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On Being Chinese-American During the Coronavirus Epidemic

Rachel Yang

April 17th, 2020


January 30: A Chinese man in Australia dies of a heart attack because no one wants to administer CPR.

February 5: A Chinese woman is assaulted and accused of being “diseased” while wearing a protective mask on the New York City subway.

March 14: A Burmese family is stabbed in Texas.

April 5: An Asian-American woman is attacked with acid in Brooklyn while taking out the trash, and another Asian-American woman is hit on the head with an umbrella in the Bronx.

This rise in anti-Asian racism and violence comes with the spread of COVID-19 , the infectious coronavirus affecting people across the world. Since its emergence -- and its significant impact on the unprepared US -- the president has found no issue dubbing it “the Chinese virus,” despite widespread resistance calling the name racist and anti-Chinese.

Being American during the COVID-19 pandemic was already tough enough. I haven’t left my apartment building in nearly a month out of excess anxiety, I miss my friends, and the constant worry of getting sick or losing someone I love is ever-present and crushing. But being Chinese-American has made this somehow harder. My president, by nicknaming this virus after my parents’ home country, places undue responsibility on them, me, and every other Chinese person in the country. The moniker assumes that this is what we wanted: I wanted to be separated from everyone and everything I love, I wanted my life to be torn asunder, I wanted a member of my family to contract the virus and the other members to show symptoms but be unable to get tests due to the administration’s gross negligence.

And the nickname is working.

The president has managed to erase any blame that should be placed on his shoulders by relocating it to the Chinese government and Chinese people by proxy. He even went so far as to say that he believed Asian Americans “probably would agree with [calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus”] 100 percent.” A surge of anti-Asian violence has followed, and with it an increased sense of internal anxiety and conflict. I feel this every minute of every day. If I dared to go outside, should I wear a mask? Or would that make people think I’m sick, and increase the odds of my being attacked? Chinese-American identity has always been complicated, forever walking the tightrope of the dash between Chinese and American. But now these two halves of my identity have come into discord: the half I call heritage is accused of giving the virus to the half I call home. I am American, but the American president believes that people who look like me are entirely responsible for the pandemic. Where does that leave me?

So what can we do? Our one opportunity to ensure that we have a president for the next four years who does not promote xenophobia is coming up in November. But the prospect of a safe in-person election this fall is becoming more and more unlikely. We need to campaign for every voter in the country to be able to cast their ballots by mail, a proposal that Donald Trump has already declared to be unconstitutional and rigged, despite himself casting a ballot in the Florida primaries by mail last month. Every voter should be mailed a ballot without having to request one or having to provide an excuse, so we avoid situations like the Wisconsin primary on April 6 where people are forced to choose between their right to vote and their health, and maybe their lives. And with Joe Biden as the presumptive Democratic nominee, Asian-Americans and all Democrats need to rally behind him, especially those who had supported Bernie Sanders. If we can vote out this president, we can also begin the fight against this surge in race-based terrorism that threatens so many so that -- national emergency or not -- I won’t have to worry about my safety every time I walk down the street.

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