THE gash on his face may have healed but it has left a big scar on Noel Quintana’s face and every time he looks at the mirror, he is reminded of that terrifying morning on February 3 when an assailant slashed his face with a box cutter.
A few days after the incident, he joined a group of Filipino American leaders and supporters gathered to pray for his recovery. He has been expressing his thoughts and opinions on the matter, and in recent weeks, he has become the poster child of anti-Asian hate in New York.
Quintana, who moved to the United States from the Philippines in 2007, juggles two jobs with a nonprofit organization and a tax preparer. Migrating to a new country without any family, he has found a support system by volunteering at the Migrant Center, a nonprofit organization at St. Francis of Assisi led by Fr. Julian Jagudilla.
“His attack has made Asian members of our community scared and anxious. Reassuring them and finding resources for them so they can live safely in our city is the need of the hour. We have to fight racism and protect our Asian communities through vigilance and community action,” Fr. Jagudilla said at the “Rise Up Against Anti-Asian Hate” rally on Feb. 27.
It was a gathering of a veritable who’s who in New York politics led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Rep. Grace Meng, Attorney General Letitia James and Mayor Bill de Blasio, along with community allies and non-government organization leaders across the city. They were one in denouncing the surge of anti-Asian hate incidents in New York.
A couple of blocks from the rally, a 36-year-old Asian American man was stabbed unprovoked two days earlier.
“Pagaling na pero medyo masakit pa rin (It’s healing but it’s still a bit painful),” Quintana told the Asian Journal on the sidelines of the program.
“I’m overwhelmed by the support of the people, the community, even outside the U.S. I am so thankful for the support. I think that something has to be done so it would be safer not just for Asian Americans but for everyone,” he said further. “There’s a lot of violence that happened during this pandemic and people should be aware that we need one another so that this would be avoided.”
A Brooklyn resident, he was on his way to work in Harlem that fateful morning. He boarded the subway at the Jefferson Station in Bushwick. It was full so he picked a spot where he stood. A few stops later at Bedford Station, he recalled that a man hopped in and stood beside him. He was praying the rosary when the same man kicked the tote bag Quintana was carrying.
Quintana recalled moving his tote bag away from the man but he kicked it one more time. He turned to the man and said, ‘What’s wrong with you?” and moved to the other end of the train car. At this time, the train has reached the First Avenue station.
The painful memory of an incident two years ago came rushing back that Wednesday morning, Feb. 3 as his assailant moved towards him. He thought he was going to be punched again and he somehow readied himself for the strike.
But it didn’t happen. It was moments later when Quintana realized something worse had happened. He saw the shocked faces of his fellow subway passengers. He touched his face, looked at his hand and saw blood.
“Nobody helped,” he said, his voice almost breaking. “We’re all New Yorkers and no one helped me. There should be an awareness campaign on how to deal with this kind of problem, not only on the subway but also on the streets, so people know who to respond to victims such as myself.”
Realizing that no one called 911 or alerted the train conductor and that the subway was moving on, Quintana stepped out and walked toward the end of the platform. He stayed by the station booth as the attendant called 911 and asked for help. After answering questions from the police, he was brought to Bellevue Hospital where he received about 100 stitches on his face.
New York police arrested the man who attacked Quintana, and according to him, the man is scheduled to be arraigned this week.
As he said in a Zoom prayer meeting a week after the incident, he did not want to just be a statistic. Not this time, not anymore.
A couple of years ago, he was assaulted outside his work in Harlem. He just left the office that day and as he was walking, he saw a man running towards him and before he knew it, the man had already punched him in the face.
Gathering his composure, he stood up and attempted to walk but he faltered. He reported what happened to the nearest police station and moved on with his life. That was the end of it.
Little did he know that two short years later, he would be facing another similar incident. Only this time, it would be more bloody and gruesome.
In the past few weeks, he has been on the front page of the Washington Post and featured in People magazine, along with other mainstream publications. He has no problem being thrust into the limelight and becoming the face of the issue. In fact, he is embracing it.
“I guess you can call it the bright side of the incident because may action na nangyayari (there is action going on). Hindi yung naging victim ka lang at wala ka nang nagawa (It’s not that you just became a victim and did nothing),” he said. “Even if I was victimized, in my little own way, I would contribute in helping other Asians to not experience what I went through. I don’t want others to experience what I have experienced.”
He is urging people to be safe and aware, to take videos and report incidents. He is also hoping for the strengthening of laws against hate crimes.
“It is important for me to voice my story so that people would be aware. Most of the time, Asians, in general, are shy, timid people. We keep things to ourselves, so it is important to reach out to other people, especially to our government, that we are also part of the society and we should not be neglected by them,” he said.
It has been weeks since the incident and the scars have healed somehow but there’s still a little pain here and there, according to him. On top of that, he admitted he is still unable to sleep as the horrific scene keeps on replaying in his mind.
“Hanggang ngayon hindi pa rin ako makatulog ng maayos (To this day I still can’t sleep well). I try not to think about it and do meditation pero yun pa din ang problema ko, hindi pa rin ako makatulog (but that’s still my problem, I still can’t sleep),” he shared, adding that he continues to undergo counseling sessions.
And when asked about his advice to kababayans who might be unnerved by his story and now scared to take the subway, he gave the following advice: “Be alert [of] your surroundings and magpasensya na lang din siguro tayo, umiwas (and we should be understanding too, and stay away [from trouble]).”
Quintana is hopeful that in due time he will be completely healed psychologically and physically and that he’d be able to wear the scar across his face like a true survivor. For now, he says he derives strength from God and members of the community who continue to reach out to him and send him their prayers and support.
A GoFundMe page to support Quintana has received nearly $5,000 as of this writing.
As New York State Attorney General Letitia James told the crowd, “When I think of Noel, I think of the words of Dr. King. It is the good people who fail to stand up. It is the silence of good people who fail to stand up, who allow racism and hate to persist and so all of us are here today, all of us who believe in the goodness of one another. All of us who recognize that his scars will heal but the scars of hate, and the taint of hate, and the pain of hate that we have got to cure, so all of us must stand together.”