Some Philadelphia Asian Americans link attacks to coronavirus rhetoric

TaRhonda Thomas Image
Thursday, March 19, 2020
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Business leaders say even before the closures, some people became reluctant to go to Chinatown due to an unfounded association with coronavirus.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Like many business areas across the country, businesses in Philadelphia's Chinatown are hurting.

"It's economically devastating for the Chinatown community," said John Chin, executive director of Philadelphia's Chinatown Development Corporation.

Many businesses are closed due to coronavirus. But business leaders say even before the closures, some people became reluctant to go to Chinatown due to an unfounded association with coronavirus.

"It's this crazy notion that if you are Chinese or Asian American, that somehow you are responsible for carrying the coronavirus," said Chin.

The rumors have brought out the very worst in some people, with stories of Asian Americans being harassed and even attacked in Pennsylvania.

"Attacks against Asian Americans have increased due to the association with COVID-19," said Djung Tran, president of the Asian Pacific America Bar Association of Pennsylvania.

Chin shares his own example of being yelled at on the streets of Philadelphia.

"Last Monday, I had three folks walking through Chinatown suggesting I go die because of coronavirus," he said. "I'm born and raised here in Philadelphia."

Community members say the fear stems from a certain label: "Chinese virus.

"In the last two days, the president has actually used the term "Chinese virus" in a couple of press conferences," said Rob Buscher, curator of the exhibit American Peril: Faces of the Enemy, Which Chronicles anti-Asian rhetoric throughout American history.

"It's really damaging to the Asian American community," he said.

"(Coronavirus) did come from China, there's no disputing that," said Tran. "But there's no need to call it a Chinese virus. The only reason why you want to do that is to associate it with a whole group."

As news spreads of attacks on Asian Americans across the country, the Asian Pacific American Bar Association in Philadelphia has issued a plea.

"Call the virus by its correct name. Don't let other people associate it with Chinese or Asians," said Tran.

The Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation worries that unfounded fears are pushing visitors out of Chinatown. Business and community leaders hope city leaders and residents will work together to rally against the harassment and attacks.

"We need to call upon people in our Philadelphia community to stand together against such discrimination," said Chin.

The Asian Pacific American Bar Association in Philadelphia encourages victims of harassment or attacks to report the incidents.

The Organization issued a statement noting the following resource: "In Philadelphia, reports can be made to the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (PCHR) at 215-686-4670 or leave a voice message at the 24-hour hotline at 215-686-2856. Reports can be made anonymously. In Pennsylvania, reports can also be made to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) at 717-787-4410."