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SFSU Asian American Studies Chair Documents Trump’s “Chinese Virus” Hate

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Welcome back from the Spring Break from hell. It’s only going to get worse.

When Harvard with its $39 billion endowment, shuts down, sends students home to do online learning, you know Classicist John Finley is spinning in his grave. And then when  the school cancels graduation, it’s time to rethink what schools with much smaller endowments will need to do just to survive well after the  pandemic. Big stuff.

But Dr. Russell Jeung, chair of San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies department in the College of Ethnic Studies, will have to take on those issues as he monitors in real time what’s happening with the Trump virus. That would be the impact on the Asian American community because of the  president’s insistence on calling COVID-19, the “Chinese Virus,” as if the virus has an ethnicity. Trump began saying the phrase  in the middle of March, and even defended its use as reporters questioned him in at least one White House briefing.  He suddenly stopped using the term on March 23rd.  Maybe when he realized he was off/ending not just the entire Asian American community, but many of the top doctors and nurses fighting the virus on the front lines. Trump  didn’t apologize, but he did call Asian Americans great Americans.

Emil GuillermoEmil Guillermo

It wasn’t enough to reverse the impact of the novel Trump virus. He had essentially infected America with an official dose of  xenophobia from the White House. There was no stopping it. From March 20- April 1, Jeung and community activists set up a “Stop-AAPI-Hate” website to record incidents of discrimination toward Asian Americans. As of this week, the website  received more than 1,135 reports from people around the nation. Nearly 43 percent incidents were from California, with New York at 18 percent, followed by Texas at 5 percent, and the state of Washington  at 4.2 percent. Among the respondents, 68 percent were women, two times that of men. Not surprisingly, while Chinese were victimized 40 percent to the time, 60 percent of the victims represented a spectrum of as many as nine Asian ethnic groups, with Filipinos and Vietnamese the next highest groups to experience discrimination at 7 percent each.

The lesson? Racist people don’t discriminate when it comes to discriminating against Asian Americans. We all fall under the same umbrella.  And it’s all aided and abetted by a president who loves to say “Chinese Virus” repeatedly. Jeung said the most egregious incident happened in Texas when an Asian man was slashed while shopping at a big box store. Most of the incidents occurred in grocery stores while Asians were shopping. Most of the victims were women.

“I was shopping and (a) child grabbed my arm. Child said I should go back to my country and I was the reason his father died,” one person wrote. “(The child’s) mother came up and put her hand on my arm. She didn’t try to help me. Bakersfield (Calif.) occasionally has ignorant people who make fun of how I talk and look and tell me to go home. But this is the scariest and saddest experience I’ve had in US since about 1977.”

Another person wrote: “A white male customer in the drive through asked my ethnicity and assumed I had a Coronavirus. I asked if there was a problem, and he replied defensively, “the virus came from China.”

One person wore a mask: “I was wearing (it) to prevent myself form potential airborne infections when I drove to pick up my food a mile away from my home. On the way back, this guy changed into my lane and started driving really slow like 5 miles per hour in front of me. When I changed lane to make a right turn, he quickly changed it along with me and came to a full stop at the signal when the light was complete green. He kept staring at me from the side mirror all the way from the beginning to the end. The incident left me angry and scared.”

It’s the stuff that won’t make it on CNN. Or even the local news. But it’s real and it’s happening and Jeung has documented about 100 cases a day since he began the project.

Are we all in this together?  The fallout from the president’s actions suggest not. It’s a small part of the larger and more devastating COVID-19 story. The American miscalculation in response. The lag in cases and in understanding this novel coronavirus to which there is no cure. When this virus era is studied for how the government reacted and responded, scholars will have Jeung’s data to note how the least- diversity minded president in American history fared in at least one area.

It will be necessary to counter whatever self-aggrandizing thing Trump  might say about his own use of the term “China Virus.”

Trump will talk. But Jeung will have the goods to show that when the country needed leadership in crisis, Trump provided Americans a  scapegoat—Asian Americans.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He writes for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. Twitter You can follow him on Twitter @emilamok. 

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