When the coronavirus pandemic first started getting bad in the U.S., Christina Chen, an internal medicine physician in Rochester, Minnesota, had a handful of experiences at supermarkets that hinted at what was to come for Asian Americans like herself across the country.
As she walked out of a grocery store, a man parked next to her cautioned her against wearing a mask in public since it would “only scare others more.” Later, she got even more unwanted attention inside another store.
“I was in a checkout line with a few other people with paper towel products in our carts,” Chen told HuffPost. “From behind me, I hear, ‘First they bring the virus, and now they’re taking all our supplies!’”
“It was nothing to directly attack me, but these comments only perpetuate the feeling of blame,” Chen added. “They make you feel like a pest, and no one should be made to feel that way.”
Chen’s experiences have become sadly commonplace. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, people in Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have been widely scapegoated for the virus, which is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China. The online reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate said that since its inception on March 18, it’s received more than 1,500 reports of discrimination primarily targeting Asian Americans.
Last month, Chen and fellow doctor Audrey Sue Cruz decided to speak out against the hate. The women reached out to Asian American health care workers they knew and asked if they’d like to collaborate on an Instagram video.
Released last month, the video shows each doctor holding up a sign with racist comments they’ve had directed at them, as well as their responses.
“You’re a selfish disease carrier,” psychiatrist Vania Manipod’s sign reads.
“But I’m on the frontlines risking my life to save yours,” Cruz’s sign says.
Cruz, the co-creator of the video, said personal experiences fueled her desire to speak out. She recounted an encounter she had with a new elderly patient on a telehealth call recently.
“The visit was going very well and I had obtained her history and addressed her medical concerns. Toward the end of the visit, she asked me what my nationality is. I answered that I am Asian American. The patient stated ‘Can you believe what your people did?! I usually wouldn’t choose to see an Asian doctor but you seem nice.’”
Cruz said she was left speechless.
“I asked her if she had any other medical concerns and she said no, so I ended the visit promptly,” the doctor said. “It was very disappointing to have to experience this. But it shows that not even health care providers are immune to this sort of behavior.”
According to the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, more than 2 million Asian American and Pacific Islander workers are on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis.
For many like Cruz, the rise in racism against Asians ― and the “Chinese virus” rhetoric repeated by President Donald Trump ― has put them in a strange, oftentimes uncomfortable position at work.
Scott Fujimoto, an interventional radiologist in Loma Linda, California, featured in the video, said that Asian Americans dealing directly with the pandemic feel “revered, but also paradoxically feared.”
“My hope is that people who watch the video see how nonsensical this is for Asian American doctors,” he said. “I read an article by Chen Fu, a doctor in New York, which said Asian American doctors are ‘both celebrated and villainized.’ When I talk to others in health care work, that’s the sense I get from them.”
“I really hope people see this and realize that no matter your race, profession, or cultural background, all humans deserve respect and, above all, to choose kindness and compassion” as they interact with others.
Chen said she hopes viewers are reminded of how counterproductive racist reactions are during a health crisis.
“How we react to catastrophic situations and fear and uncertainty matters,” she said. “If we react with blame, finger-pointing, hate, violence and retaliation, it only perpetuates the problem and destroys any hope of healing. We need to re-examine how we treat people in times of crisis which has no room for hate. We all play a very critical role here.”
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