Fortune: 1955 Capital’s Andrew Chung on the Atlanta shootings, anti-Asian racism, and a very hard phone call to his father
Today, we turn this space over to Andrew Chung, a first-generation Asian American and founder and managing partner of 1955 Capital. He shares his experience with racism, his anguish over the murders in Atlanta, and issues a very specific call to action.
The American Dream at Risk
The days after the shootings in Atlanta have been difficult for the Asian American community, but racial discrimination and violence is unfortunately nothing new and has been pervasive throughout my lifetime. I am the only son of immigrant parents who escaped from China to the U.S. more than 50 years ago to pursue the American Dream, uneducated, not speaking a word of English, with not a penny to their names. A generation later, I am grateful every day that this great nation afforded me the opportunity to study mathematics at Harvard and become one of the rare individuals of Asian descent to become a general partner at a top global venture capital firm.
Recently, I called my father Jack and pleaded with him to stay home and not go to the Chinese restaurant in suburban Philadelphia that he opened decades ago, due to my fear of both him getting COVID and his physical safety with the rise of Asian hate crimes — each due to failures in our nation’s leadership. Almost a year ago, during the early days of the pandemic, my septuagenarian father dutifully wore a mask in a local pharmacy and was harassed by a patron who yelled, “Nobody’s wearing a mask in here, you’re scaring everyone with this whole China Virus!” Dad was scared for his life and took off his mask, putting his health at risk. Around that time, our nation’s failure to handle the pandemic temporarily shut down their restaurant and put my folks out of work for the first time in the half century since they reached U.S. shores. Although I had tried to compel them off and on for the last 15 years to retire and enjoy a comfortable life, they never gave up on their craft or their customers — until COVID. A difficult year of coping with the loss of their Dream ended with a beacon of hope after getting their first vaccine shots and a return to the restaurant.
Then, six Asian women were shot in Atlanta by an individual who the local sheriff said did so because he had “a really bad day.” The law enforcement official in charge of the investigation is one who a year ago promoted T-shirts that said, “Covid 19 IMPORTED VIRUS FROM CHY-NA.” If you hadn’t seen or heard of this, I’m not surprised. Another cowardly act that will be forgotten. I’m worried that no movement (with a capital “M”) will ensue from this terrible act, which is only the most recent in a series of attacks on Asian Americans, young and old. According to NYPD data, for example, Asian hate crimes are up 1,900% from a year ago. In any other discipline or demographic, these types of growth metrics would shock and awe. In this case, it’s just another stat.
I fear the reason for this may be that even I have gotten numb to the persistent anti-Asian sentiment and general discrimination towards race, gender, and sexual orientation that I have witnessed and experienced my entire life. My parents and I were the target of racial slurs and hurtful incidents (the burning of my textbooks one year comes to mind) throughout my childhood. When I was the President of the Chinese Students Association at Harvard, I led students in speaking out against anti-Asian racial bias in the media, business world, and government. But I was disappointed in the inability for the various Asian subgroups to come together in a unified front to speak up for the cause. So I sought to fight the battle from the inside out and took the chip off my shoulder. I was proud to become an investor at Lightspeed Ventures and general partner at Khosla Ventures, two of the preeminent venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, represent our country on presidential trade missions to the Far East, sit on the Dean’s Cabinet of Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and attend the Met Gala. I believed that if the populace could see more Asians in positions of leadership and influence, perceptions could change over time. Progress could be made.
But I was reminded after the shooting in Atlanta that it’s not enough.
I now invest in revolutionary technologies and people that have an opportunity to change the world for the better — to help a new generation achieve their American Dream and ensure others, like my parents, preserve theirs. But I had to call my parents and ask them to give up their cherished freedoms, because our collective voice has been too soft to drive the change that would keep them safe.
Asian Americans and other minorities have taken steps backward because of failed leadership, and people need to express their anguish over events like those in Atlanta. Donate to causes like StopAAPIHate that help fight against Asian and other hate crimes that attack our country’s diversity. Take a stand against bigotry and encourage your organizations to do the same. Write to your representatives and ask them to protect their Asian American constituents. Use your influence to inspire others to positive and productive action. Build companies of lasting significance. Run for office. Express discontentment that there is no Asian American cabinet member for the first time in decades.