Within the last two weeks, Boram Lee has had racist remarks hurled at her while walking the streets of Cambridge and Somerville.
Lee, a Harvard University graduate student, has lived here for six years. It had never happened before, she said.
“Someone swore at me at Harvard Square, and someone followed me to make a point to say that China is not good, at Union Square … I thought these incidents were not grave enough to report to the police, but then I just didn’t want to wait for something more grave to happen that’s equivalent to a hate crime,” Lee told Boston 25 News.
That’s why Lee recently teamed up with fellow Harvard PhD candidate Ja Young Choi, and, after some brainstorming, the two launched a project highlighting just how frequent and brazen racism against Asians and Asian Americans has been in the age of COVID-19, which first broke out in Wuhan, China, late last year.
The pair of students launched a map on social media last week showing exactly where and when these incidents have happened based on user-submitted reports, according to the news station.
“This situation is already a stressful situation for everybody,” Choi told Boston of the pandemic. “It’s a global health crisis and on top of this, there’s another layer of anxiety. And I just wanted to address this in some kind of an active way.”
According to a post written by Choi and Lee on the map, many of the racially-charged “micro-aggressions” Asians and Asian Americans have faced in the United States recently have gone unreported.
“This is a missed opportunity to prevent overt hate crimes, because they are typically preceded by less noticeable micro-aggressions,” the post says.
The map initially focused on incidents in the Boston area, but it now includes dozens of acts reported from as far away as the West Coast and Canada.
“I walked out of my apartment building wearing a mask and a pair of sunglasses,” one user wrote about an experience on March 31 in Malden. “An individual saw me from a distance and walked towards me quickly and spat aggressively on the ground.”
Another wrote of a Feb. 23 incident at the Boston Public Garden: “While on a morning run with a group of other joggers, an individual yelled at me ‘stay away from the Chinese.’ Did not stop or acknowledge the yeller.”
Choi told Boston 25 the issue is not trivial.
“Just because it’s not violent or physical doesn’t mean that it doesn’t threaten your safety,” she said.
The two grad students are thinking about working with Harvard University or local authorities on a hotline for incidents, according to the news station.
“I want people to feel empowered enough to talk about this kind of stuff and we deserve not to be treated that way,” Choi said.