After a text exchange between two Occidental students emerged Feb. 1 — one making a genocidal, racist statement toward Asian people and both blaming Asian people for the pandemic — Jasper Lee (senior), like many other Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students, said he was shocked by the news. Lee’s father is from Hong Kong, and his grandparents still reside there. As a child, Lee said, he and his family would frequently visit them, and they would often visit him in America.
“It was a big part of growing up,” he said.
Lee said he grew up in South Pasadena, an area with a large population of Asian Americans, and being part of those communities shaped his identity. So when the texts circulated around campus, Lee said he was hurt by the messages.
“Feeling that pain, it sucks,” Lee said. “I want to do something about this.”
The college removed students’ chalk on the walkways outside of the Johnson Student Center (JSC) and outside of the Arthur G. Coons administrative center (AGC) protesting the anti-Asian messages and expressing solidarity with AAPI students Feb. 3. In response, a group of students chalked the walkways outside of the JSC again, according to Lee. When he found out the walkways were chalked again, Lee said he was motivated to do something of his own.
“When people re-chalked the Quad, that was pretty sick,” Lee said. “[I thought,] I bet if I post up in the Quad and put up a sign people will donate to me.”
As a result, Lee said he played his Pink Fender Stratocaster to raise money for Stop AAPI Hate — an organization that responds to incidents of hate and violence toward AAPI people. For three afternoons Lee sat between the Marketplace and the Tiger Cooler and performed a variety of covers, instrumentals and original songs on his guitar.
Lee said he felt that the college community responded positively to his playing.
“I received a lot of donations over three different days,” Lee said. “I played seven hours total, and I got a couple hundred dollars.”
Lee is a physics major and said he only began to seriously play guitar near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although he took lessons in elementary school, it was his brother, who also started seriously playing during the COVID-19 pandemic, who got him back into playing, Lee said.
“I was listening to him play and I was like, ‘That sounds fun,’” Lee said. “I taught myself a small amount of music theory, just enough to cover the basics.”
Outside the Tiger Cooler, he primarily played a collection of covers of classic bands, like the Beatles, with an occasional original chord progression or song, Lee said. He works with a looper pedal — a guitar accessory that allows the player to play a chord progression once and then play something else alongside it — and said he normally spends a couple of hours a day at home, sitting and looping. A fan of Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals, Lee said he loves music and listens to almost everything.
“I don’t really like death metal,” Lee said. “But everything else I can give time to listen to.”
Lee’s playing outside the Tiger Cooler was not his first live music performance, either. He performed at the reopening of the Green Bean a week before, and said he greatly enjoys playing for a live audience.
“I’ve been playing music for a while now, and not a lot of people know. It was cool to see people say, ‘This is cool,'” Lee said. “I play at home too, and the only difference here is I get to sit outside.”
Director of the Choi Family Music Production Center Max Foreman said he has heard Lee play and appreciates his performance and donations to Stop AAPI Hate.
“I was just walking through the quad when I heard him playing,” Foreman said. “I support Jasper’s use of music to raise awareness. I think that’s cool.”
Aricin Tellefsen (first year) has heard Lee’s playing as well.
“He was doing some good things against the racism against the Asian people we saw at Occidental,” Tellefsen said.
Lee said playing to raise money for Stop AAPI Hate has been a positive experience overall.
“A couple people that I didn’t actually know came up and talked to me,” Lee said. “A lot of my friends came along and sat out with me, and I thought that was cool because there’s power in having the community of people around you to share the music.”
Lee said he believes something should be done about the presence of anti-Asian sentiment at Occidental.
“I feel for people,” Lee said. “We have got to do something.”