Ever since I learned that the novel coronavirus originated in a Chinese food market, I braced myself for the blame that I knew would come. It wasn’t long before I heard about Uber drivers refusing service to people with Asian-sounding names and stories of people calling Asian people “disgusting” and other horrible things. I see people on social media that are defending the term “China virus,” but these are the same people that accepted the name “Mad cow disease” without question for a sickness originating from a predominantly white country like the UK. Would there be so much judgment of the origin of COVID-19 if it came from eating local deer in Wisconsin?
Aggressive racist acts are obviously unacceptable, but the microaggressions I am witnessing now and have experienced throughout my life from classmates, co-workers, and other not overtly-racist people hurt just as much, if not more because they hit so close to home.
The feeling that my Asian culture is not accepted and considered gross to many Americans is not a new feeling at all for me.
I want to embrace my Filipino heritage, but I have felt a lot of shame when it comes to the food I eat. I have felt unaccepted every time someone gave me an annoyed look for heating my “smelly” food (even if it was a non-seafood dish) in the microwave of the staff break room. I feel unaccepted every time I overhear a person complain about how barbaric their experience with authentic Asian cuisine was because they were served an animal that they were able to identify because it wasn’t butchered or filleted into an unrecognizable form like the acceptable American way. All of these microaggressions left me feeling judged for not just eating a sandwich for lunch to fit in or not just ordering the standard familiar things like Kung Pao chicken when eating at a Chinese restaurant like I’m supposed to.
Let’s talk about masks too. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I saw so much anger on social media and even downright hatred towards people who were “hogging all the masks.” It hurt to see that when Asian people were the predominant population wearing masks, countless amounts of people were up in arms, but as more and more white people started wearing them, quickly the anger quieted down and wearing masks in public went from something that was considered taboo to something that just made good sense.
Wearing surgical masks in public has been a part of many Asian cultures and encouraged by the governments of various Asian countries for years before the current pandemic, in some Asian cultures it is even considered rude not to. It was never anyone’s, including Asian people’s, intention to “steal masks” from healthcare workers like so many posts suggested for weeks on social media.
I am a Filipino-American and believe that I am a person of color, but other people of Asian descent and I often feel forgotten. Race in our country is talked about in such a binary way, as if either you are black or white. With the overt racism against Asian-Americans that came to light in the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more urgent now more than ever to start including us in the discussions about race.
It’s important to know that everyone has prejudices, and the best thing to do is to recognize and address them. The world will be a better place when more people become more concerned about racism than they are about being called racist.
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. If you have an Asian friend in your life, ask them if they are ok. If you have the time and mental space, allow us to share our experiences and heritage with you. By hearing our stories without judgment and loving us for our cultural differences (not despite them), we feel more accepted for who we are and more welcome in this country.