Most of the exchange was captured on video and posted to Facebook, gaining more than 1.3 million views.
Tracey Tong, who identifies as Chinese Peruvian, told BuzzFeed News that she was on her way to work when she saw an older woman yelling at a black woman wearing a headscarf and carrying a briefcase.
“Why are you here? Why are you in this country?” the older woman can be heard asking in the video.
Tong, 23, said that before the video begins, she had also heard the older woman ask, “What’s in there?” as she motioned to the other woman’s briefcase.
Two other people, a man and another woman, attempted to speak to the woman before Tong stepped in. When the man tried to intervene, the woman assumed he was with the woman she was yelling at, and turned on him, too.
“You’re not with us,” the older woman continued. “And maybe they’re not taking them back. I know nobody [is] taking them back. And that’s a shame,” she added.
The woman standing nearby pleaded, “Would you mind stop[ping]? We don’t want to listen anymore.”
But the older woman lashed out at her, too, and told her, “No. You don’t understand. You’re not even from here.”
Soon after, Tong came over and confronted the older woman.
Tong first asked her where she was from. When she responded by saying Puerto Rico, Tong revealed that she was half Peruvian, and began speaking to her in Spanish.
“I think you’re being really unfair. We all have to work together,” Tong told the woman. “We can’t be against one person. This is absolutely ridiculous and disrespectful.”
The older woman said she thought it was ridiculous “that we are in this situation,” to which Tong replied, “Exactly, so why should we fight with people and start more problems, and be against each other?”
When the older woman told Tong not to scold her, she said, first in Spanish, “I’m not scolding you.”
Then, in English, she continued, “I’m not telling you to be quiet. I’m asking you to please respect her,” she said. “In Spanish, in English, in Chinese, in French, whatever language you want me to say it, I will say it to you. Whether you’re born from here, Puerto Rico, wherever you are from.”
“We’re all in this together. Whether we like what’s going on in the government or not,” Tong said. “Fuck it. We gotta deal with it. You’re a grown woman. Suck it up, and you defend your brothers and sisters.”
Tong told BuzzFeed News that the woman stopped yelling shortly after the video ends, and about three stops later, both the other man and woman she was yelling at got off the train.
Tong said she had recently moved back to New York City and had been reading a lot about the verbal abuse and mistreatment of Muslims and other marginalized groups in the US.
“I told myself that if I ever saw it happen, I would freak,” she said.
She said that she spoke in Spanish and English both because there were some things she couldn’t always translate into Spanish the things she wanted to say, but also so that other people on the train could understand her.
“I’m lucky right now to have this as a platform to speak out for everyone, and I just want to make sure that we all are working together to spread unity and love and compassion with one another,” she said.
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