By Kory Goldsmith
Tuyet M. Le, former executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice and is currently a consultant for multiple nonprofit and government organizations, spoke at the Diversity Lecture Series at Grand Rapids Community College Tuesday, Oct. 20.
Le is a polio survivor who came to the U.S. when she was 3 with her parents and four siblings as refugees. She’s used her lived experiences and platform to speak on political empowerment, disability, immigration, and redistricting rights.
Le was scheduled to speak this past March but the speech was postponed due to COVID-19.
She’s a speaker on issues of immigration, disability rights, and political empowerment to name a few. She’s currently on the board of Access Living, Point the Way, and One’s People Campaign.
“Public life isn’t just public speaking,” she said. “It’s agreeing to play our part in building a community, your community. Public life is recognizing that our destinies are tied to the destiny of other people.”
Le told the story of what her career could have been after she graduated from Northwestern University. At the request of their mother, her sister gave her a paper clipping of a want ad at a factory in her hometown of Millwukee.
“I could have been the girl who worked in a factory,” Le spoke about the prospect of her career.
She addressed Asian stereotypes and used COVID-19 as an example of how Asian countries have been blamed for issues and events that were beyond their control. This has led to physical and verbal attacks against Asian Americans around the country.
“This idea creates a separation,” Le said. “It gives permission to treat Asian American’s as scapegoats and potential enemies.”
She talked about how Asian American’s are considered outsiders, having their loyalty consistently questioned. She also pointed out that they’re often portrayed as convenient scapegoats by white supremacists trying to hold on to power and resources.
The path forward entails reflection, awareness, and action, she said.