The escalating anti-Asian hate crimes, including the tragic killings in Atlanta and the recent vandalism of several local Asian restaurants around the Lunar New Year, have shaken our Asian American community. These incidents are a culmination of a toxic national climate that have emboldened and legitimized violence and aggression toward Asian Americans.
Words matter, especially words from our leaders. While those might be isolated incidents, everyday bigotry that contributes to broader anti-Asian sentiment should be called out as we see it, including on the House floor in Annapolis.
Just over a week ago, my colleague, Del. Mark Fisher, used the words “crony capitalism,” “central planning,” and “Communist China” on the House floor when describing House Bill 658, a bill that I sponsored to establish a workgroup on transforming Maryland’s manufacturing industries in the digital economy.
As the only delegate who grew up in Communist China, I take great offense at such inflammatory remarks that were entirely uncalled for in the context of a bill to grow Maryland’s manufacturing economy. I doubt he has ever used “central planning” to describe any other similar bills to establish task forces or workgroups, and I bet he would not have equated the approach to “Communist China” if the bill’s sponsor did not have a name like “Qi.”
In the 2020 legislative session, I introduced a bill to establish a mobile laundry pilot program for the homeless. Del. Fisher joked with colleagues, “How come the only Chinese in the House is introducing a laundry bill?” Not that it should matter, but that bill had nothing to do with my Chinese heritage. I got the idea while vacationing in Athens, Greece, and witnessed a local volunteer-run mobile laundry.
It might sound like a bad cultural joke, but it’s not funny if you’re on the receiving end. It’s hard enough to be a Chinese-born legislator when an escalating cold war between my home country and my adopted country has led to increasing political hostility towards Chinese Americans here.
As his colleague on Economic Matters Committee, I have witnessed how Del. Fisher has treated other women, including legislators who came before our committee to testify. He once was so rude and degrading to a female legislator presenting a bill that one of my witnesses, a veteran and business owner who was there to testify, called afterwards to express his disbelief and disgust.
As legislators, we all welcome input to help strengthen our legislative work. But such discourse should be conducted in a way that elevates our collective wisdom and our common humanity. Degrading remarks are unbecoming of an elected official.
For the record, Maryland needs focused and coordinated strategies to grow and build back its manufacturing industries. It’s a sector uniquely suited for Maryland with our deep R&D assets that can be leveraged to drive advanced manufacturing, from vaccines to clean energy batteries, while helping existing industries adopt new technologies and grow well-paying jobs.
Identifying high-growth industry sectors and making strategic investments is precisely the job of the public sector—not, in Fisher’s words, “crony capitalism.” The rest of the country and the world are not waiting for Maryland to get our act together or bicker among ourselves about winners and losers. It is time to look outward and forward, not inward or backward to shed tears on industries that will never come back. It is time to think, act, and talk like the leaders our people expect us to be.
— LILY QI
The writer, a Democrat, represents Montgomery County’s District 15 in the House of Delegates.