The Virus of Hate: COVID's Impact on Asian Americans

Nydia Han Image
Thursday, May 21, 2020
The Virus of Hate:  COVID's Impact on Asian Americans
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The coronavirus crisis is dealing an especially difficult blow to Asian Americans. Amid the pandemic, they are also dealing with the virus of hate and discrimination.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The coronavirus crisis is dealing an especially difficult blow to Asian Americans. Amid the pandemic, they are also dealing with the virus of hate and discrimination.

38-year-old Kylam Nguyen of Upper Darby tells us, "He hit me right in the face and he knocked me pretty much unconscious." Nguyen says it happened as he was crossing the street when a disupte with a driver escalated. He says the driver yelled, "Coronavirus, get the F--- out of here!" Six weeks later, Nguyen says it's still hard to talk.. still a struggle to feel safe. He tells me, "I afraid to go out.. And buy food. I'm even afraid of calling Uber."

Alice Leung is the owner of Soy Cafe. Her restaurant has been in Northern Liberties for 16 years and she says, "I've never had any kind of racial slur." So Alice was shocked by the ugly word spray painted on her restaurant last month. "It was just heartbreaking," she says.

Students at the University of Sciences in Philadelphia sent us a video of a freshman who says, "Because the Chinese always screw us over... I think we should put something in the DNA so when they're 13, they just die.. so it's like a quinceanera but it's death."

On two occasions in early March - middle school students Jiahua and Jiaming Gong say they were harassed near the Spring Garden subway station. Jiaming says, "It was something about the coronavirus and do you have your mask on or something... Just because we look Chinese doesn't mean we have the coronavirus." Jiahua says the incident upset her.

Rob Buscher, a University of Pennsylvania professor of Asian American studies says, "We didn't see the spike in anti Asian violence, until President Trump started saying Wuhan Virus, China virus." Researchers have found a corresponding uptick in online bullying. Julius Ybañez Towers-Ziga of Columbia University says his study shows "a leap of around 900% on Twitter."

Chad Lassiter of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission says, "The virus of hate is scapegoating the Asian American Pacific Islander community as the ones that brought about the coronavirus..and that's not true."

In just one month, Stop AAPI Hate received nearly 15-hundred reports of racist incidents across the country directly linked to COVID-19.

Buscher says, Unfortunately there's a long history of anti-Asian racism." Bushcer has curated an exhibit called "American Peril: Faces of the Enemy" in an effort to educate. He says, "The conversations that people were having about the Muslim American community or the Mexican American community in 2015 were the same conversations that people were having about the Chinese American community in the 1880s, or Japanese Americans in the 1940s." Buscher's diverse collection of anti-Asian propaganda dates back to the 19th century when Chinese immigrants working on the railroads were blamed for dropping wages and fewer jobs. Buscher says, "We have to look at this as so many groups being targeted with the same techniques.. how can we then overcome that together."

The Asian American community is working on it.

Qunbin Xiong, the principal of Main Line Cultural Center says, "We are part of the cure, not the problem... We are not a virus.." Local AAPI schools, nonprofits, and businesses have donated tens of thousands of masks and other personal protect equipment to hospitals, healthcare workers, and first responders..

While dropping off masks to hospitals, Uyen Le, the owner of a nail salon said, "We appreciate all the doctors the nurses you know they have to suffer their life to reach out and help people the best they can."

Local filmmaker Kris Mendoza is calling on the creative community to contribute to an initiative he started, which seeks to create 1-million masks.

#FacesOfTheCure, started by a Penn alum, highlights Asian American healthcare heroes.

And even as Asian American restaurateurs now struggle to survive, they are supporting others in need. Indonesian restaurant, Hardena, is donating hundreds of boxes of food to medical workers. Diana Widjojo, the owner says, "I wanted to do something good for them you know like nourishing them. It feels good for me." At Soy Cafe, Alice Leung is donating food and spreading positivity by writing special messages on boxes of food that she gives away.

Lehigh Valley native turned Hollywood heavyweight - Daniel Dae Kim - is using his celebrity to speak out. He said in an Instagram video, "Please, please stop the prejudice and senseless violence against Asian people."

It seems at least some are getting the message. The freshman in that video has apologized for her remarks.

President Trump has stopped using the term Chinese virus and said during a news conference, "It's very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States.. They are amazing people and the spreading of the Virus is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form."

Buscher says, "I do think that this has the potential to unite the Asian American community because the reality is it doesn't matter if you're Chinese, Japanese Vietnamese Filipino etc.. You could be that victim." Buscher and others are also optimistic this could be a teachable moment for all communities, "not just to combat anti Asian racism but to work together." Lassiter says, "This virus of hate, it moves. Next month it may be someone else and we have to stand in solidarity with Asian Pacific American Islander communities."

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission believes many hate crimes go unreported and they are urging victims to file complaints and take advantage of resources available to them.


These Asian American groups are collecting reports of racism and discrimination against AAPIs:

Stop AAPI Hate:

Asian Americans Advancing Justice:

OCA - Asian Pacific American Advocates:

People should also file with their police department, state's Attorney General, and the FBI.

Campaigns to stop the virus of hate: