Last week, I attended the Lantern festival organized by AAPI Montclair at Edgemont Park with my family. It was a proud moment for Montclair as hundreds of people came together to support AAPI families and all victims of hate. It was a beautiful evening with all the brilliant lights, panels sharing the history of racist violence against Asian Americans, music from Montclair Orchestra members; it was perfect for the community to come together in tribute to victims of racial violence and injustice.

Then came the speeches. We sat on our blankets, eager to hear the thoughts of our local politicians and community leaders on this issue. Just then, a group of elected town officials arrived and took up standing positions right in front of where we were sitting, completely blocking our view and everyone behind us. For the rest of our evening, that was our view — the backs of our very own elected officials.

Yes, this might be a case of lack of awareness and unintended behavior. But during the whole evening, the town officials made no effort to look back and engage with any of us, the people they represent. It felt like they focused on making their presence felt to the speakers, media and whoever can further their careers. To my criticism, I made no effort to make my voice heard to these elected officials and played the typecast role of "the model minority."

That evening, as I drove home, I realized that I have been holding back on voicing all the town issues bothering me lately. My concerns range from problems like the school reopening saga, the lack of funding for the library, non-existent communication during the pandemic, school infrastructure issues, potential bias in school board appointments (with an important official also being the teacher's association president), etc.

Not only did the elected members turn their back on us that evening, but it felt like they have literally been doing this to all of the town's critical issues throughout this pandemic. It's time for these elected officials to listen to their constituents and focus on essential matters that Montclair faces — opening up schools, funding the library, and creating a platform to listen to constituents' problems.

Ashok Pitchamani
Montclair, NJ


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