Fordham Student Participates in Hong Kong Protests

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Fordham Student Participates in Hong Kong Protests

Helen Stevenson, News Editor

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Stevie Cortez, FCLC ’21, studied abroad in Hong Kong this semester through an exchange program with the City University of Hong Kong. During her time there, between her international studies and political science classes, she became actively involved as a journalist and later a protestor in the fight for democracy.

Pro-democracy and anti-government protests in Hong Kong began in June after a controversial extradition bill that would have allowed extradition of fugitives to mainland China. Protestors argued it infringed on the rights of people in Hong Kong since the city has its own legal and political systems.

Cortez said she first heard of the protests in a mall by her Hong Kong dorm. She heard people in the mall chanting and handing out flyers, but had not yet met anyone who knew Cantonese so she did not know what was going on.

“I started to get involved after that, because we had protests in our school who would camp out in the middle of the commons,” she said.

Although the protests began peacefully, the situation has become increasingly violent. Protestors have been subjected to tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and armored vehicles. Cortez herself suffered minor injuries.

Cortez documented her experience around the city via social media. She was also assisted throughout the process by a translator. Eventually she found herself on the front lines of the protest, equipped with full gear to avoid harm from the police.

On Nov. 17, Cortez was shot in the leg with a tear gas cylinder by Hong Kong police while documenting protests at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in the Hung Hom district. Against her translator’s advice, she traveled to the campus despite rising tension in the area.

“The police started firing, and I was standing by the press,” she said. “We were far away. I got a video of it, actually, and you can hear the first shot and you hear it hit me. So then I took off.”

Cortez said the issue is, once a protest is occurring, you cannot exit the area until it is over. She had no way to get to a hospital, so she ran into an alleyway with her translator. A couple of Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) came over to assist her when they saw her panicking, and they traveled together to a restaurant in the area.

“That’s what is so weird about Hong Kong,” she said. “You can have people getting shot on one block, and the next block people are eating dinner.”

She said despite the fact that most business owners in the city do not support these protests, the man who owned the restaurant brought her paper towels and ice.

The EMTs also helped her to bandage and take care of the wound, which she said swelled to look as if she had a second knee. Eventually, traffic within the area resumed and she was able to get a cab. She said the recovery process has been painful and extensive.

“After I got shot, I was most concerned with if I could still walk and be involved,” she said. “It’s so easy to get swept into it because it is such a fight for justice.”

Despite being shot in the leg, she said the scariest moments were the times she was home safe and everything was quiet. What struck her most in these moments were the people she spoke to at the protest that day.

Cortez returned to her home in Texas on Nov. 20, but she said Hong Kong City University attempted to send her back before then; in fact it closed, but she did not want to leave. However, her visa was running out of time.

“They were trying to send me home for about two weeks before I left,” she said. “I’m pretty upset that I left, actually. I feel like I abandoned my friends.”

Now in Texas, Cortez said she still wonders if those she met amidst the protests are safe. Still, she has no way of checking on them since many protesters take pains to remain anonymous to preserve their safety.

“I didn’t get any of their contact information to preserve anonymity,” she said. “These are people that I care about, even if I did not know them.”

Protestors are asking for five major demands: (1) Fully withdraw the extradition bill, (2) set up an independent inquiry to probe police brutality, (3) withdraw a characterization of early protests as “riots,” (4) release those arrested at protests and (5) implement universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

Cortez said she believes all of these demands — with the exception of universal suffrage, which might require a longer process — should be simple to accomplish.

Although the extradition bill was withdrawn in September, Cortez said she does not think the protests will stop until all of the demands are met.

“I know the young people, especially, won’t stop until they get what they want or they’re all arrested,” she said. “And I know China won’t stop. It’s an unstoppable force meets and immovable object.”

Cortez asserted that protesters are fighting for a noble cause.

“This is a prime example for a battle that is good and evil,” she said. “These people, all they want is to vote. All they want is to participate in governing their own lives.”