Elizabeth Ou Yang (Photo: Susie Yuen)

Elizabeth Ou Yang (Photo: Susie Yuen)

Overcoming Our Fears

Dear Advocate:

Since the presidential election, I've been reminded in stark terms of my humanity and privilege.  And they have propelled me to action -- to march in protest against discriminatory policies, sign petitions, and to speak out every chance I can.

In the history of my 30 years as a civil rights attorney doing voting rights work, I have never seen so many people petrified by a shift in the political landscape. I also teach at Columbia and New York Universities.  Here is a sampling of the fears students, in tears, have shared with me: 

I have DACA.[1] I have just been crying and I'm so tired, I can't plan beyond tomorrow.

I'm a senior and don't know if my hard work these past three years will now go down the drain. I don't even know if I can come back for Spring term if my DACA is not renewed since I won't have ID to board a plane.

I am a U.S. born citizen, but my parents are undocumented. I am so scared what will happen to them especially because my little sister needs them.

I have many family members who are green card holders from Bangladesh.

They are so afraid to travel abroad because they don't know if they will get back in again.

If the new president supports stop and frisk, what will happen to my younger brother?

My job to protect my son just got harder.

Are they going to try to fix transgender people now?

I'm scared because decades of progress to integrate and gain access and equality for minority and marginalized groups may now be drastically set back. I'm scared that the hateful rhetoric of this year's long presidential campaign will now guide policy decisions that will fuel more hate crimes and deeper divisions. This, in turn, will lead to expenditure of more resources to maintain "law and order" that should be allocated for better schools, healthcare, and creation of jobs.  This is NOT the environment that I want myself, or those I care about, to live in.

As an Asian American, I'm scared because my brothers were victims of hate crimes. I'll never forget the rope burns on my brother's neck when a neighborhood bully landed a lasso around his neck as he rode his bike down the street. As a civil rights attorney, I've helped families whose sons were killed and a doctor who suffers from permanent brain damage as a result of a hate crime. 

If you too are scared, then I challenge you to step up, get out of your comfort zone, and mobilize for an inclusive and integrated society that respects the richness of diversity we, as AMERICA, represent.


Elizabeth R. OuYang

Past President of OCA-NY, civil rights attorney, teacher