Asian Americans Report Increase in Racism, Xenophobia During Coronavirus Pandemic

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Members of the Asian American Commission hold a press conference on the steps of the Massachusetts State House in Boston to condemn racism towards the Asian American community because of coronavirus.

Three organizations launched an online reporting center to collect alleged instances of racism and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Asian Americans who say they are experiencing an increase in racism and xenophobia during the coronavirus pandemic are sharing their stories to raise awareness. 

Emily Chen took to Facebook to describe an incident she said she experienced on the New York City subway on March 15.

"I sat down on the train, making sure to have a lot social distancing. Trains are pretty empty anyways," Chen wrote.

"Man sits RIGHT IN front of me and tries to get my attention 'HELLO HELLO, TAKE OFF YOUR HEADPHONES... I say 'good morning.' He says 'You're Chinese, why did you bring Corona to America?'" 

Chen added that the man continued to follow her until a bystander intervened and told him to stop bothering her. Chen also posted a video of that encounter alongside her post.

In experiencing racism and xenophobia, Chen is far from alone. The San Francisco-based Chinese for Affirmative Action organization, along with the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council and the San Francisco Asian American Studies Department, recently launched an online reporting center to document alleged incidents of hate against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during the outbreak. 

Since since the site launched on March 19, 670 incidents have been reported, ranging from micro-aggressions to violence, said Cynthia Choi, Chinese for Affirmative Action's co-executive director. People have reported being spat on or told to go back to China, among other incidents.

“Initially when we started, we not only wanted to track these incidents of hate and news reports in media, we just kind of wanted to get a sense of what people were experiencing just trying to live their lives under this public health crisis,” Choi told “Some of these are not necessarily crimes, but these are disturbing, shocking things are happening to people.”

President Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as the "Chinese virus" or "China virus" during press conferences and on Twitter, sparking criticism that his language is racist and xenophobic. 

Choi said she believes there is a "direct correlation" between the language used by Trump and other lawmakers and the treatment of Asian Americans. 

When the president has been questioned about his use of the term "Chinese virus," he has fought back by saying it isn't racist because the virus "comes from China, that’s why."

The first case of COVID-19 was documented in Wuhan, China, and the disease swiftly spread throughout the city and then in countries around the world. But the World Health Organization has said geographic locations shouldn't be included in disease names, according to guidelines released in 2015

Rep. Judy Chu, the chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American caucus and the first Chinese-American woman elected to Congress, denounced the president's language. 

"It is dangerous for him to continue calling it the Chinese coronavirus,” Chu told CNN. "He is creating more xenophobia every single time he does that. And we can see the results in what's happening to Asian Americans across this country."

On Monday, Trump appeared to address the problem in a series of tweets

"It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world. They are amazing people, and the spreading of the Virus is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form. They are working closely with us to get rid of it. WE WILL PREVAIL TOGETHER!

On Tuesday, the president told Fox News he will no longer use the term, although he said he did not regret doing so.

"Look, everyone knows it came out of China, but I decided we shouldn't make any more of a big deal out of it," Trump told Fox News. "I think I've made a big deal. I think people understand it."

But Asian Americans fear that the message has already been sent. Choi said the online tracker is averaging 100 new reports per day, but while COVID-19 is new, the stereotyping of Asian Americans unfortunately isn't.

“These stereotypes have existed since Chinese and Asians have migrated to the United States. Some of them include being unclean, diseased, and eating barbaric food," Choi explained. "There’s an idea that Asians eat differently than Americans, and that’s why they are the source of this disease.”

Choi said the best thing people can do right now is to try and support one another as everyone adjusts to life during a pandemic.

“We are all concerned about stopping the spread of the virus, and we should be equally vigilant in stopping the spread of xenophobia," she said.