Be There for Me, Like I Am for You

For Asian Americans, coronavirus presents a double threat. We are trying to avoid the virus and cope with the isolation like everyone else. But we are also experiencing racism or the fear of it.

by Kevin Louie

I have not left my home or been in contact with other people besides my family for almost two months now. I do not want my family or me to be infected with coronavirus. As an Asian-American, I also don’t want us to become the next victims of racism and xenophobia related to COVID-19.  

The new coronavirus has become a globally divisive issue because people do not know all the facts and they are scared. The origin story of the coronavirus is believed to trace back to a “wet market” (a market selling fresh, perishable goods) in Wuhan, China, which sold both dead and live animals. 

These markets can create a risk of viruses jumping from animals to humans because hygiene standards are difficult to maintain if live animals are being kept and killed within the same area. Usually, these markets are densely packed, allowing disease to spread. 

People around the world are mistakenly blaming the Chinese, Chinese-Americans, and Asian-Americans who they believe look Chinese for COVID-19.

That is not how viruses work. We are not inherently born with them. Circumstances like these often give rise to racism because frightened people need a scapegoat. In the United States, our own leaders are contributing to this scapegoating, since President Trump often called the coronavirus the “Chinese virus.” 

As this global pandemic spreads, it is our job to become more aware and educated. It is also our responsibility to stop this racism and xenophobia against Asians all around the world, including in New York City. 

This is a disease that anyone can get. COVID-19 does not discriminate and neither should we as human beings. While the outbreak originated in Wuhan, its global spread has reached far beyond China, with more than 3.5 million confirmed cases in 187 countries by the first week of May. 

That makes it impossible to associate the virus with any one person’s national origins or racial and ethnic identity. In fact, most New York City’s cases originated with European travelers.

But, these facts have not stopped people from targeting Asians and Asian-Americans. These hate crimes create a new frightening dynamic on top of social isolation and overwhelmed hospitals.

Public transit has been particularly scary for Asian-Americans. In New York City, video footage spread around social media of a man on a subway train arguing with and then spraying air freshener at an Asian American passenger.

NPR reported an incident on the Metro train in Washington D.C., when a woman was the target of a man’s verbal abuse. The man followed her and said: “Get out of here. Go back to China. I don’t want none of your swine flu here.” A similar altercation happened to the same woman on a Muni Metro train in San Francisco, where another man again shouted, “Go back to China,” but in this incident, the man said that he was going to shoot her.

According to major news sources, fathers have been viciously beaten in front of their children, elderly women assaulted in subway stations, and young children jumped by bullies, all for being Asian. Family friends have told me similar stories of being spat at, made to feel like they are a face of the virus.

When people look at Asians now, it feels as if they don’t see us as American or even human. A single cough or sneeze can trigger harassment and comments like calling Asians “Corona,” or asking “Do you eat dogs?” These comments contribute to what feels to me like never-ending hate.

As the coronavirus spreads globally, Asian-Americans face a double threat. We are trying to avoid the virus and cope with the isolation and family members losing jobs like everyone else. And we are also experiencing racism or the fear of it.

Going to a grocery store or Costco to get essential items can feel scary. We experience the stares of others, being overlooked for help, and possibly being verbally abused. There is a sudden sense of being watched. It’s especially hard to confront this reality for those of us who grow up thinking we could all be treated equally.

It is ultimately up to all of us to decide how we want our present and future together to be. During times like this, it is painful to see so many people, including our loved ones, get this virus. These patients, and the doctors, nurses, and other staff helping them, many of whom are Asian American, do not need to be stereotyped and victimized. Instead, they need our full support and love.

Campaigns like #washthehate are promoting “solidarity with Asian Americans who have seen an increase of attacks since the outbreak of COVID-19.” Everybody needs to be there for one another in order to defeat this virus and never let a pandemic—or the related racism—occur again.

When people look at Asians now, it feels as if they don't see us as American or even human.
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