Last weekend, a 40-year-old Asian woman, Michelle Go, was pushed in front of an oncoming train in Times Square, and died. While it is unclear whether this event was racially motivated, frequent attacks against Asian Americans continue two years after the novel coronavirus was identified. Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition gathering data on COVID-19-related attacks against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, received 10,370 hate incident reports from March 2020 to September 2021. Incidents against women make up 62% of all reports.
As a medical student graduating in May from a New York City medical school, I am deciding whether to stay or leave New York City for the next step of my training. My decision is more complicated given that I, too, am an Asian woman. While I want to base my decision solely on my career, family, and relationships, I’m also asking myself, "What are the chances of an attack?"
The first year of residency, "intern year," is arguably the toughest year of a medical career. I’ll be handed a schedule I have little control over, and many of my weekends will be cut in half or nonexistent. I’ll have 28-hour shifts and "night float," where I’ll leave my apartment around 7 p.m. and come back the next morning to sleep. Subway ridership has gone down, and I have no idea what hours I’ll be using public transportation. As a lone Asian female on an empty subway, will I be targeted?
The man who pushed the Asian woman onto the tracks was homeless. During my hospital rotations, I admitted multiple men experiencing homelessness. One lived in the subway system. He never went to a doctor, and came in with hypertensive urgency (when high blood pressure gets dangerously worse and causes symptoms like headache and dizziness). He was so gregarious and thankful, and I enjoyed my interactions with him. Our team discharged him with extra personal hygiene items and as much free medication as possible in collaboration with social work. Another homeless man I cared for lived in a park. He came in for alcohol withdrawal, and after a weeklong stay he felt more stable and agreed to go to his follow-up appointment at a free clinic with a particularly wonderful physician. It is hard for me to reconcile these heartwarming interactions with the heartbreaking devastations on the news.
One of my favorite things about walking, taking the subway, and working in health care in NYC is its unparalleled diversity. I love seeing so many different faces on the subway and hearing different languages. But will the city's diversity love me back? Recently, a video surfaced of an incident on the subways in October. In the video, a man makes lewd gestures and addresses a Korean woman obscenely, then spits twice, while a subway car full of diverse bystanders watch.
Perhaps I’m making a big deal out of something that most likely won’t happen. New York City has more than 8 million people, so what are the chances of an attack? But this skepticism is exactly what I heard two years ago, and now we realize that the attacks and hatred are real, and fear is valid.
I want to keep believing in New York, and I believe we can be better. But this vision takes collective effort. We need to embrace our unique diversity, stand up for one another, and demand change. Will you join me?
This guest essay reflects the views of Kate Lee, a fourth-year medical student at a New York City medical school.