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No, Asian-Americans aren't responsible for COVID-19

Photo Credit: Jason Leung / Unsplash

This January, a 52-year-old Asian-American woman was shot in the head with a flare gun in Oakland’s Chinatown District during the afternoon. She was later hospitalized. The last report indicated that the woman was in stable condition at the hospital.

Then in the same month, Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Asian-American man, was viciously shoved to the ground while taking his daily morning stroll through his San Francisco neighborhood. He never regained consciousness after the violent attack and sadly passed away two days later from the sustained injuries. His step-son-in-law, Eric Lawson said, in an interview with KTVU: “If you see the video there’s nothing non-intentional about it…..For him to come from all the way across the street what else could have motivated him?"

In February, Kathy Duoung’s mother was targeted leaving a bank in San Jose. After withdrawing cash for Lunar New Year gifts, she was getting into her car when "a car blocked her in, jumped out, opened the door, grabbed her purse and then ran off," said Duong. She went on to say "It should be a festive time, it should be a celebration, you should be thinking of family and friends, instead you are being targeted.”

In early February, a 91-year-old man was forcefully shoved to the ground in Oakland’s Chinatown. He has been inaccurately described as Asian in many news accounts, but court documents have revealed the survivor’s name as Gilbert Diaz. Carl Chan, a community leader and president of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, said the victim was actually Latino. Although Mr. Diaz isn’t Asian-American, he was walking in Oakland’s Chinatown which could have contributed to his attack. Even if this assault didn’t have a racial motive, it doesn’t negate its horrific and sinister nature. Moreover, it reveals how the elderly population is being targeted for acts of aggression due to their vulnerable status which further adds to the heinousness of these crimes.

Drawings of Vicha Ratanapakdee were carried at an Anti-Asian Racism Rally in San Jose. Credit: NBC Bay Area

Despite the police departments’ reluctance to classify these violent incidents as racially motivated, the facts prove otherwise. All of these attacks took place in Chinatowns or the Chinatown District of the city. Many of the victims were Asian-American and elderly.

The perpetrators went out of their way to target these individuals. These recurring patterns are no coincidence. It’s glaringly obvious that these weren’t just cases of elder abuse, which is what the assailants are being charged with if caught, but racial hate crimes.

Manju Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, a coalition of California community-based groups, articulates "These attacks taking place in the Bay Area are part of a larger trend of anti-Asian American/Pacific Islander hate brought on in many ways by COVID-19, as well as some of the xenophobic policies and racist rhetoric that were pushed forward by the prior administration."

Since March 19, 2020, there have been 3,795 firsthand reports of hate experienced by Asian-Americans across the nation made to Stop AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Hate. This rise, as mentioned before, can be attributed to the scapegoating of China for the COVID-19 outbreak and, by extension, Asians in general. Former President Trump and his administration are partially responsible for circulating and then perpetuating the racist rhetoric and sentiments surrounding COVID-19 in the United States.

In President Trump’s March 19, 2020 daily press briefing, he called COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” and a couple of days later would go on to defend this title by stating “It’s not racist at all...It comes from China, that’s why.” However, this directly ignores the World Health Organization’s guideline that geographic locations should not be included in the names of new human infectious diseases so as to avoid the stigma that this naming practice can provoke.

The case of COVID-19 demonstrates the implications of including a geographic location in the name of a disease. It has led to xenophobia, stigma against Asians, specifically Asian-Americans in the U.S., and their subsequent othering which has and continues to manifest itself through hate crimes, hate speech, and other forms of discrimination.

Russell Jeung, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate and professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University, stated “There’s a clear correlation between President Trump’s incendiary comments, his insistence on using the term Chinese virus, and the subsequent hate speech spread on social media and the hate violence directed toward us.”

Furthering this sentiment, Melissa Borja, a University of Michigan history professor and Harvard fellow who researches hate crime against the Asian community, said “Terms like “China virus” and “Wuhan flu” can lead to great harm.”

A rally at the Los Angeles State Historical Park in February. Credit: Genaro Molina / LA Times

The racialization of COVID-19 has had economic consequences on the Asian-American community, seen in the decline in popularity of Chinatowns and A