An Asian American veteran and Ohio township trustee who went viral when he unbuttoned his shirt to show his military scars said Thursday that anger and frustration over a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes prompted him to make the impassioned speech.
"I really wasn't prepared to make a speech," West Chester Township Board of Trustees chairman Lee Wong said on CNN. "I just needed to say something with all the threats and verbal threats and all the you know, jabs here and there. It was just too much to bear."
He said he has noticed an uptick in racism against Asians in the past two years. Wong, 69, recalled the time someone approached him, while he was wearing an Army jacket and hat and holding an American flag, to tell him that he wasn't American or a patriot.
"The last couple of years, that was the worst I ever experienced," he said. "I just can't believe it was so bold that came to my face to tell me that. ... That really hurt me deeply."
At a March 23 board meeting, Wong said: "Don't get me wrong. People love me in this community and I love them, too. But there are some ignorant people that would come up to me and say that I don't look American enough or patriotic enough."
Then he unbuttoned his shirt, revealing his scars.
"Here's my proof," he said during the meeting. "Now, is this patriot enough?"
"Before, I was fairly inhibited. People look at me strange, and then they question my loyalty to this country?" Wong continued during the unscripted moment. "The last I read the American Constitution, we the people, we are all the same. We are equal."
"Prejudice is hate, and that hate can be changed. We are human. We need to be kinder, gentler, to one another."
"For too long, I have put up with a lot of s--- in silence, excuse me the language," Wong said. "Too afraid to speak out, fearing more abuse and discrimination.
His speech, which followed the metro Atlanta spa shootings that left six women of Asian descent dead as well as a recent uptick in racially-motivated attacks against Asian Americans nationwide, went viral.
"I don't know what came over me," Wong told CNN before identifying "some anger or frustration inside."
"I'm just as American as an apple pie. And I served this country honorably," he said. "I just pulled my shirt up and said, 'Here.' That's when I showed my ugly scar. I served this country for your freedom, democracy, all that you can say, liberty. And we need to be kinder and gentler."