COVID-19 Through the Lenses of Asian-Americans

How safe is it to be Asian-American in the United States?

by Shaira Nixon / Garnet & Black

For years in America, the microaggressions directed towards Asians and Pacific Islanders has been normalized to the point where it's disregarded. Examples of this range from accusing Asian-Americans of eating their pet dogs to stereotypes such as “you’re Asian, you’re supposed to be good at math!” In media, the portrayal of Asians is just as bad. Before COVID-19, the hate against the AAPI community (Asian-American Pacific Islander) was usually stereotypical comments and insensitive jokes. However, ever since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been much more than that. According to an article by NPR, there has been more than 9,000 incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes since COVID-19 started. Asians and Pacific Islanders say they are getting hit by a second virus, a “hate virus.” To completely understand what this community is going through, people need to see it through the lenses of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. After two students and two professors at UofSC participated in an anonymous interview, they were able to relay their experiences of being Asian in America, as well as their thoughts on how COVD-19 has affected their communities

One of the UofSC professors is of Chinese descent and said she never experienced direct assault in America. However, she did see instances of anti-Asian hate on social media. “I would read those articles about what was happening to the community, and it would make me feel so depressed sometimes,” she said. “it makes me feel unsafe when I read about the racism and assault in this country.” 

On the other end of this, in another interview with a UofSC professor who is of Korean descent, he described the ways in which he felt unwelcome in America. He said when he was growing up, people would often tell him and his family to “go back to China.”  “I wasn’t even from China, I wasn’t even born in Asia. I was born here, in South Carolina,” he said. 

A Filipino-American student said her childhood was going to school in America, where no one could pronounce her last name and other kids would make fun of the food she would bring for lunch. Even recently in adulthood, a man referred to her as the “oriental looking one.” She expressed frustration as she said that some people do not realize that these comments are offensive. “They do hurt. They think saying things like, 'Oh! You look so exotic!' is a compliment, but it’s not,” she said. 

A Japanese-American student said people would mock her appearance by pulling the corners of their eyes back to make themselves appear Asian, saying things like “Ling-Ling,” or “Chink.” It’s common for Asian-Americans to hear those types of slurs. They’ve been normalized over time, and now with the pandemic, the aggressive comments have doubled. 

When the two UofSC professors were asked if they believe that Asian hate crimes have increased during the pandemic, the Korean UofSC professor expresses that he, “has not experienced it personally,” but that he “has seen others experiencing it.” He said other colleagues have experienced anti-Asian hate on the streets when they were not doing anything wrong. He has seen Asian small businesses go out of business because “people believe if they go to an Asian store, they will get sick.” 

The Chinese UofSC professor talked about the Atlanta shooting from earlier this year. Five of Asian descent were killed at Young’s Asian Massage and three more were found at Gold Spa in the northeast of Atlanta. From these events, it had sparked the #StopAsianHate movement. She talks about how she joined a virtual event with other Asians of Chinese descent. There, they discussed the events of what happened in Atlanta and asked each other several questions. Why do people keep treating Asians as lesser than? Why do they keep treating Asians as foreigners when their family has lived here for generations? Questions about why these things keep happening can be traced back to when Donald Trump called the virus the “Chinese Virus” and “The Kung Flu.”

Students have expressed their frustration towards former President Trump’s comments as well. The Filipino-American student talked about how it hurt a lot of her Chinese friends and colleagues. “It stopped me from leaving the house during the pandemic,” she said. “I was worried about my own safety being Asian-American.” She even explained how she was worried for her parents because Trump’s words fueled the hate towards many older Asian-Americans. “It didn’t just create more racism, but it allowed people with racist tendencies to come out of their shell,” she said. 

The Japanese-American student said Trump's comments were ignorant, but he was not surprised by it. “It was insensitive. As the former president of the United States, it was appalling,” he said. When someone like Donald Trump has influence over thousands of people, using derogatory language against a group of people can have severe consequences. 

As a message to those who are experiencing anti-Asian hate, the Chinese UofSC professor says, “Do not settle. It’s important to speak about your experience.” She said if no one speaks up about their experience, then how could people of other races speak up as well? Change does not come when everyone is silent. 

The Filipino-American student said there are many people out there who are on their side. There are strangers who are willing to stand up for Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. 

The pandemic has affected everyone in one way or another. For the AAPI community, it’s a lot more than just worrying about catching COVID. They have to worry about the publics opinions and actions. For years, anti-Asian hate has been a weight on Asian-Americans. It has been so normalized that they can’t do anything else but accept it. The best thing people can do to help the AAPI community is to stand in solidarity with them. Next time you hear a joke at the expense of Asians, keep in mind that it’s a part of the problem that’s been brewing for a long time. The Korean UofSC professor made a final comment, “I used to blame it on ignorance. But then it kept happening too often for it to be ignorant. Now I know that’s just how some people are. Racist.”