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Asian American Local Leader Shows Army Scars: 'Is This Patriot Enough?'

West Chester, Ohio, Board of Trustees Chairman Lee Wong bares his chest at a meeting Tuesday. Those scars, suffered during his U.S. military service, are "proof" of his patriotism, he said.
Screenshot by NPR
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West Chester Board of Trustees meeting
West Chester, Ohio, Board of Trustees Chairman Lee Wong bares his chest at a meeting Tuesday. Those scars, suffered during his U.S. military service, are "proof" of his patriotism, he said.

Ever since Lee Wong came to the U.S. after graduating from high school, he has faced questions about his patriotism.

It started, he says, when he was a college student in the 1970s and a white man attacked him while hurling anti-Asian insults. Throughout his life, the discrimination continued — his application to be a police officer was immediately thrown into the trash, he says, as the officers laughed about the "Chinaman" who wants to be policeman.

Over the last few years, Wong has continued to confront similar sentiments from ignorant people, he told a meeting of the West Chester, Ohio, Board of Trustees on Tuesday. "People question my patriotism, that I don't look American enough," Wong said, pointing to his face.

"I want to show you something," Wong continued. And the four other board members on the dais looked on as the board chairman took off his jacket coat. "Because I'm not afraid," he said. "I don't have to live in fear, intimidation or insults."

Removing his tie and unbuttoning his shirt, the 69-year-old continued: "Here is my proof." He stood up, raising his undershirt and revealing a large dark scar across his chest. "This is sustained through my service in the U.S. military. Now is this patriot enough?"

Video of Wong's remarks has been viewed more than 3 million times on Twitter. They came just one week after a gunman opened fire at three massage spas in the Atlanta area, killing eight people — six of whom were women of Asian descent.

Several cities reported an increase in hate crimes against people of Asian descent in 2020. One survey reported incidents of harassment and discrimination related to the coronavirus.

Wong, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Army, hadn't planned to remove his shirt at that trustee meeting, he later told The Cincinnati Enquirer. But "the timing was right in light of what's happening in this country," he said.

After showing his scars, Wong sat back down and buttoned up his shirt. "Prejudice is hate," he told the gathered crowd. "And that hate can be changed. We are human. We need to be kinder, gentler to one another. Because we are all the same. We are one human being on this Earth."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Matthew S. Schwartz is a reporter with NPR's news desk. Before coming to NPR, Schwartz worked as a reporter for Washington, DC, member station WAMU, where he won the national Edward R. Murrow award for feature reporting in large market radio. Previously, Schwartz worked as a technology reporter covering the intricacies of Internet regulation. In a past life, Schwartz was a Washington telecom lawyer. He got his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, and his B.A. from the University of Michigan ("Go Blue!").