Hearing about racist comments and hate crimes towards other fellow Asians in the USA has been heartbreaking.

It is very hard being an Asian-American doctor at this time. We are helping fight this virus in the hospital but at the same time when we are out of the hospital, people see us as Asians and possibly linked to the coronavirus despite the fact that we are doctors fighting the same battle that everyone else is fighting. 

Lyly Nguyen , California, MD

I am Vietnamese-American and I started my career as a general surgeon and am specializing in plastic surgery. Soon, I will be in my last year of plastic surgery fellowship.

During COVID, my plastic surgery program, as well as my institution, took great measures to decrease exposure to its staff. We decreased to half staff and alternated weeks on and off. As a plastic surgery fellow, many of our elective cases were canceled to maintain safety of our patients and hospital staff, however any urgent reconstructive cases still continued keeping us busy. 

I’m fortunate to not have experienced any racism or negative remarks firsthand. However, I have heard countless attacks or comments to fellow physicians, some risking their health and safety on the frontlines. Hearing these accounts always makes you concerned about how other people perceive your external appearance even if they haven’t outwardly expressed it. This looming fear or anxiety is unprecedented, something that I never felt I had to worry about before.  

I worry about how my race will affect how my patients perceive me and how it will affect their trust in me, not because of my skill or intelligence but because of my background. I am lucky and hopeful that I will never have to experience that. 

Christy Chen , Minnesota, MD

I was born in Shanghai, China, and grew up in Michigan. I have now been on staff at Mayo Clinic for six years, taking care of patients in the outpatient setting and nursing homes while educating learners on all levels including medical students, residents, and fellows.

COVID-19 impacted my outpatient practice and nursing home practice. In an effort to keep our patients and community safe, many long term care facilities were on strict lockdown, which limited our ability to care for them face to face. We needed to quickly adapt to these changes and discover other ways to take care of them including telemedicine options, which unfortunately had its limitations when dealing with multiple chronic health issues and complex care coordination needs. Despite maximizing our efforts, the infection still made its way into these vulnerable populations across the nation which was very devastating to see. It reminded us how ill-prepared we are for situations like these, not just in the hospital setting, but across the community and especially in our older adults. 

For me, being an Asian American in the medical field during this time is the same as it has always been. We are a part of a team, and that has not changed. We are all critical players despite our background and race, and we should not let the increase in discrimination downplay our skills, efforts, or worth. Our goals as healthcare workers are uniform- we want to keep our patients healthy, safe, and alive. We want to do everything in our power to meet these goals, which do not discriminate. Racial attacks may have increased, but I believe this is largely driven by fear and misconception. I still choose to believe that deep down, people have good intentions and hatred or fear can only be broken through building good relationships, listening to each other, and taking care of each other with kindness. 

It saddens me to wonder if the perception of Asian-Americans has changed permanently because of this pandemic. It saddens me, even more, to recognize that there are many people who feel discriminated against in some way every day of their lives and were born into this. Discrimination and racism of any kind should not exist, but the roots run deep and span many generations across many cultures. It is my hope that we will continue to break this mentality throughout time.

Austin L. Chiang , Pennsylvania, MD

I’m a gastroenterologist sub-specializing in advanced endoscopy. I’m an assistant professor of medicine at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia and I’m also the director of the endoscopic bariatric program and chief medical social media officer for the institution.

We aim to minimize exposure to our patients and staff, conserve resources while making sure that people who need urgent procedures can still get the care they need. We’ve had to postpone non-urgent procedures and reconfigure our schedules so we can take turns caring for patients in the hospital. We’ve also had to figure out our protocols for COVID testing and equipping ourselves with appropriate protective gear when encountering patients. Additionally, we are having to anticipate how to reopen our practice to prioritize those who need immediate attention.

It has been an interesting dichotomy. I have encountered one instance where someone shouted a racially-motivated coronavirus reference at me despite the fact that I was in medical garb. Fortunately, I consider Philadelphia to be a diverse city, and I can only hope that this translates to acceptance and understanding. Health professionals regardless of race are working hard to protect and treat our patients. It’s a difficult and stressful time for everyone, so we could all benefit from exercising a little more empathy through all this.

Daniel Sugai , Washington, MD & FAAD

I am a board-certified dermatologist in private practice. I am originally from Oahu and did my medical school training there at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine where I met my wife in our first year of medical school. We both moved to Boston to do our residency training. I did my internship in internal medicine and my dermatology residency at Harvard Medical School. My wife, Dr. Erina Sugai, is a hospitalist physician in the Seattle area on the frontlines battling COVID-19.

When the pandemic started, we immediately responded by cutting our outpatient clinic time to a small fraction where I was only working 1-2 half days a week and limiting my practice to high-risk medication follow-ups and emergency cases in order to lessen the burden on our local ERs and Urgent Care centers. I had diagnosed fast-growing skin cancers and helped treat serious skin infections and blistering rashes during the pandemic. Thankfully the curve has flattened, and we are able to slowly open up clinic hours to more patients.

My wife and I are Asian-American physicians and I have personally experienced racism during my medical training years before this pandemic. Thankfully we have not experienced racial discrimination or hate during this pandemic but I am very concerned for my fellow Asian-Americans. Our healthcare workers are on the frontlines fighting this virus and caring for our communities yet are facing racism outside of the hospital.  There is no way hate will be the answer to these dark times; only love will heal us eventually. It will take time to recover from this but we will get through this together as a community.

We as physicians have a duty to our communities, to serve and put our families and our own health on the line but the public should not take that for granted regardless of race. The profession of medicine is a noble one but I feel that it also keeps us from standing up for ourselves to not come off as “unprofessional” or “insensitive.” Physician burnout is a real thing that has led many to suicide and depression. Moreover, physicians are facing pay cuts during this pandemic despite risking their lives every day. Physicians do not deserve nor have the time or energy to battle the racial hate that is inflicted on them outside of the hospital — on the subway or in the grocery store. We need to not only flatten the curve of infections but also flatten the curve of hate during these dark times.