How the creator of COVID-19 vaccine-finding site TurboVax took a stand against anti-Asian hate
A software engineer who developed a website to help New Yorkers find available COVID-19 vaccines is using his new platform to speak out against the rise in anti-Asian racism linked to the pandemic.
He is also drawing attention to what he sees as the irreplaceable contributions of Asian Americans to the nation as a whole.
Huge Ma created the website TurboVax last month to help his community navigate the headache-inducing search for vaccine appointments in New York City. His work, which he made free to the public, compiles information from city and state websites to announce appointment availabilities via Twitter.
“It all started when I was trying to help my mom find a vaccine, it was a pretty arduous process,” he told ABC News. “I just thought that maybe I could do something to make it easier.”
Ma’s project was spotlighted in the New York Times earlier this month for offering “an easier way to spot appointments than the city and state’s official systems do.”
As a barrage of anti-Asian hate incidents has rocked the nation, however, Ma took a stand by abruptly suspending his site for two days.
If we as a country don’t listen to the concerns of Asian Americans, then we risk losing the contributions of Asian Americans as well.
“I wanted to illustrate through this action of taking the site down for two days, that if we as a country don’t listen to the concerns of Asian Americans, then we risk losing the contributions of Asian Americans as well,” Ma told ABC News.
“Growing up in Queens, I was not immune to anti-Asian bias,” he added. “I grew up with people making offhand remarks about my slanted eyes, my yellow skin, my ‘Ching Chong’ name.”
After an Asian man was stabbed in the back at random in New York City’s Chinatown, Ma said he felt he had to speak out against the hate.
“I knew that on another day that could have easily been me,” he said.
Ma posted a Twitter thread recounting the violence taking place across the country and announcing he was temporarily suspending the site. He urged his nearly 100,000 followers to donate to the local nonprofit group Welcome to Chinatown, which aims to preserve the Asian American enclave in New York City and help fight anti-Asian discrimination.
His move, however, courted immediate controversy and backlash on Twitter. Ma said he received a slew of hateful comments, and many users attacked him for the perceived inconveniences he caused.
On Twitter, Ma responded to some of the comments by saying he is “not your free labor” and imploring people to be allies to the Asian American community and educate themselves on what is happening.
“And if you think contributions of Asian-Americans are replaceable, ask your government how their version of TurboVax is going,” he wrote.
The site is now back up and running, and Ma estimates it has helped “thousands if not tens of thousands of New Yorkers” so far. Moreover, he has raised some $105,000 for Welcome to Chinatown to date.
“I just hope that my experience can show others that as long as you take the initiative and stand up for what you believe in, I think that you can make real change, regardless of however big or small you think that may be,” Ma told ABC News.
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