By Alex P. Vidal
“The hardest thing I had to overcome in life? I think racism. That’s so difficult because I don’t think anyone can ever understand it. It’s not that people don’t want to understand it, but they don’t want to touch it.”— Herschel Walker
BASED on what I have personally experienced and heard from the news and from fellow Asians in New York, attacks on Asian-Americans in the United States have accelerated during the pandemic and were reported to be skyrocketing once again after a brief “silence.”
The harassment and violence were reportedly fueled by misinformation, the rhetoric of former U.S. President Donald Trump and “a history of anti-Asian discrimination in the United States.”
The recent spate of harassment and violence against Asian-Americans, most notably in California and in New York City has prompted many Asians to consider how they can take action when they encounter anti-Asian discrimination in our community.
Asians living in the United States have been dealing with two frightening viruses: COVID-19 or coronavirus and its mind-boggling variant and racism since 2020.
It’s a common knowledge that coronavirus originated from Wuhan in China and more than 500,000 Americans have died as of March 9.
Some non-Asians think human beings with squinty eyes or even those afflicted with Microphthalmia (small eyes) are from Asia and, henceforth, could be carriers of coronavirus.
It’s not hard to notice some irate non-Asian characters plant dagger looks at our direction especially after we make a mistake of slightly sneezing or coughing while inside the bus and subway train.
And even if we aren’t sneezing and coughing, some paranoid non-Asian passengers sometimes refuse to sit beside us, in front of us, or stay and stand near us—or in a distance where they feel they can be easily zapped by an air of mucus expelled from the mouth and nose in case somebody will sneeze or cough. A fellow Ilonggo, 57-year-old Mario Lena of Bankers Village in Jaro, Iloilo City, had experienced this recently.
But if they are the ones who happen to sneeze and cough, we don’t complain; we don’t make a mountain out of a molehill; we don’t stare at them like they’re descendants of Thanatos, the son of Nyx and the personification of death.
No coronavirus-tagging. No hateful glance. No malice. No problem.
We all sneezed and coughed—people of all races—occasionally even before coronavirus became a worldwide terror, but nobody gave a hoot even inside the public transportations then.
It’s only when coronavirus started to kill in America that the level of enmity and prejudice toward Asians living in the U.S. developed alarming uptick.
Not all sneezing actually can be associated with coronavirus.
It can have causes that aren’t due to an underlying disease like cold exposure, bright lights, irritants such as pepper, or having an object stuck inside our nose.
We are thankful though that the New York Police Department (NYPD) Hate Crimes Task Force has started investigating a “racism” incident (that’s how the Metropolitan Transportation Authority described it) on N and L trains mostly in Brooklyn where an angry straphanger sprayed a male Asian passenger with air freshener after verbally attacking him.
A video on Twitter has detectives investigating a possible hate crime.
The video shows the altercation on the N train in Brooklyn, with the angry straphanger yelling at the man to move away from him—an apparent act of discrimination based on the man’s ethnicity.
The Asian community has seen an increase in racist incidents against them since the outbreak of COVID-19, which began in China.
“I don’t want him under me!” the man is heard exclaiming in the expletive-laced video. “Tell him to move!”
The subject of his tirade was an Asian man who appeared to be minding his own business on the train, and said nothing back to the man during the rant, and didn’t move.
When the passenger doesn’t do what the enraged man told him to, the man sprays the air freshener Febreze in his direction for about 15 seconds.
Those who are motivated by racism and hostility must be reminded and educated that not all Asians living in the United States are infected with coronavirus (COVID-19).
It’s not a sin to sneeze and cough in public as long as we take precautionary measures, or as long as we cover our mouths with a handkerchief or mask.
That Asian man attacked in the N train didn’t even sneeze and cough.
We Asians are being judged by the shape of our eyes.
We read in a Time report by Cady Lang that “racial violence against Asian Americans often goes overlooked because of persistent stereotypes about the community.”
“There is a stereotype and an assumption that Asian Americans have class privilege, that they have high socioeconomic status and education, and that any discrimination doesn’t really happen or feel legitimate,” says Bianca Mabute-Louie, a racial justice educator.
“There are these assumptions about ways that Asian Americans have ‘succeeded’ in this country.”
Mabute-Louie cited the pervasiveness of the model minority myth as a large contributing factor to the current climate.
That false idea, constructed during the Civil Rights era to stymie racial justice movements, suggests that Asian Americans are more successful than other ethnic minorities because of hard work, education and inherently law-abiding natures.
“This contributes to erasing the very real interpersonal violence that we see happening in these videos, and that Asian Americans experience from the day-to-day, things that don’t get reported and the things that don’t get filmed,” she surmised.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo)