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‘This is racial violence’: Malden councilor criticized over 2019 Halloween costume

"I can and will do better," said Councilor Jadeane Sica.

Malden Councilor Jadeane Sica.

Asian American advocates and other community groups are calling out a Malden councilor for a racist Halloween costume she wore in 2019 they say appropriates and dehumanizes Asian identity for the sake of laughs.

In a photo that surfaced online, Ward 8 Councilor Jadeane Sica is seen wearing a bamboo hat, holding what appears to be a bottle of lotion, and donning a black t-shirt with “Orchids of Asia” written on it — a reference to the Florida spa where Patriots owner Robert Kraft was ensnarled in a prostitution sting.

A man standing next to her in the photograph can be seen with Patriots garb, a fake Lombardi trophy, and the aviator-style sunglasses Kraft often wears.

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The photo appears to have been posted to Facebook by Sica with a caption that reads: “Happy Halloween with a Happy Ending!”

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“While we extend congratulations to Malden Ward 8 City Councillor Sica-Bernbaum for her recent victory, in the same week, we were deeply disturbed and enraged to receive a screenshot of a Facebook photo of Councillor Sica-Bernbaum’s Halloween costume,” reads a statement released on Wednesday by the Greater Malden Asian American Community Coalition and signed by 15 other local organizations. “This costume is harmful, racist, and ignorant.”

The groups say they’re condemning the costume for several reasons, including the use of “yellowface, which historically leads to the dehumanization of Asian people.”

The statement also decries the “hypersexualization of Asian women” that can lead to incidents such as the massage parlor shootings in Atlanta in March that left eight people dead, many of them Asian American women. The killings shined a light on the racism that can fuel violence against Asian Americans and sparked a nationwide conversation on the problem.

The advocates also note workers at Orchids of Asia received harsh penalties, including detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as a result of the investigation while Kraft saw his charges dismissed.

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Twenty-four other men were also charged with prostitution offenses, with all of them misdemeanors.

“Our culture, our people, and our pain are not a costume. Malden is a city that is just a little over 22 percent Asian American. Our youth, especially our young women, should not see themselves represented and mocked in this way by an elected official of our town,” the statement says. “This is racial violence: the appropriation of Asian identity for someone’s amusement.”

In addition, Malden’s state Legislature delegation released a joint statement on Wednesday that noted in recent years “our society has engaged in a long-overdue reckoning with the harmful impacts of ethnic stereotypoes and racist caricatures.”

“All people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity; we strongly condemn any actions that harm or disresect any racial, religious or ethnic minority group,” wrote the delegation, which includes state Sen. Jason Lewis and state Reps. Paul Donato, Kate Lipper-Garabedian, and Steven Ultrino.

Sica responded in a statement of her own and wrote she attended a Halloween party two years ago “with costumes that made light of what was at the time a current news event.”

The statement, posted on Facebook, continued:

Since that time, many, myself included, have become much more aware of the fact that the women involved in cases like these are all too often vulnerable members of the Asian community who are victims of exploitation.

Those that know me know that I have love in my heart for people from all backgrounds, races, and religions. I also recognize that bad intent isn’t a necessary ingredient to actions that are hurtful to others. Looking back at the choice of costume through a more enlightened lens allows me to see now what I didn’t see then, which is that costumes that in any way portray another culture can be hurtful and in my case, send a message inconsistent with how I’ve lived my public and private life. I can and will do better.

As a mother, a daughter, and a public official, I never stop learning. I value each and every member of our community, regardless of background, race or religion, and remain committed to Malden being a welcoming home for all. I do appreciate those who took the time to express their concerns in a constructive way. Being willing to talk things out respectfully is at the core of who we are as Maldonians.

The organizations behind the statement condemning Sica’s costume had sought her apology in addition to having her throw “her support behind policies and plans that support her immigrant, People of Color constituents right here in Malden.”

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The statement highlighted promoting the city’s “Language Access Plan” to expand the number of languages the city uses to communicate with residents as one example of an action Sica could take.

“We write this letter not to pillory Councillor Sica-Bernbaum, but to urge her to reflect on the impact her actions have had, to learn about racism and the pain it causes, and to find ways to repair the public harm she has caused her neighbors, as well as her own constituents,” the statement says.

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