Michelle Pham, Board Member
14 April 2020
In recent weeks, Asians in the United States have experienced acts of hate and violence to the extent where several organizations have begun collecting and tracking hundreds of reports. An Asian woman was hit and kicked while called a “diseased bitch” in a New York subway station. Three Asian family members, including a 2-year-old and 6-year-old, were stabbed at a Sam’s Club in Midland, Texas because the suspect thought they were Chinese and consequently spreading coronavirus. The first weekly Stop AAPI Hate report indicates over 60 reported incidents in Tennessee. In a time when the world must cooperate to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Asians are faced not only with combating the virus itself but also anti-Asian rhetoric and hate.
We need leadership that rights the path moving forward rather than placing blame and stoking xenophobia that has led to these acts of violence. The insistence on calling the SARS-CoV-2 virus the “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus” goes against the best practices for naming infectious diseases issued by the WHO while making Chinese and other Asian people vulnerable to violent and abusive attacks. There is an emerging push by some parties to scapegoat China, from speculation that China is withholding data to unfounded conspiracy theories that Chinese scientists were experimenting with the virus.
But the fact is by early January, Chinese scientists and doctors were sounding the alarm about the coronavirus. Countries like South Korea and Vietnam heeded the warning and started preparing. On January 20, 2020, when South Korea and the United States both confirmed their first COVID-19 cases, South Korea was able to put into action an intensive testing and contact tracking protocol that helped slow the country’s rate of disease transmission.This aggressive testing and tracking did not happen in the United States. Instead, the United States refused coronavirus testing kits from the WHO in favor of developing its own, delaying the widespread availability of testing kits needed. As the virus spread undetected, more targeted isolation and quarantine became impossible and we must now practice a more general lockdown that is wreaking calamity on people’s lives and businesses. Blaming China does nothing to turn back these weeks of inaction and only endangers people of Asian descent.
Fear of the “yellow peril” and the racialization of Asians as dirty, inhuman foreigners has an ugly history in the United States. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first immigration law targeting an entire ethnic or national group. Executive Order 9066 effectively nullified the rights and protection of over 120,000 Japanese American citizens who were interned in concentration camps across the country. Today, rising sinophobia in the United States is not limited to just the political climate, where many Chinese scientists in America have been put under surveillance. It extends to a media narrative that upholds American hegemony with red scare tactics that sow distrust in China. In January and February, American news stories about the coronavirus containment in Wuhan raised eyes at measures taken by the Chinese government as extreme and authoritarian. These actions were viewed as spectacle with a lack of empathy and air of American superiority. As coronavirus cases increased in the United States, news stories were often accompanied by pictures of Asian people wearing masks even when the story had nothing to do with Asian people.
This anti-Chinese sentiment has further cemented the idea of Chinese people and other people of Asian descent as not fully human but racialized vectors of disease. Meanwhile, Chinese doctors are teleconferencing with American doctors to share insight on treatment, Chinese scientists may end up holding the solution with a vaccine, and Chinese medical equipment can ease the burden of our inadequate supply. We need more testing. We need to expand hospital capacity. We need more ventilators and other medical equipment. We need to develop a vaccine. We need to do much of this in cooperation with the entire world, including China. We must act quickly and in tandem with other world leaders to save as many lives as we can.
Tennesseans come together in times of disaster to support each other. We saw this outpouring of support and volunteerism after the March 3rd tornadoes. We see it today as restaurants and businesses that have had to close or operate under limitations are supported through fundraisers and efforts to buy takeout. Volunteers are coordinating grocery runs and delivery to vulnerable neighbors. As we do so, remember that Asian Tennesseans are going through the same struggles with the additional fear of facing racist violence and abuse. Many Asian restaurants were the first to see the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, so as we come together to support our local businesses make sure to include Asian and immigrant owned establishments. Take a stand and say something if you hear someone using racist terms like “Chinese virus.” If you experience or witness an act of hate, submit a report to Stop AAPI Hate. See this guide for bystander intervention from Hollaback.
Asian restaurants and grocers remain open to keep our food supply intact. One in six active physicians in the United States is Asian and healthcare workers risk their lives being exposed to potential infection. Locally, US TN Fujian Chamber of Commerce and TNChinese-HelpDefeatCOVID-19 are just two Chinese American organizations organizing efforts and fundraising to donate masks, gloves, and other protective equipment to hospitals and medical centers. Vietnamese and other Asian-owned nail salons are among many businesses that have donated masks and other supplies from their closed shops. Zen Nails in Brentwood, TN has taken a step further to use their space to sew face masks to donate to hospitals. We are fighting this virus together, and “we” includes your Asian neighbors.
National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum
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API Middle Tennessee
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