(This article was originally published on the International Examiner and has been reprinted with permission.)
Former Gov. Gary Locke was the keynote speaker at the October 18, 2021, Eradicate Hate Conference, which gathered hundreds of attendees at the Pittsburgh Convention Center. The event, held on a date close to the anniversary of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018, brought together people and organizations from around the world that were having the most significant impact in combating hate, preventing hate crimes, and providing justice for the victims of such crimes. The following is Locke’s speech, printed in the International Examiner with permission.
I am so honored to be here with you at this inaugural Eradicate Hate Global Summit — a historic occasion where people and organizations from around the world have come together to foster effective actions to combat hate, prevent hate crimes, and provide justice for the victims of such crimes.
Other than ending the global COVID pandemic and combating climate change, I can’t think of a more urgent mission for the world right now than to eradicate this other virus — the virus of hate — that threatens not just the safety and well-being of people around the world, but our collective humanity.
I want to thank the Conference Committee, the organizers and sponsors, and especially the Pittsburgh community whose members have borne the unimaginable pain and suffering from the horrific massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue three years ago — and transformed it into an ultimate act of love — that of Tikkun Olam, meaning “to heal the world; to repair the world.” Transforming one’s own pain into action so that others may be spared such pain.
Thank you all for your bravery and leadership.
In the next few days, you will hear from many esteemed speakers and experts who will offer their wisdom, expertise, and strategies on eradicating hate.
For now, the organizers asked me to share with you my own story, as a proud third-generation Chinese American whose parents and grandparents immigrated from China; someone who — because of America’s promise as a land of freedom, opportunity, equality, and justice for all — has had the honor of serving my fellow Americans in public service, and in representing our country on the world stage. I am also someone who has been the terrifying target of hate.
Our family’s story begins in the late 1800s when my grandfather came to America from a small village in China and worked as a houseboy for a family in the capital of Washington State. He swept floors, washed dishes, and helped cook meals in exchange for English lessons. He worked hard, and eventually returned to China, married and started a family. Grandfather returned to Seattle to work and sent money back to China to support his family. Eventually grandfather brought the whole family to Washington State.
So my dad also came to America when he was a teenager. He joined the U.S. Army just before the outbreak of World War II and participated in the Normandy invasion. His unit was given secret orders to rush to Berlin through northern France thereby encountering some of the fiercest and bloodiest battles of the war. After the war, my dad went to Hong Kong where he met my mom, got married, and brought her back to Seattle to start a family. I learned English in kindergarten at the same time my mom learned English to become a U.S. citizen.
As I was growing up, Mom and Dad ran a small restaurant, and later a little grocery store that was open seven days a week. After school, we kids helped at the store and did our homework. Our whole family stayed focused on three things: getting a good education, working hard, and taking care of each other.
When I was sworn in as Washington State governor in January 1997, I became the first Asian American on the mainland and the first Chinese American elected governor in U.S. history.
I noted in my inaugural speech that I was moving into the Governor’s Mansion exactly one mile from the house where my grandfather swept floors and washed dishes. I joked that it took our family 100 years to travel that one mile. And what a journey it has been!
But our family’s story is the story of millions of American families whose ancestors came to these shores from all around the world in search of freedom, opportunity, and equality.
Interestingly, in that initial 1996 open primary for governor, out of the 15 candidates — 8 Republicans, 6 Democrats, and 1 Socialist Workers Party — the top two vote getters were People of Color. I received 24% of the vote, and Norm Rice, the African American mayor of Seattle, got the second highest at 17%. Together, we received 41% of the vote, which was quite remarkable when you think about it. That in 1996 two candidates of color received that level of popular support. I felt very proud of our state.
Of course, independent polls showed that there was a small fraction of voters who would never vote for a Person of Color.
But in my second term as governor, I received a startling reminder of the terrifying consequences of bigotry and hatred that could be caused by just a handful of individuals. That’s when the FBI informed me that I was the target of an assassination plot by the leader of a white supremacist group who rejected the notion that an Asian American could be the legitimate governor of our state.
For weeks until his arrest, my wife and I wore bulletproof coats every time we went out. We were accompanied by a greatly expanded security detail and told to stay away from windows. We kept this from the children, but there was an all-pervasive anxiety and fear. We couldn’t help constantly reassessing surroundings, wary that a person with a high-powered rifle could be lurking far away in a vehicle, building, or the woods.
Additionally, in 2003, after I gave the Democratic response to President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address, my family and I received a torrent of racist slurs, hate mail, and death threats, with a number of those threats specifically referencing my ethnicity and telling me to go back to where I came from.
Excuse me! I’m from America! I was born in America! I’m an American!
As an elected official, you expect criticism and people who strongly dislike you. But being the personal target of racial hate was truly scary and disconcerting and made us afraid for our family. That someone who knew nothing about you could hate you with such animosity as to want you dead — just because of the color of your skin, your ethnicity, or where they perceive you come from.
In the case of the assassination plot, the person was ultimately convicted of weapons offenses because there was insufficient evidence of concrete steps to carry out the plot.
Unfortunately, the racial and ethnic hate that my family and I experienced years ago have, in the last several years, become more of a reality for too many Americans. As we’ve heard, the FBI reported that 2020 saw the highest level in hate crimes in more than a decade and a 6% increase from the previous year.
The national coalition Stop AAPI Hate received 9,081 reports of bias incidents against Asians and Pacific Islanders between March 19, 2020, and June 2021. More alarming is that the number of reported incidents in the first six months of 2021 equaled the reported incidents for all of 2020!
This unprecedented increase in violent crimes and harassment against Asians in America over the past year has been due, in no small measure, to the false and inflammatory rhetoric scapegoating and blaming the Asian community for the coronavirus, which former President Trump mockingly called the “China virus,” the “Wuhan virus,” or the “Kung Flu virus.”
It hasn’t helped that in the last few years of escalating tensions between the United States and China, our government has cast a cloud of suspicion over all Chinese Americans by asserting that all Chinese students and researchers represent a “whole of society” threat to the American way of life, as FBI Director Christopher Wray did in 2018. The implication was that every person of Chinese descent was not to be trusted.
This kind of broad-brush racial stereotyping and fear-mongering has only served to perpetuate old and dangerous stereotypes of Chinese and Asian Americans as “perpetual foreigners”, i.e., NOT American — creating an increasingly toxic and dangerous us-versus-them environment of hate.
Committee of 100, a nonprofit membership organization, which I chair and which is dedicated to advancing opportunities for Chinese Americans across our society, recently published a study “Racial Disparities in Economic Espionage Act Prosecutions: A Window into the New Red Scare.”
It details how individuals with Asian or Chinese names are punished twice as severely as defendants with more Western names when prosecuted under the Economic Espionage Act. Jail time for Chinese and Asian defendants is double compared to non-Asian defendants, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) is much more likely to publicize alleged “spying” by people with Asian names than alleged “spying” by those with Western names.
Anti-Asian sentiment is of course not new in our country. The pain of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 or the Japanese internment camps of World War II still lingers, as does the brutal murder of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American who was killed in Detroit in 1982 by two white men who thought he was of Japanese descent and blamed him for the decline of U.S. auto jobs (for which the defendants were sentenced to 3 years’ probation and a fine of $3000), or the murder earlier this year of the 8 victims of the Atlanta Spa Shootings, six of whom were Asian American women.
The pain we feel from hate and prejudice is not unique to us as Asian Americans: The murders here in Pittsburgh, in Orlando, Charleston, El Paso, Charlottesville, and so many other shootings, murders, and hate crimes going back to the very beginning of our nation’s history.
We are united here today in our sorrow and grief for what our peoples have suffered, for what so many people have suffered — simply because we may look different, worship different, or love different.
But we are also united here today by a common purpose — to eradicate hate.
So how do we do this? How do we make real and lasting change?
We need new laws, procedures, and guardrails. But we also need to create the conditions and environment where peace and tolerance and acceptance of differences are more attractive and more valued than fearmongering, hate, and aggression.
Where so much hate is rooted in fear of differences — tribal differences — we have to do the exact opposite, which is to embrace our differences and see in them our ultimate common humanity.
The strength of America is our diversity of people, ethnicities, cultures, languages, and religions. This is the secret sauce of our dynamism and resilience.
Except for the Native Americans, we are all foreigners — whether first generation or 10th — whether our ancestors arrived on the Mayflower, a slave vessel from Africa, or a steamer from Asia.
For close to 250 years, immigrants from every corner of the earth have come to America in search of freedom, opportunity, and equality. And wave after wave of immigrants have renewed and enriched America.
So, our diversity should not be feared, but rather fostered and celebrated, and placed front and center of what it means to be American — of what truly makes America Great.
If we can cultivate an environment where diversity is valued and embraced, then those who would sow hate based on differences will have no place to go.
Creating such an environment of tolerance, peace, and acceptance will require us to always stand up in allyship with our brethren, and to speak out and take action against any and all forms of hate.
Earlier this year, Committee of 100 issued a 10-point action plan that called on elected officials to do more to help end the xenophobia and racism directed at the AAPI community. We did that not only with others in the AAPI community but also with the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, the National Urban League, NALEO, and the Partnership with Native Americans.
No group can battle hate alone. We have to work together. That is why we are here today.
Shortly after I was elected governor, our entire family — Mom and Dad, my brother and sisters and their spouses, my wife and I — made a pilgrimage to our ancestral village in southern China.
It was like stepping back into the 1800s when my grandfather left China to come to America. Mom and Dad had not set foot in the village since their wedding day 50 years before.
In our tiny village of about 150, there was still no running water in the homes, just hand pumps connected to the village well. People used chamber pots and an outhouse at the edge of the village. They cooked using wood kindling and coal. A bare light bulb dangled from each ceiling, and hand-washed clothes were hung out to dry.
In short, very little had changed since Grandfather had left.
To the members of the village, my return was a vindication of their hard work and sacrifices to send family members to America. My election as a governor in America represented the success of our entire village and the affirmation of all that America promises.
And it is our multiracial democracy made up of people and cultures from all over the world — where everyone seeks the opportunity to pursue their [dreams] — that makes this unfinished experiment of America, with all its faults, worth fighting for.
The virus of hate threatens our safety, our institutions, our democracy, our freedoms, and not least, our common humanity. Let us commit ourselves to working together for a more peaceful, just, and loving world. Together we can repair this world.
This article is published by the International Examiner and the South Seattle Emerald under a Seattle Human Services Department grant, “Resilience Amidst Hate,” in response to anti-Asian violence.
📸 Featured Image: Former Gov. Gary Locke spoke at the rally and led the crowd in yelling together, “Hate is a virus” at an anti-hate rally in Hing Hay Park in the spring of 2021. (Photo: Auriza Ugalino, courtesy of the International Examiner)
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