A confrontation about masks turned into a racially charged encounter on a public bus.
Lai, who preferred to only use her first name, was riding a Miami-Dade County bus on March 9, when she politely told a man and a woman to put on their masks.
She says she told the bus driver to ask them to comply, but that’s when the man and the woman refused to comply. Then the man started spewing out racial slurs at her.
Fearing that it could turn violent, Lai started recording the incident on her cellphone.
“Mind your business Chinese lady. I don’t care about you people. Go to hell. This is America,” said the unidentified man on video.
To which Lai responded, “I’m from America. I was born here.”
“I won’t repeat the racial slurs, but he told me to go back to China. He told me that I brought COVID into this country,” Lai said.
As an Asian American who lives in Miami, Lai says in the back of her mind she was worried, thinking about the recent rise in anti-Asian attacks.
“You have the incidents that are happening in San Francisco, New York and most recently Atlanta, and I was just really scared because you just never know,” Lai said.
City of Miami Commissioner Ken Russell is the only Japanese American elected official in South Florida. He also condemns the recent hate crimes against Asians across the U.S.
“Stop AAPI Hate has statistics on that. 3,700 and 95 incidents in the last year in the last 12 months alone. About 68% of those are verbal harassment incidents like this, but 11% do escalate to violence. This is something that is real,” Russel said. “This is just a really good teachable time for us to be aware of our neighbors, really embrace diversity and come together in this pandemic.”
The man involved in Lai’s case eventually is heard on video agreeing with her about wearing a mask but never puts it on. He got off the bus and it never turned into a physical attack. Lai says this verbal harassment is unacceptable and never okay. She wants more people to stand up and take action.
“It’s demoralizing. It’s like they view you as subhuman. Like you don’t belong, but I do belong," Lai said. "Diversity is what makes this country so strong, so for someone to say something like that it’s honestly heartbreaking."
“Hate speech has no place in our community, period. We must stand together to condemn all forms of bigotry and hatred, as we confront the rise of violence against Asian Americans,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. “We all have a role to play in making sure Miami-Dade is a place where all people feel safe, welcome, and accepted.”
Miami Dade County Department of Transportation and Public Works also put out a statement, which read in part:
“The safety and wellbeing of our passengers and employees is our number one priority. We regret any of our passengers having had a negative experience while on our system.
The Department was first made aware of this incident on March 10, 2021, and received the audio files from the bus on March 19, 2021. An internal review is being conducted, and appropriate action will be taken, which may include re-training.”