Asians Become the Latest COVID-19 Victims: Fueled by Ignorance and Hate

April 15, 2021

Imagine not feeling safe in your own home.  Imagine getting a phone call from the police telling you that your grandmother was just attacked and taken to the hospital.  Imagine feeling helpless because no one cares.  Imagine feeling invisible to the world.

Ever since the pandemic began, I have been worried and angry.  I’m scared for my grandparents.  I’m scared for my parents.  I’m scared for my brother.  I’m scared for my cousins.  I’m scared for my aunts.  I’m scared for my uncles.  I’m scared for myself. 

As a Chinese American, I was bound to encounter racist experiences, and I have.  I would go home and complain to my parents about hearing racist jokes and being barked at, but these aren’t anything compared to what my mom and dad experienced growing up, and it was sad to hear.  My mom was called racial slurs like “ching chong” at school, and many kids would say hello to her in Mandarin to be funny.

My dad, however, had more of a story to tell.  My father came to the United States from Macau, China in 1983 when he was 9 years old, and the first thing he pointed out was that the treatment of Chinese and Asians back then was different from today.  He grew up in a poor area in Brooklyn, New York.  His mom worked as a sweatshop worker, while his dad was a restaurant chef, both working long hours daily.  When he first got here and walked on the street or to school, he recalls people screaming at him out of nowhere calling “ch*nk” or “go back to China.”  His junior high school was very diverse with multiple people of different backgrounds, but he remembers that Chinese people would be smacked in the back of the head.  Other ethnicities there thought that Asians were easy to pick on because they are typically smaller and shorter than an average American and don’t usually fight back.  My dad pointed out that Asians fought back in different ways.  For example, my dad worked hard for an education in order to improve his life and for him and his family to move out of a poor area.  The third generation of Asians helped rebrand the Asians’ image by showing people that Asians do not conform to negative stereotypes of being weak, cowardly or loud-talking.  Therefore, what I have gone through is nothing compared to the Asians that lived prior to my generation because many fought to achieve the American Dream and successfully did so.

Although Asians were eventually accepted in America, racial slurs and attacks were still things to look out for, and the COVID-19 pandemic has proven that.  In recent months, there have been a number of attacks and hateful comments aimed at Asians due to the fact that the coronavirus originated in China.  In response to this, I interviewed several members of the community who are particularly sensitive to the current rise in anti-Asian hate and violence.  While their experiences varied, they all expressed sentiments of anger, fear, and extreme disappointment.

Iva Chee, a current junior, has been aware of the racially motivated attacks on Asians since the beginning of the pandemic.  She says, “The earliest I feel like I can remember was when Trump originally began calling the coronavirus the ‘China virus’ and had a briefing about COVID in the Rose Garden and made a racially charged comment to a female Asian reporter.”  Junior, Jordan agreed, “Once I heard news that the first infections from COVID came from China, I unfortunately knew this would become an excuse for ignorant people to be racist.”

Jordan has personally felt the sting of insensitive remarks.  “Ever since I started school, I was always perceived as foreign and faced dreadful microaggressions,” she said.  “The repetitive, ‘Where are you really from?’.  The songs associated with eye-pulling in different directions.  The comments regarding people’s pets, what I was eating, my skin color, the stereotypes from the model minority myth…the list goes on and on.”

Other students also reported being treated disrespectfully due to their Asian heritage.  Kaitlyn, a current junior said that “some family members have been discriminated against: people refused to get into the same elevator with them.”  At the beginning of the pandemic, Madeline Chen went on Omegle, an online chat website, with a friend and said that “every person we encountered made some racist comment or insult. They would go “EWWW.”’

Michele Cone-Chang, French teacher and mother to two daughters who are half Chinese, has been “ferociously protective of their Chinese heritage.”  She believes that “subtle discrimination is dangerous and ubiquitous.”  She went on to explain that she has observed that “there has been an atmosphere of hatred that’s been stirred up for the last few years and it wasn’t helped when the flu is now being blamed on the Chinese.”  Ms. Cone-Chang shares in the fear and paranoia that hate engenders.  She finds herself “always listening like half listening to what is said in the hallways because I’m just waiting to catch someone saying something terrible about an Asian person.”  Being a potential target for insensitive racist remarks and now violent attacks is terrifying.  “My fears,” she said, “my intrinsic fears are being validated, unfortunately.  It’s very real.  It’s very, very real.”

Students reported a range of emotions in reaction to the spike in microaggressions, racial slurs and violent attacks on innocent Asian members across the country and evident here in our own community.  Kayla, junior, echoed what Ms. Cone-Chang said: “It makes me feel so disappointed in society that we have no respect towards anyone.  It makes me scared and worried because when I see on the news that an Asian got attacked, I can’t help but wonder if it is one of my family members or friends.”

Ryan, a sophomore, and junior, Ella Chee, voiced the anger that many feel.  “These sudden attacks are completely unjustified,” said Ryan, “the Asian community is being attacked for a disease that we did not cause simply because it started in Asia.”  Many believe that calling COVID the “China Virus” or “kung flu” encouraged the flagrant disrespect and frequency of attacks.  “It’s so disappointing and disgusting,” Ella said, “that people would go out of their way to attack others solely based on how they look.  To attack someone who has done literally nothing aside from exist is just inconceivably cruel.”

As these anti-Asian attacks continue to rise in numbers, we must continue fighting to #StopAsianHate whether we have support from other communities or not.  As Asians, we must come together to condemn the violence against our community and heal our hurtful pasts.  It may be infuriating to see that the media and government are barely doing anything, and it may feel like we are invisible, as if no one cares about us, due to the lack of acknowledgment and awareness, but we must stay strong.  Although we may want to hide, Jordan reminds us that “it is of the utmost importance that my community continue raising awareness on these attacks,” and Madeline Chen leaves us with a strong statement: “The racism that has arisen due to the coronavirus is horrifying,” but “is finally bringing the legacy of anti-Asian ideas that the US has held throughout its history to light.”

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