AARP AARP States Michigan Health & Wellbeing

Chinese Americans 'dealing with two enemies' during pandemic

Shenlin Chen
Association of Chinese Americans

The pandemic tearing through America has left thousands dead and most everybody else isolated, cautious and scared.

Imagine those who are also carrying the additional burden of being unfairly blamed for the origination and spread of Coronavirus.

That’s where Shenlin Chen of Novi finds herself.

“It’s like we are dealing with two enemies,” said Chen, President of the Association of Chinese Americans in Metro Detroit and a member of the AARP Michigan Executive Council. “We’re dealing with the spread of the virus and we’re dealing with this harmful racial profiling and discrimination.

“So we’re exhausted.”

Facing two enemies during pandemic

Chen is referring to a long list of incidents in which Chinese Americans -- and those mistaken for Chinese Americans – have been harassed, spat upon, verbally and even physically assaulted. Most recently, a Korean dance instructor in Detroit was shouted down and accused of starting the pandemic during a virtual dance lesson she conducted on Zoom. An Asian American family of three, including a 2-year-old, was knifed in a Sam’s Club in Midland, Texas by a perpetrator who said he thought the family was Chinese and infecting people with the coronavirus. An Asian American woman on a bus in New York City was attacked earlier this week by four teenagers after they made anti-Asian statements.

Nationwide tracking by OCA, Asian Pacific American Advocates, shows there have been about 1,000 such incidents in the U.S., said Roland Hwang, a lecturer in American Culture at the University of Michigan and secretary and founding member of the Association of Chinese Americans.

Chen said she knows of a case where an Asian American woman wearing a protective mask at a grocery store in Metro Detroit was taunted and called “stupid.” Hwang said a customer attempted to remove a mask worn by an Asian American woman at an Asian grocery store in Ann Arbor.

“There are cultural differences about wearing masks,” Chen said. ‘We think wearing a mask is self-protection and also protection of others so you can stop the spread to some degree. Some people think if you wear a mask you’re sick and should stay home.”

Hwang said “this is a living with fear sort of thing.

What’s the connection between a 2-year-old girl getting stabbed in a Sam’s Club in Midland, Texas and some guy getting spit on in a subway line in New York? It’s fear and racism
Roland Hwang

“What’s the connection between a 2-year-old girl getting stabbed in a Sam’s Club in Midland, Texas and some guy getting spit on in a subway line in New York? It’s fear and racism,’ Hwang said.

The Chinese American community in Metro Detroit is concerned, he said, about a recurrence of the killing of Vincent Chin, who was a Chinese American beaten to death in Highland Park by an auto plant supervisor and his laid-off stepson in 1982. The killers blamed Chin for the success of the Japanese auto industry that was costing jobs in Michigan. They thought Chin was Japanese.

“We’re fearful because there are the same elements of economic despair, deeper this time, plus the same racism and outrage that occurs,” Hwang said. ‘’Of course, the people who have that predilection, they carry it with them, waiting to surface between pandemics and economic downturns.’’

Fear and racism.mp4

Hwang and Chen said the use of the term “Chinese virus” to describe COVID-19 used by some officials, including the President, has exacerbated the problem.

“The damage has been done, the phrase has been used and some… continue to use it,” Hwang said.

Roland Hwang ACA.jpg

Chen said the Chinese American community in Metro Detroit has kept close watch on the spread of the novel virus in China.

“People are very afraid, because it happened to their family in China and now it is happening to their family here (in Michigan),” she said.

The racial profiling and discrimination in Michigan and elsewhere in the U.S. is an added worry that is unnecessary and unfair, she said.

What can be done to mitigate the hate and the fear?

‘’I would hope that we get back to the baseline of this whole thing and get back to the facts and get back to the data and see this as a public health-related issue and not a racial issue,” Chen said. ‘We don’t have anything to do with the origination of the virus and it’s not fair to be scapegoated.”

Public Health vs Chinese issue.mp4

Hwang said it would be helpful to focus on the good things the Chinese American community is doing to help people get through the pandemic, such as providing protection masks for local law enforcement officials, soup kitchens and hospitals. Community events that draw hundreds or thousands, such as the celebration of the Chinese New year, were cancelled as early as January – long before stay in place orders were instituted.

Contributions from the Community.mp4

“Let’s try to remember there are teaching moments in all of this,” he said.

Careena Eggleston contributed to this article.

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