Asian Americans experience increased xenophobia, racism in light of coronavirus

Asian Americans at MU say that their lives have been changed by anti-Asian remarks and harassment in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Asian Americans have experienced a continuous uptick in xenophobia and violence.

Xenophobia is the “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign,” according to Merriam-Webster. It is not a new problem, but reported cases of xenophobia have increased dramatically as the coronavirus spreads.

Zach Deng is a senior studying strategic communication.

Deng works at Rollins Dining. When he returned to campus after winter break, Deng said he saw an immediate change in his coworkers’ attitudes after they learned he had been in China and Thailand.

Deng assured his coworkers he was safe and healthy, as was his family. But he still felt out of place at work.

“You can see their faces [that they] are very just trying to stay away from [me] or they're very suspicious about me and about everything,” Deng said. “So that's the first time I felt very uncomfortable, because I really thought I fit in so well.”

Deng felt that even around close friends, he might be judged for his race. He was invited to a friend’s party the next day, but said he felt desperate and wanted to avoid socializing.

“[The host’s] friends are not that diverse and are all American — I first said I would be there, but then I didn't go at all,” Deng said. “I was so scared that people would ask where I came from or where I’m from, and I’m just too embarrassed to answer these questions.”

Miya Russell is a junior studying linguistics. Vice president of the MU Asian American Association, Russell said she doesn’t know anyone who has experienced violent attacks, but there is always underlying passive aggression.

On March 16, President Donald Trump referenced “the Chinese virus” in a tweet.

Responses were split: some stated that the term was accurate, as the coronavirus originated in China. Others felt that Trump was promoting racist attitudes.

Russell said that the term “Chinese virus” pins the pandemic on Asian Americans.

“While it may have been intended to be specifically China and the Chinese government, what it does is it affects the Asian American people here who, a lot of them have never been to China and many of them are not Chinese at all,” Russell said. “And so, while the intended effect may have been more as a foreign relations thing, it definitely has a strong effect here at home.”

On March 11, AAA released a statement on social media regarding COVID-19 and xenophobia.

“We are disheartened by the increase in anti-asian sentiment and harassment as a response to COVID-19,” the statement reads. “AAA stands in solidarity with all APIDA [Asian Pacific Islander Desi American] individuals and will advocate for your health and safety.”

Deng said that many Asian Americans do not feel comfortable reporting their experiences and feel that they may be overlooked.

“[They] don't actually want to speak out because they really don't want to be considered as being too woke or too sensitive,” Deng said. “So, I want to tell people that these jokes are not okay and it really is something that is not appropriate to say.”

For more information about the coronavirus, students can visit MU Alert or the CDC.

Edited by Lucy Caile | lcaile@themaneater.com

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