Pei Jung Lee says she hasn't been able to ride a New York City subway ever since she came face-to-face with an upset rider who verbally attacked her with anti-Asian sentiment.
Lee says she felt tension as soon as she got on the express A train at Columbus Circle. She saw a man in an argument with another passenger and she started recording a video because she feared for her safety. When the man noticed that he was being filmed, he started yelling at Lee, telling her to go back to her country and that she was the reason for "kung-flu," a word that has been used to highlight the fact that the coronavirus outbreak started in China.
The encounter is the latest in a troubling trend of attacks against Asian Americans since the beginning of the pandemic. There were more than 2,300 racist incidents against people of Asian descent between late March and mid-July in the U.S., including 316 reports in New York, according to groups tracking the surge in hate incidents.
Lee, who is originally from Taiwan and has lived in the U.S. for 16 years, says she didn't say anything back to the man on the train because she was so stunned and shocked. She wasn't able to get off the express train until it stopped at 125th Street.
"By the time I finally got home, I cried for a good hour. It was such a troubling experience for me," she said.
Lee says decided to post the video of the incident online because she believes silence is violence, and she didn't want the violence to continue to happen to the community. In response to the video, the MTA said, "There is absolutely no room for racism on the subway, and we take reports like this very seriously."
The NYPD said it is also investigating the incident. Lee is now calling for increased safety measures on the train, including ways to alert authorities of an emergency.
"If I were on the bus, I could’ve pulled the line – but we were on the subway," Lee said. "I'm sure everyone feels the same that we’re on a train and can't get off."
For now, Lee is hoping to raise awareness and shed light on racism.
"Words have power and they can hurt like blades, and I definitely felt like I was being stabbed by his words," she said. "Nobody should have to experience what I experienced."