Without Air For So Long: Asian American in the Age of Coronavirus

A person holds a hand-written sign that reads "I'm Not a Virus".

By Guest Contributor: Amy Zhou

This piece was originally published in The Wake Magazine.

I often wonder: will I ever be American enough for the country I was born and raised in? Will I ever be Minnesotan enough for the state that I grew up in? From Chinese exclusion to Japanese internment, has there ever been a time when Asian Americans weren’t a hair’s width away from being aliens? Our history has been manipulated and molded into something palatable that whiteness is comfortable with. We have been doled out slivers of humanity on the condition of our complicity. But anything — a war, a pandemic, a skit — can expose how dispensable we have always been to them.

I miss the bustling streets of Shanghai with their never-ending streams of pedestrians going to and from work. The smell of cigarettes and a slight hint of sewage, but also of the cong you bing frying on a nearby street cart. I miss the yell of Chinese and the concert of people moving, going, hustling, doing. The streets of Shanghai are where I’m from; my parents immigrated in 1990. I was born nine years later in Corpus Christi, Texas, a world away from the origins of my blood. I grew up grossed out by the Chinese food my mother made and embarrassed by my parent’s accents when we went out in public. So much of my life has been spent trying to assimilate myself into my whiter surroundings, rejecting all the yellow parts of me.

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Andrew Yang is Wrong: Respectability Politics Won’t Save Asian Americans from Racist Violence

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang at the Sept 12 Democratic primary debate in Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas. (Photo Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Earlier this week, the FBI released a report detailing the attempted hate crime murder of an Asian American family — including the brutal stabbing of a two-year-old and a six-year-old child — by a man who blamed his victims for the COVID-19 outbreak. The attack is part of an alarming nationwide surge in racist anti-Asian violence currently being documented both by the FBI and Asian American community activists, and ranging from incidents of racist harassment and slurs to violent physical assault.

Most Asian American progressives have spent the last few weeks working tirelessly to address the growing epidemic of anti-Asian racism. We have been working to document the attacks, amplify stories of victims and survivors, draw connections to Asian American history, and create resources to support the traumatized — all in an effort to raise awareness about the current anti-Asian racial climate, and to urge the country to not give in to dangerous, hateful racism.

Andrew Yang has a different take.* Implying that Asian American progressives have been overly “negative” in calling out racism, the former presidential candidate wrote a painfully insensitive op-ed yesterday in the Washington Post (paywall).

In it, Yang instead suggested that the current pattern of anti-Asian violence is how people are “wired”. But, says Yang, Asian Americans can prevent hate crimes against us by “embrac[ing] and show[ing] our American-ness in ways we never have before.” Barring that, Yang suggests Asian Americans rush to find a cure for the novel coronavirus so that “any racism would likely fade”.

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Trump Makes Racially-Charged Remarks Towards Japanese Reporter in Controversial Press Conference

A Japanese reporter questions President Trump. (Photo credit: Screen capture from NBC News video)

In a press conference marked by erratic and un-presidential behaviour, President Trump made racially charged remarks against a Japanese reporter, telling him to “say hello to Shinzo” — the prime minister of Japan — before complaining that he couldn’t understand the reporter’s accent.

The unnamed reporter, who was clearly fluent in English, asked the president about reports that Trump was considering placing punitive tariffs on Japanese auto imports. That’s when Trump made the quip about Prime Minister Abe and the complaint about the reporter’s accent. Trump then defended the idea of US-imposed tariffs on Japan — one of America’s closest allies in the Pacific rim — by complaining of a trade deficit between the two countries.

“Japan does not treat the United States fairly on trade,” said Trump. “They send in millions of cars at a very low tax… They don’t take our cars.”
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Racist Anti-Asian Campaign Mailers Sent to New Jersey Residents

An uncredited campaign mailer sent to residents of Edison, New Jersey this week. (Photo credit: NJ.com)

An unknown number of Edison, New Jersey residents received a racist, anti-Asian campaign mailer in the post earlier this week attacking local school board candidates Falguni Patel and incumbent Jerry Shi. The mailer proclaims that we should “Make Edison Great Again” and that “the Chinese and Indians are taking over our town!”

“Chinese school! Indian school! Cricket fields! Enough is Enough!!” reads the text of the postcard, which also includes images of Patel and Shi above “Deport” graphics.

The back of the mailer lists several anti-Asian stereotypes — including the Perpetual Foreigner stereotype — with the text: “Stop the overcrowding! Stop taking over our sports fields! Stop the McMansions! Stop the multiple families living in the same house! Stop wasting school holidays! Stop the outsiders! Let’s take back our Edison & our schools!”

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Teens Spray Anti-Asian Slurs in Vandalism Attack on NYC Cemetery

Three unidentified teenagers are caught on surveillance footage at the Cypress Hill Cemetery in NYC moments before a vandalism attack. (Photo credit: NYPD / YouTube)

Three unidentified teenagers were caught on surveillance camera this past week vandalizing headstones in a predominantly Asian and Asian American section of the Cypress Hill Cemetery, a 225-acre cemetery in Queens and Brooklyn, reports DNAinfo.

The teens spray-painted anti-Asian and Islamophobic slurs — including the phrases “ching chong” and “fuck Jackie Chan” — and approximately 70 headstones were knocked down and 15 mausoleum memorial plaques destroyed in the attack. According to DNAinfo, the cemetery houses several notable graves, including that of NYPD officer Wenjian Liu, who was killed in his patrol car along with his partner in 2014 in an apparently targeted attack against the NYPD.

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