Chung: Why Asian business community must speak out about hate — and why that will be hard to do

Head of Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association says culture of community is to stay silent

Jenny Chung, the president of the New Jersey chapter of the Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association, is thrilled to see all the rallies across the country showing support for the Asian community in this country.

And, last Friday, she obviously was grateful to see President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris travel to Atlanta — the scene of the latest in a long list of attacks against Asians — to express their anger and disgust while offering a powerful statement.

“Our silence is complicity,” Biden said. “We cannot be complicit. We have to speak out.”

But Chung, an associate at Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi, said it’s not enough for others to speak up. Her community, she said, needs to do so, too.

And that, she said, may be a tougher challenge.

“Traditionally, we are not a community that is vocal,” she said. “We’re a community that is known to just put our head down, work hard, deal with any problems silently and move forward.”

It’s part of the culture, she said — and often part of the business model.

Many Asian business are customer-facing operations: nail salons, dry cleaners, restaurants — places that have quick interactions with customers that they need to survive, Chung said.

“Our community will not talk back to customers — no matter how offended they might be by their comments,” she said.

Chung and the APALA-NJ are encouraging business leaders and all members of the Asian community to start speaking up. To start acknowledging the hate speech and acts of violence that have grown exponentially against them since the start of the pandemic. To start saying, “Enough is enough.”

“We need to be vocal,” she said. “We have every right to be vocal. I want the business owners in our community to know they should not fear being attacked, but know instead that they have the support of others in the community.”

Chung said it’s the only way to push the issue into the mainstream. It’s time, she said, to challenge the stereotypes and general perceptions that harm her community.

She knows it won’t be easy. And certainly won’t be quick.

Anti-Asian bias has been prevalent in the United States and around the world for decades, if not centuries. The sentiment that led to internment camps in the U.S. during World War II never completely subsided. Then, there are the stereotypes about being “the model minority.”

Chung, however, sees a window. She hopes the recent conversations will bring attention to perceived biases that may exist in law enforcement and society as a whole.

She welcomes outreach from elected officials, too. Chung said her group is working on an event with U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) right now.

“We have to take advantage of this opportunity,” she said. “People need to stay vocal about this. We need social media influencers, actors and actresses, elected officials to keep speaking out. And we need to continue to highlight those who are.

“We have to make sure this stays in the news. It’s not fixed yet, and it won’t be fixed for a long time.”

Chung said the APALA stands at the ready to help. And she said that, if Asian business owners are uncomfortable addressing issues of hate and violence with law enforcement or elected officials, they should consider turning to their local faith leaders.

But, more than anything, the community needs to remain vocal. The time to be silent and fall back on work ethic when you’re hurting is over, she said.

“We need to capitalize on how many people are speaking in support of us,” she said. “It’s something our community has never really done before. But, we are doing it now — and we need to keep doing it.

“We need to make connections with political figures and community leaders to keep that going. We need to make sure that we’re still on their minds months later, when they may have moved on to something else.”

The community needs to stay vocal, or the attention may go away, Chung said.

“In a lot of ways,” she said, “it’s on us.”