No, I’m not Chinese or Japanese, I’m Korean. What do you mean, North or South?
Questions about my ethnicity are nothing new to me. I’ve heard it all. Most of it was due to ignorance and lack of education.
But now, those questions mean something different. People are more educated, and these questions during this time are rooted in suspicion and prejudice.
2020 has been a horrific year for Asians. I read headlines daily of Asian Americans and Asians in foreign countries that are experiencing countless acts of racism. This issue has been heavily elevated due to COVID-19 and the misplaced blame on its cause and origin. There needs to be a distinction between the Chinese government and Asians, now more than ever. There were Asians that were not Chinese, nor had ever even been to China before, suddenly being treated differently and glared at.
Yet these stories mainly only found its way into the Asian community and audience, and were constantly out of the spotlight for others. Only a few events raised the heads of some, with many stories buried away and overlooked.
During a class in my past spring semester, before COVID-19 became a pandemic, one of my classmates, an international student, earnestly spoke up about how Asian Americans were being attacked for something they had no relation to. This was some time in January or February, yet the acts of racism had already set in.
For the rest of the class, where the majority of students were white, it was their first time hearing of incidents like these.
A number of politicians, leaders and other public figures have contributed to this racist diction by using the term “Chinese virus,” instead of properly calling it COVID-19. Through the haze of the virus’ biological and geographical origins, the underlying intent of connecting the coronavirus to China is the root that must be eliminated, as it leads to the displacement of blame. The criticism should instead be pointed toward those that could and should have prevented the virus from becoming a pandemic.
As the number of new cases grew from hundreds to thousands to hundreds of thousands, I myself began to be much more careful about how I appeared to others, particularly strangers. If I were to leave the house and enter public spaces, I made sure to speak English loudly and clearly to enunciate my American nationality. I was cautious and fearful about potentially ruining an innocently accused image.
My future plans for travel and potential study abroad ideas suddenly became a lot more limited, which I realized after a conversation with my parents about where I’d like to go. Even after the pandemic, the danger for Asians throughout the world will spike, and I was now uncertain if I should look forward to visiting Europe or Central America like I had previously wanted.
This is not my method of pointing fingers at certain people or countries, but rather my effort in revealing a perspective that I’d like to display — one that many have not nor will ever have to think about.
In the suburbs of Pennsylvania, and the safety of my home, I am lucky to be in the environment I am in now. But my situation is the minority. There are real people out there losing the lives of friends and families due to hatred sprouting from ignorance and apathy. The minimal discomfort I have is nothing compared to the real horrors that others continue to face.
I take this as motivation to continue the fight that I have started: to put the stories of Asian Americans, both the good and the bad, into our news, our conversations and our media.
For as long as the pandemic goes on, the struggle and stress that Asians receive will go on for longer. So I also challenge you, the reader, to take this small insight into stories of racism that are constantly left out and suppressed, and be aware of your words and the meanings they imply.