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Anti-Chinese racism the other side of pandemic

By LIA ZHU | China Daily | Updated: 2020-12-29 10:09

After reviewing my interview notes for the whole year, I find one word that sticks out-racism. I have listened to the stories of many members from the Chinese community since COVID-19 began spreading in the United States early this year and Asian Americans first reported facing racial bias.

Closing the notebook, I saw three faces in my mind's eye-they are filled with confusion, frustration and fear.

Never more fearful

Julie Tang had been a judge at the San Francisco Superior Court for 26 years. The person who understands more of self-protection than average people said she was "happy sheltering in my little condominium "because she did not want to risk being spit upon or told to go back to China.

Though racial prejudice is not new to the Chinese immigrant who has lived in the US for 50 years, Tang said she has never felt more fearful for her personal safety than now.

"I just don't want to confront it now because this is a very scary time. It is like going back to a war where you can be shot at," she said. "When racism rears its ugly head, we don't know if we can protect ourselves or our family."

Some of my friends told me they sympathize with the fear of the retired judge even though they have not experienced any incident yet.

A friend said she has been relying on online grocery delivery since March just to avoid any potential racist incident.

Firsthand experience

Simon is a student of biology from China at the University of Texas' MD Anderson Cancer Center. When he was shunned on the street while wearing a mask in March, he was not sure if the act was racist until he read the news about rising racism against Asians.

One of the first violent racist attacks related to COVID-19 happened on March 14 in Midland, Texas. Three Asian American family members, including a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old, were stabbed because the suspect thought the family "infected people with the coronavirus".

For the first time in his life, Simon, who preferred to be called by first name only, said he searched the internet for tips on how to respond to racist attacks.

"I think you would not understand the feeling of being discriminated against until you have experienced it yourself," he said.

Finding support online

Elaine Peng is a mental health advocate and educator in the Bay Area.

What aggravates the challenges that the pandemic has already posed for her service recipients is the US government's attempted ban on WeChat.

The Chinese social networking app is like a lifeline for those who need her assistance, said Peng, because all their support groups are on WeChat and it is the only Chinese language communication app available in the US.

"I think the WeChat ban is targeting our Chinese communities. It's used to continue the government's racist agenda," Peng said.

She has since joined organizing efforts to raise awareness of anti-Asian racism, such as inviting elected officials and community members to speak up at online meetings and signing petitions to protest anti-China rhetoric.

During a recent phone call, Simon told me he would stay and continue his study in the US, despite the pandemic and other challenges.

"As they say, a crisis brings out both the best and the worst in people. I'm glad to see there also are a lot of people who believe in equality and stand against racism," he said.

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