I'll say it again. I look white, but your racism isn't OK around me. Your racism is not OK, period. But don't think I'll just sit around and listen to you making racist comments about Asians with regards to coronavirus (COVID-19), especially with me being Asian.
I had read about people blaming Wuhan residents for causing the pandemic. I had read about people's apprehension of supporting Chinese businesses. These ignorant thoughts had seemed only to be from the internet, somewhere distant where you could turn them off and they couldn't bother you. However, just as sure as the global spread of the coronavirus, the negative comments against Asians have traveled the world to New York.
It was mid-March, the start of the quarantine in New York. At this point, the governor of New York and the mayor of New York City couldn't come to an agreement on how drastic the situation was. In all the uncertainty, the only thing I knew was that my workplaces made the executive decisions to keep their employees home, so I was out of work. Without any family for thousands of miles, I knew I would be completely alone throughout the crisis.
At the beginning of the mandatory self-isolation, I chose a few friends I could trust to stay with. I live with an elderly man so I wanted to give him space until he left to quarantine in sunny Florida. I felt safe in these early days — no one interacted with strangers, no one left the house except to get fresh air and food. We even sat apart within the house.
We bonded over video games and several cases of White Claw, as millennials tend to do when they can't go to a bar. And then there was one little drunken joke that stung. A friend of mine told a story about running to 7/11, which is next to a Chinese restaurant. He told a story that he saw some Chinese people in the parking lot, as well as a man talking on his phone as he walked up to the convenience store. The man made a point to keep his distance from them because they were Asian. Obviously, anybody in any public setting is someone to stay clear of in a quarantine, so why even mention their race? My innate response was to blurt out that it's not cool to mention the fact that they're Asian or Chinese.
Fast-forward to when my roommate safely made it to Florida. I started cooking comfort meals at home to share with my tiny squad. It turns out that they are primarily Asian dishes. I bought all the ingredients for fried rice and stir fry. I found a black bean sauce to make my favorite chicken dish. I even convinced them to take a trip to the nearest Asian market, which is an hour away, so I could cook up my family's sought-after lumpia, or Filipino-style egg roll.
Upon arrival at the market, EDM masks and gloves came on. I didn't have any of my own, so they insisted I wear theirs. I appreciated their concerns for me and their safety. However, the comments spewing in the parking lot as I put on my gear are still ringing in my ear, days later. I almost cried for my family thinking to write this.
There was a woman separate from the group nearby, going up to a different store. "Make sure you keep those masks on because the coronavirus can live in the air for a few hours. Especially because we're going into an Asian place."
What do you mean, especially?
I'm Asian and I'm going into an Asian market, but I don't look Asian so it's OK to make comments like that? Was this woman's comment what people say when my mom or uncles or cousins or grandparents step foot in public to buy food? Again my innate reaction was to defend Asians, especially the fellow Filipinos who ran the market, despite how that the woman was right about wearing masks in public, period.
The negativity subsided when I walked into the market. I immediately felt like I was home. A menu filled with meals only my lola (grandma) could whip up clouded my mind. I ordered pancit palabok and lugaw to go, two meals that I crave but have not yet mastered. I forgot why I was even in the store... oh, yes, egg roll wrappers! We were the only ones in the store aside from the workers, and I felt comfortable to be assisted by my friends behind the counter who are from the same city in the Philippines as my mom. It wasn't until dinner that I really processed how many racist comments are passed off nonchalantly throughout this pandemic. It's something I'm still trying to process.
I'm super appreciative of having these people in my life, and I don't know what I would do without them. I hope more people can understand that level of love and compassion toward other races, cultures and other groups outlying from their own.
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