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How Life Changed After Charlottesville for One Chinese American

Raymond Ho
Raymond Ho says recent racist encounters and a falling out with a close friend after Charlottesville have shaken his trust in those around him.

By Peter Schurmann
New America Media

In 2012, Raymond Ho was just entering college, his mind abuzz with new ideas and the prospect of new experiences. During his first week he met up with another San Jose native, someone Ho says “had the same questions I did.”

The pair became fast friends, and spent the next three years as college roommates. Their bond was fostered by frequent exchanges that moved from the political to the personal.

“We always had these great conversations,” recalls Ho. “He was definitely more conservative … but I respected his ideas.”

Then came 2016.

As the presidential race heated up, Ho says his friend (whose name Ho asked be withheld for privacy reasons) began to echo some of the more toxic rhetoric coming out of the Trump campaign. It began with comments about undocumented immigrants, or about women. Over time, their meetings grew more tense, their differences more stark.

“At some point there was no logical basis to our conversations – they just became a clash of values,” says Ho. “They never ended well.”

While Ho eventually graduated, his friend – who was then going through bouts of depression and anxiety – dropped out and soon after took up a welding job. He would often complain to Ho about being “dealt a bad hand.”

Like millions of Americans, Ho’s friend found in Trump a champion for his frustrations. Still, despite their deepening political divide, the two would meet on occasion. The ties of their friendship, though strained, were not completely severed.

That changed with the bloody events in Charlottesville.

“After Charolttesville, he posted an image of a white polo and khakis that he owned on his Facebook page,” says Ho, “with the caption ‘Oops.’” The outfit became a social media meme after the violent clashes between neo-Nazis – many dressed in the same white polos and khakis – and counter protesters in early August.

Ho believes the post was a signal of his friend’s sympathy – if not identification – with the white nationalists.

When your world is turned upside down

It is easy to forget when viewing images of racial strife that the deepest divides are often between intimates, not strangers. For those affected, the experience can change their perception of everything they once took for granted.

Growing up, Ho had always seen San Jose and the wider Silicon Valley as cosmopolitan, sophisticated and comfortable in its diversity — as was he. Now he is no longer certain.

“People think this racial hostility is far away,” says Ho. “But I have seen it up close.”

Earlier this year, Ho was standing with friends outside a bar in Campbell, an affluent suburb of San Jose. The only Asian in the group, he says a young White woman claiming to be the daughter of a local official, accosted him, hurling racial epithets and telling him he didn’t belong here.

“She called me a small d***k Asian, made fun of my eyes and told me to go back to where I came from,” he recalls.

He was too shocked to respond. None of his friends stepped forward to defend him.

Later that night, he says, “I began to feel ashamed of being Asian.”

Until recently, Ho never saw his racial identity as something that set him apart. If anything, he felt “too American to be Chinese” and thus did not quite fit in with Silicon Valley’s immigrant Chinese community.

Now he wonders whether “I’m too Chinese to be American.”

His recent encounters have also made him question those around him, strangers and friends alike. “The other day at a fast food restaurant, I began to wonder what the people around me were actually thinking,” he says.

Looking for answers

The effect has also rippled out to his family.

Ho’s mother, Jean, runs a Chinese-language news outlet that caters to the immigrant Chinese community in and around San Jose. She says her son fell into a depression after these encounters, feeling the walls of his social world turning in on him.

“I weakly argued that this person at the bar, these people at Charlottesville do not represent the majority of the citizens in the United States,” she wrote in an email. “My son looked at me, shrugged, and left the house. I wished I had an answer for him.”

She added that her own “faith” and “trust” in the people around her has begun to erode. On an elevator recently after covering a local news conference, a man next to her peered at her name tag and asked – in a tone she still cannot decipher – “So, you are news for Chinese?”

She recalls wondering whether he was making fun of her for being Chinese, or was just making friendly conversation. “There were a thousand emotions surging through my mind at that moment: insecurity, doubts, and most alarming of all, fear.”

She adds, “I have lived in the U.S. for 38 years, never in my life have I felt this way.”

Like his mother, Ho is looking for answers, trying to make sense of the new reality that has taken shape around him. Of late he has been busy working with a partner to open a Chinese-style noodle house in nearby Saratoga, but says he has thought of other endeavors, including a line of fashion that blends American styles with more traditional forms of clothing from his parent’s native Taiwan.

“There are people who want to draw the lines, and play up the divisions,” he says. “I want to make clothing that shows how it all fits together.”

This story was produced through a partnership with New America Media and ProPublica’s Documenting Hate Project. To report a hate crime, use this form. Reports will be verified before entering a national database that will be made available, with privacy restrictions, to newsrooms and civil rights organizations across the country. The form is not a report to law enforcement or any government agency.

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  1. RE: How life changed after Charlotteville for one Chinese American: Clearly, another perspective is needed here. Raymond Ho lived a very sheltered life if he never experienced discrimination prior to 2016. First, any minority is going to be subjected to incidents that can appear racist/discriminatory. Indeed, minorities need to understand the truth in the old saying, “Birds of a Feather flock together” instead of crying “racist” at those flocks.
    Second, although Ho claims he was “too shocked” to respond to the White woman’s “epithets,” he appears to condemn his nonAsian friends for “not stepping forward to defend him.” Really? Ho needs to consider that his friends were also “too shocked.” Maybe they were shocked by their own racist thoughts or awkwardly embarrassed, or both? How would Ho respond if the roles were reversed – would he be ready to step forward and defend a nonAsian?
    Also, did Ho’s friendship with his Black friends become strained when they joined/identified with BLM? And, consider how Asians interact with the only nonAsian in their group: do they talk amongst themselves about Asian-centric topics while excluding the nonAsian? While traveling in Asia and Hawaii, I witnessed locals “flocking” together while stereotyping and/or discriminating against the expats and nonAsians. Any minority anywhere in this world is going to be stereotyped and/or discriminated against by the majority – it just happens. So, be prepared.
    Third, Ho should re-read “Lord of the Flies.” I have witnessed Asians publicly ostracizing an Asian co-worker who was being subjected to discrimination; they said they did not want to get involved and cowardly blamed this co-worker.
    Lastly, If Ho wants to continue living where he is in the minority, then he needs to be better prepared to defend himself and not be surprised by the natural “flocking.”

  2. RE: How life changed after Charlottesville for one Chinese American: One of the problems with living in the SF Bay Area is that many people of all races assume that there is no racism here. When they encounter the racism that has been here all the time, they are stunned and hurt, and some people are stunned into inaction, like the so-called friends of Mr. Ho who couldn’t get themselves to respond to the attacks on him.

    The best response, in my opinion, is not to become depressed or feel bad about oneself, but to commit oneself to fighting racism and white supremacy. White people and people of color can both do this. It may be shocking to discover that this is a long-term project, but better late than never.

  3. RE:How life Changed After Charlottesville for one Chinese American: He should have felt ashamed for his choice of friends. If you have friends who put other races and ethnicities down and judge them harshly and you don’t say anything, what makes you believe they won’t turn on yours???

  4. RE: How Life changed after Charlottesville for one Chinese American: Mr. Ho needs some better friends… and I hope he will be able to step up and respond the next time this happens. My daughters are Chinese American, and I truly hope their friends are strong enough to defend them in this type of situation. We live in an area that has not seen much racism over the years preceding the trump administration, so they would probably be just as shocked – but they are quickly becoming aware of what is going on out there. One friend, daughter of Central American immigrants (both citizens) was followed through the mall by idiots harassing them for speaking Spanish. Disgusting.


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