What It’s Like Being An Asian American Student During The Pandemic

What It’s Like Being An Asian American Student During The Pandemic
Photo: Victoria Feng. Unsplash.

As I sat down in class one day in early March, I overheard my classmates discussing the rumored causes of coronavirus, from bat soup to pangolins. It was then that one of my classmates asked, from across the room, if COVID-19 was caused by people in China eating dogs. I looked around to see if anyone else thought the comment was racist, but no one seemed shocked. As an Asian American student, the coronavirus pandemic is an especially difficult topic for me, and since my elderly relatives live in the province next to Wuhan, I’ve been worried for them since January.

Hearing old stereotypes about Asians eating dogs (which has absolutely no connection to the origins of COVID-19, by the way) certainly doesn’t help me feel at ease—in fact, this casual racism makes me incredibly uncomfortable, and it’s hard to believe it’s still socially acceptable. One might wonder how this became the norm, but there are examples all around, even at our highest levels of government. Current president Donald Trump has repeatedly called COVID-19 the “Chinese virus,” although he did backtrack later when asked to clarify, saying he was talking about China and not Asian Americans.

Still, his harsh comments were enough to incite action. Ten days after Trump called COVID-19 “Chinese virus,” a woman and three teenage girls ​attacked an Asian woman​ with an umbrella so brutally that the victim had to get stitches. When leaders perpetuate and allow racist ideology, their citizens genuinely feel this kind of behavior is acceptable—even good.

“​Racism and physical attacks on Asians and people of Asian descent have spread with the COVID-19 pandemic, and government leaders need to act decisively to address the trend,” said John Sifton, Human Rights Watch’s Asia Advocacy Director, in an interview. “Governments should act to expand public outreach, promote tolerance, and counter hate speech while aggressively investigating and prosecuting hate crimes,” he advised.

Asian Americans are victims of the coronavirus just like everyone else, and should not have the bear the additional burdens of racial discrimination.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic isn’t the first time negative stereotypes have surfaced surrounding Asian food. ​In middle school, one of my classmates asked if I ate noodles every day for lunch, and told me that all Asians ate dogs. When I pointed out that I didn’t eat dogs and other Asian American students at my school didn’t eat dogs either, they responded by saying it was people in Asia and showed me an article about the Yulin dog eating festival.

While there have been cases of dog eating and bat eating across Asia, they remain far and few between. Although people of Asian descent living in America, don’t participate in these activities, they are still often scrutinized—and cruelly mocked. In April, ​Lululemon art director Trevor Fleming​ was fired after Fleming promoted a shirt called “Bat Fried Rice,” which featured a Chinese takeout container with the words “No Thank You.”

Sophie Beasley, a high school sophomore who used to love Lululemon clothing, said she would no longer be buying from the company after hearing of Fleming’s racist behavior—and she wasn’t the only die-hard fan of the brand to turn her back on it. Beasley is the sort of person who doesn’t condone casual racism, but even now in 2020, it’s a hard reality to escape.

Difficult times like this bring out the best of humanity, but unfortunately, also the worst.

As a student myself, I’m highly invested in how we can improve the lives of Asian American students, and the backlash and racism they’re experiencing during the current pandemic. There is a large difference between Asian Americans, Asians, and the Chinese government, but for some reason, these groups are often discussed interchangeably. Asian Americans are victims of the coronavirus just like everyone else, and should not have the bear the additional burdens of racial discrimination.

High school sophomore Joy Qu thinks one way to promote change is to start a hashtag to directly reach out to students, since most of them are on social media already. On Snapchat, there is currently a filter that allows Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to share a few words about their culture for Asian Pacific Heritage Month. This year’s celebration of APHM is more important than ever as the community faces an increase in widespread discrimination.

“​Some people blame Chinese people for starting the situation because they feel scared or they feel hurt that the virus has affected their own family,” Qu points out. “I also think it’s important to remember that COVID-19 is affecting people in China as well at the same magnitude. Everyone is human, and nobody meant for this.”

Difficult times like this bring out the best of humanity, but unfortunately, also the worst. As the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic together, it is important to support one another and not further marginalize minorities.

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