“We are here because we are hurting!”—Anti-Asian Hate Activists Demand Racial Justice in Malden

An image of Malden Ward 8 Councilor, Jadeane Sica, in a contentious costume from 2019 boiled to the surface. An exceeding number of affected Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community residents, alongside non-Asian allies, expressed reprehension, accusing Sica of yellowface and hyper-sexualization of Asian women.

While City Councilor Sica was President of City Council, she appeared in a photograph wearing a Halloween costume that perpetuates stereotypes of an Asian masseuse as a sex worker. In the photo, Councilor Sica is wearing an Asian conical hat, holding a bottle of massage lotion in her hand, and wearing a shirt that reads “Orchids of Asia,” the name of the massage spa in Florida where New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was arrested for soliciting prostitution. Councilor Sica’s written message on the post stated, “Happy Halloween with a Happy Ending,” explained Zane Crute, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from the Mystic Valley Branch.

Under the belief that the apology Sica shared on her Facebook was inadequate for the harm caused, Marsha Managua from the NAACP said that, “there has been a growing movement of racially motivated violence towards Malden’s approximately 22% Asian American population. By not addressing hate-filled comments on social media, by not taking responsibility for explaining to Malden community members why her and her husband’s costumes were harmful, and by not formally apologizing for the harm caused, Councilor Sica has failed to fulfill her moral duties as the city leader.”

This led to a protest that happened at 2:00 PM on December 11th, on Pleasant Street. Malden and Boston activists alike gathered to condemn the recirculated images revealing Councilor Sica’s “harmful, racist, and ignorant” appropriation of Asian identity, as well as her refusal to make a direct apology.

“We’d rather be with our family, out there shopping, staying home in a warm house, spending time [doing] something that we enjoy, but we are here! We are here because we are hurting…not because we think this is fun—to lose a December afternoon hour so that we can be here just to be at a standout—no! We are here because we believe in respect and dignity and what is right for our young ones,” emphasized Mai Du, a MHS graduate, Malden business owner and longtime community advocate.

Mai Du makes her fervency for anti-Asian hate evident. Photo by Jessica Li.

Co-sponsored by a number of local, POC-led organizations—namely, Mystic Valley Branch of NAACP (MVBNAACP), Decolonize Our Museums (DOM), Greater Malden Asian American Community Coalition (GMAACC), Malden Community Organizing for Racial Equity (MaldenCORE), Asian Community Development Corporation (ACDC), and Asian Coalition MA (ACMA)—the rally kicked off with addresses from various speakers.

“As Asian youth, women, transgender, intersex, gender nonconforming folks, and elders, our histories and experiences have already been invisibilized and mocked our whole lives. For Councilor Sica to mock Asian sex workers in her photo is a violent act that perpetuates harmful narratives against our community. Our Asian sex workers are not caricatures for your Halloween costume or your humor! This isn’t funny,” remarked a GMAACC member. She continued, “our youth, especially our young women, should not see themselves represented and mocked in this way by an elected official of our town. This is racial violence!”

From left to right, top to bottom: Freshmen Marie Cheng and Sarah Pham among the crowd of protesters, a member of the NAACP Mystic Valley Branch condemns racism towards the AAPI community in all forms, an activist's sign held high without shame. All photos by Jessica Li. 

At this, and speeches ensuing, the crowd erupted into resonant shouts and plaudits that filled City Hall with distinguished noise. Brazen, protesters chanted:

“What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”

“大声说话,团结起来,为胜利而战!”: “Speak louder, unite, fight for victory!”

“The people, united, will never be defeated!”

“我们的人民承诺谴责暴力!”: “Our people promise to condemn violence!”

“Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”

“Hey, hey, whoa, whoa! Councilor Sica has got to go!”

“We will not be intimidated!”

“Hey, hey, ho, ho! This racist councilor has got to go!”

“Sica, say sorry!”

“No, that is not an apology!”

“We are not small!”

“Get your facts straight!”

“Way too long!”

“Sica, you failed!”

“Don’t have what it takes!”

“Educate yourself!”

“Lead with courage!”

Addressing Sica, Du continued to criticize, “this has never been about using race to weaponize or using race to try to get you to resign…we were just hoping that our elected official for the good city of Malden has some good sense in her—potential leadership!...And yet, you failed [us, Sica]!”

Cheering among the sea of vocal activists was an instrumentalist and University of Massachusetts Boston freshman, Thomas Tran. Having helped organize the event, he stated, “it’s December. It’s cold as hell. And, we could be doing something so much better with our time, but we’re all out here. We’re all fighting for the same cause.”

MHS alumnus, creator of the Stand Out Against Anti-Asian Hate Literature and attendee of the protest, Billy Zeng echoed this, saying, “today shows we’re not small” and “there is power in numbers.” Zeng followed, “as a Ward 8 constituent myself, it was very disappointing, to be honest... especially as a first generation American… [I think as a leader]—she is struggling to start leading and actually taking consideration of [her] constituents.”

Protesters of all ages, including children, demonstrate in support of the AAPI community. Photo by Jessica Li.

It is for this reason that the MVBNAACP condemns “Councilor Sica’s costume and her subsequent lack of an apology in the strongest of possible terms and implore action to be taken by Mayor Christenson and City Council members to condemn racially motivated violence, apologize for Councilor Sica’s costume that mocked and dehumanized female Asian immigrant women, pressure Councilor Sica to resign or remove from her city council duties and her role, and institute an accountability system for all elected officials,” Crute concluded, “Sica’s resignation would be the first step towards reconciliation and healing the profound harm that has been caused to the AAPI community and to Maldonians at large.”

Councilor Sica did offer an apology through a statement on Facebook which the protesters found inadequate.

“Enough is enough. It is time for us to be heard. It is time for us to be seen. It is time for us to be empowered to take action. We cannot do it alone! Get involved! This is how we build power.” 

“We demand for authentic commitment, work and results from institutions and all organizations for a city that embraces racial equity, including the Mayor of Malden, Gary Christenson, who declares racism a public emergency in Malden. We demand to do what is right, to not enable the power of racism. We do not play with people’s lives!” 

The Our Revolution Malden’s petition is here: Petition · Call for Malden City Council President Sica to Resign · Change.org

All photos in this article were edited by Brandon Wong. 

A previous version of this article was written to seem as if Councillor Sica was a first-gen American, it has since been clarified to refer to Billy Zeng.

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