President Trump has called COVID-19 “the Chinese virus,” and blamed China for its origin and spread.
However, on Monday, he tweeted about protecting Asian Americans, saying they’re not at fault for 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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2020
Meanwhile, more reports show verbal and physical attacks against Chinese Americans.
Podcast co-host Jen Yamato weighs in on the president’s mixed messages: “We need more messaging from everywhere -- that anti-Asian harassment and discrimination is not good right now, and exactly to understand why that is.”
She notes that while her friend, writer and podcaster Jeff Yang, just tweeted that when he was getting groceries in LA, an older white passerby shouted and coughed at him.
So I had my first “breathing while Asian” moment.— Jeff Yang (@originalspin) March 23, 2020
Went out for groceries and an older masked white woman passing by the line shouted “FUCK YOU!” at me for no apparent reason. As I stared at her, she pulled off her mask, coughed directly at me, turned on her heel and walked off.
“Asian Enough” co-host Frank Shyong has experienced this too: “For months now … if you go hiking, you have that mother kind of clutch their children to the side of the trail while I pass. The taco shop, the taquera wants to serve the salsa to me and looks terrified when I touch the utensils.”
He notes that it’s not just people moving away from him on the trails -- “but it's also the hostile, fearful glare that I get when I walk by. No one else gets that either.”
If you’re Asian and you wear a mask, do people look at you like you’re carrying the virus?
Shyong explains that in an Asian context, you're protecting other people when you put on a face mask.
“In Taiwan and in Japan and various places … if you're sick, everyone wants you to be wearing a face mask on public transit. It's considered rude not to,” he says. “And over here in America, when you put on a face mask, it does kind of feel like there's a target on your back -- because that image of an Asian person wearing a face mask has been circulating for two months, attached to an existential threat of the coronavirus.”
He points out that it’s not just Asian people who are wearing masks, who have the virus. “But since the story was repeatedly illustrated with a photo of an Asian person wearing a face mask, this association has grown in the minds of a lot of people.”
Are Asian Americans getting the same information as the rest of LA?
“A lot of this bonus episode that we recorded for our new podcast … actually also applies in similar ways to other communities,” says Yamato. “You have these ethnic enclaves. A lot of them do get their information not in the English language. I think that's one issue that is at least of concern -- that you want to make sure that everybody's getting the right information.”
Asian businesses are hurt
Shyong says in the San Gabriel Valley and Chinatown, there are reports of huge business losses since February.
“I was just reading that Boba Guys had to temporarily shut down 17 businesses and lay off 400 people. And Boba Guys is like one of the most well-capitalized boba businesses out there,” he says.
Yamato adds, “Most industries are hurting, and most people are going to be so economically distressed in the coming weeks and months. What is that going to look like longterm for these ethnic enclaves when they are already seeing businesses go under, that brought so much culture to those specific communities? .... Are we still going to have the same kinds of communities across Los Angeles that we love?”
There are some good things to talk about though. More about the podcast...
“Asian Enough” is only a few episodes into its first season.
Yamato says, “Frank and I, who covered different beats at the L.A. Times, we wanted to create a space for talking about Asian American identity and experiences, and sharing those stories in a nuanced way, having the kinds of conversations among other Asian Americans that don't usually get to be had, at least not not in this way.”
She defines the intention of the podcast: “To put more of these stories out there, to help the Asian American community feel a little bit less alone and a little bit seen.”
Why did they name the podcast “Asian Enough?” Yamato says, “It speaks to not feeling American enough or being made to feel not enough by one side or the other.”
-- Written by Amy Ta, produced by Angie Perrin