BENNINGTON — Town officials on Wednesday extended their support to a Chinese-American woman and her adult son who were subjected to racist slurs and told to “go home” during their visit to the Bennington Battle Monument on Friday.
“I am so very sorry that you were treated poorly by a stranger and it makes me sick to think he may have been from this community,” Select Board chair Donald Campbell wrote in a letter to Haiyan Hu, of Brattleboro, that he shared with the Banner.
“We have not been able to identify the offensive individual but please know that racism, xenophobia, and hate speech are not at all welcome here. That does little to help you but I want you to know that the entire Bennington Select Board and town government is disgusted by this.”
“Please know that your family is welcome in Bennington and that the vast majority of our citizens are disgusted by what happened to you. I apologize again for the racist individuals we cannot control, much as we wish we could,” Campbell wrote.
In a letter to the editor, Town Manager Stuart Hurd noted that the Hu and her family were “enjoying a beautiful fall day when she was approached by a man walking his dog. The man hurled several insults at her telling her to go back where she came from ostensibly due to COVID. Such behavior is unacceptable, abhorrent, and insulting to all of the Bennington community.”
“Unfortunately, we live in a time where the most hateful, hurtful actions are enabled at the highest levels of our government,” Hurd wrote. “We, as a community, cannot condone these actions. We must call them out in the strongest terms. Such speech may be protected by the First Amendment, but the actions, the driving force behind them, are unconscionable.”
The incident was first reported by NEWS10 ABC in Albany. Hu said she was approached by a former student who works at the station who had read Hu’s post about the incident on social media, and agreed to give an interview.
“I strongly feel that if we want to stop racism, xenophobia, and hate speech, we need to speak up and let other people know our experience,” she wrote in a reply to Campbell, which she shared with the Banner.
“The reason I accepted the WTEN interview was not just for myself but also for other Asian Americans. I have been worried about the safety of my Asian heritage students since March when the coronavirus was also named as ‘Chinese Virus,’” she said.
Since January, amid the risk of the coronavirus, “there have been a significant number of reports” of Asian American and Pacific Islander “individuals being threatened and harassed on the street,” according to the Anti-Defamation League. “These incidents include being told to ‘Go back to China,’ being blamed for ‘bringing the virus’ to the United States, being referred to with racial slurs, spat on, or physically assaulted.”
“Statements by public officials referring to COVID-19 as the ‘Chinese virus,’ ‘Kung Flu’ or ‘Wu Flu’ may be exacerbating the scapegoating and targeting of the AAPI community,” according to the ADL.
Hu accepted Campbell’s apology, although, she added, “though I don’t think Bennington Community owes me any apology.
“Bennington is one of the most friendly and beautiful towns to visit in Vermont. I have visited Bennington Monument with my family and friends for many times since 2002. We had many wonderful memories of our visits. This hateful speech I encountered will not stop me from visiting this beautiful and peaceful historical site. I will separate my beautiful memories from this experience.”