A progressive, Jewish member of the San Mateo City Council says she felt targeted and harassed after a rock was thrown through a bedroom window of her house last week while she and her family were inside.
Amourence Lee, whose father is of Chinese-Hawaiian heritage, is the first Asian American woman to serve on the city council.
Her mother, Litty Medalia, is the Jewish daughter of a former civil rights leader who supported school integration in Atlanta, and was subjected to harassment and discrimination as a result, Lee told J.
Medalia now works for Jewish Vocational Services in Boston.
The incident, which occurred just before noon on June 2, followed a string of vandalism in San Mateo targeting the Asian American community in recent months during the coronavirus pandemic.
Video footage captured by a neighborhood security camera and published by a Bay Area TV station shows a man who is walking on the sidewalk pause to hurl a rock toward Lee’s house, followed by a crashing sound.
In an emotional Facebook video recorded outside her home after the incident, Lee said she was “shaking with fear” and said she was the victim of a hate crime. “This is my home. I belong here. You will not take away my sense of belonging,” she said in a second video.
Lee is an outspoken supporter of Black Lives Matter, and has been at the forefront of recent protests against police brutality. A social justice advocate, the day before the incident she helped raise a Pride flag at San Mateo City Hall for the first time in the city’s history.
Lee said she was inside the house with her two children and husband when the glass shattered. The rock was sent through a bedroom window displaying an American flag emblazoned with the words “Dignity, Liberty, Justice for All.”
“The first thing we were trying to figure out is: Is this retribution for some of her work on the city council?” husband Rich Lin said during the interview.
In April and May, a rash of anti-Asian signs and slogans appeared in San Mateo, including graffiti with hateful messages like “F** China,” “Chinese Disease” and “Thanks China.” Police said they were still investigating those incidents.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, reports of anti-Asian assaults and hate crimes have spiked along with anti-Semitic and xenophobic conspiracy theories in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In an essay about her identity, Lee wrote that she did not have a bat mitzvah nor grow up with Jewish practice, but said she is “exactly 50 percent Ashkenazi” according to her genome and acknowledged that both she and her children are “100 percent” Jewish by Jewish law.
She had an awakening in her late thirties after a visit to swim at a JCC, when her son asked her about their heritage. She was stumped when he asked “How did the first person know they were Jewish?”
“So I threw myself into reading Jewish books and met with three different rabbis to start my Jewish education,” she wrote. “I’m 38 years old and this is just the beginning of my story about being Jewish.”
A spokesperson for the San Mateo Police Department told J. on June 8 that police were still searching for a suspect. They asked members of the public to come forward with any information they might have.
The incident was classified as felony vandalism, according to public information officer Michael Haobsh. “We still need additional information to classify it as a hate crime. However we’re looking into it,” he said.
“We take instances of hate seriously in the city of San Mateo,” he said.