Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the harassment of and violence against Asian Americans has reached an all time high, giving rise to a twisted rhetoric against them.
The rhetoric of politicians and figures in power, including that of former President Donald Trump, have not helped the cause of the Asian American community, which is trying hard to fight the image making rounds in the country.
The Asian American community has reached a “crisis-point”, said Judy Chu, a California congresswoman who chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. Community members were “terrified by the alarming surge in anti-Asian American bigotry,” she said. Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition documenting anti-Asian bigotry during the pandemic, said the organization had received more than 2,808 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate from Mar. 19 to Dec. 31. According to the same organization’s data, physical assaults comprised 8.7% of these incidents, while coughing/spitting comprised 6.4%. Verbal harassment constituted 70.9% of these incidents; and shunning or avoidance were 21.4%.
An Asian American student from Alma’s campus came forward to tell their experience of racism in the pandemic’s environment, albeit anonymously. “At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, I remember receiving unwelcome stares. Not all stares are bad, obviously, but as an international student, I’ve learnt to distinguish the good ones from the bad ones. I had never experienced that at Alma. But as the pandemic progressed, merely standing in line at Saga became an ordeal. It made me feel out of place and unwelcome when I would notice people mumble something in their breaths after seeing me”. Their experiences are shared by many more international students, green card holders and first general Asian Americans across the country whose integration into American society is hampered by the fixed characteristics of their ethnicity. On Jan. 28, security footage of 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee was shoved to the ground while taking his morning walk in San Francisco, an assault just two days after which he died. For the crime, nineteen-year-old Antoine Watson was charged in what many have come to consider an example of a hate crime against Asian Americans in the wake of the pandemic.
The assault caused widespread distress in the Asian American community and protests in San Francisco where citizens gathered to protest against and condone racism. Protests also took over Massachusetts where the Asian American community in particular took to the streets in an attempt to voice their opinions. Signs like “my ethnicity is not a virus”, “racism: the greatest pandemic” and “its time for facts, not fear” were seen soar across the streets.
The Asian American community has come to the United States in many waves, after having dealt with incredibly harsh conditions in their countries of birth. Upon their arrival, they’ve contributed to the American economy by becoming one of the highest earning minority groups and contributed to the American society by bringing in beautiful, diverse and colorful customs and practices. Today, there are countless of them that feel ‘un-American’ due to the rhetoric against them and the statistics represent this change in feeling.
It will require leaders and policy makers in positions of power to undo the damage done and take a stand against the words of their fellow leaders but it will also take ordinary citizens to change the way society has come to to view the pandemic and, in extension, members of the Asian American community.