In Shadow of COVID-19 and Asian American Experiences
May is Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month*. Why am I telling you now? A quick online search reveals that San Mateo County has approximately 30-31.6% of the population who identify as either “Asian” or “Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander”**. And, personally, it is more important to me than ever before because of the negative racial bias that exists related to COVID-19. I would like to share some of my own experiences and the experiences of those within my circles. I hope to bring some awareness of what is happening in our community at large; not just within the LGBTQ+ community.
My own identity is rooted in my heritage, queerness, and cultural upbringing (in no particular order). Part of my identity afford me privileges and other parts some challenges. And all intersections of my identity afford some degree of resilience. That doesn’t mean that some experiences witnessed (either firsthand or through my community) are not hurtful anymore.
Some stories about racist acts are more overt than others. In my examples, I share more subtle stories.
One day after the stay-at-home order went in place, I decided to go grocery shopping at a nearby Asian market. I was surprised to see some rice left in the aisles, but I knew it wasn’t any type of rice I normally would buy. I noticed a small group of people who were equally amazed at the presence of rice while conversing with someone on speakerphone. I couldn’t help but overhear the person on speakerphone being surprised at finding rice at the grocery store. After the surprise, this same person then made sure to exclaim not wanting anything from China. They continued to insinuate that anything from China may be infected by the virus. This experience isn’t entirely new to me; however, it is notably worse due to the fear around COVID-19.
Sometimes it’s subtler than this. For example, when a friend of mine decided to exercise and take a walk around in her hometown neighborhood she was startled by a White appearing older adult. From across the street, a stranger made an unsolicited remark at her for not having a mask on. My friend decided to ignore the person and remove herself from the situation. For the first time ever, my friend questioned whether a similar event would have happened to someone who might appear different than her, a young Chinese American adult female. She felt the possibility of discrimination in her hometown for the first time in her life. Days after the event she reached out to me to recount the story, and still wondered if there were racial undertones to that event. She believes there may not have been, but with many other reports of racist acts against Asian Americans in this country, she couldn’t help but wonder.
Other times, it’s more cringy and aggressive. A college friend posted a couple incidents that happened to her and her mother while walking down the streets of San Francisco. These words were uttered by strangers in separate instances to them: “Stay 6 feet away, you bitch!” and “You brought the coronavirus to America. China can suck my fat white dick.” In the second instance, the perpetrators crossed the streets towards them and threw food at my friend and her mother.
And finally, a relative of mine shared about feeling unsafe at home when her neighbor’s son decided it was appropriate to yell racial slurs at her and her family. The boy’s behavior escalated with him waving around a gun in the backyard. This didn’t stop even with a camera facing him. For a while, my relative was hesitant to file a police report. And once she filed a report, she was told that there was nothing to be done until they catch him red-handed. My relative continues to live in fear during this time.
It is undoubtedly a challenging period for many in this world. When I hear so many hate crime stories as each day pass, it’s hard not to be adversely impacted by this. However, I don’t feel hopeless, and as if there is nothing to do. In fact, I feel hopeful that strength is found through sharing of these stories. As a community, we learn that we must speak up about these incidents, and find our resilience when we can. This is why I felt compelled to share these stories with you.
We can’t always share only the wholesome stories, and we have to acknowledge the ugly sometimes. Writing this blog was not an easy process for me, and by no means do I think this piece is perfect, but I believe wholeheartedly that it is the right thing to do for myself and my community. I hope that those who have read all the way down hear the you can find a similar sense of solidarity and hope that I’ve gained from being able to share this with you.
Men Chun Wong
“The most intense conflicts, if overcome, leave behind a sense of security and calm that is not easily disturbed” (Carl Jung)
If you have been affected by and want to report a COVID-19 related hate crime in addition to filing a police report, fill out this form here: https://publicintegrity.org/health/coronavirus-and-inequality/help-us-investigate-covid-19-related-hate-incidents/
COVID-19 Resource Drive compiled by the Pride Center: bit.ly/covid-19-resource-drive
San Mateo County Board of Supervisors to Condemn Discrimination, Affirm Commitment to Asian Americans
*Time’s post on history of Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month: https://time.com/5592591/asian-pacific-heritage-month-history/
**Demographic information retrieved from: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/sanmateocountycalifornia,US/PST045219
and compared with http://www.smcalltogetherbetter.org/index.php?module=DemographicData&controller on May 7th, 2020.