By Louisa Wang
The first time I heard about the coronavirus at the start of this year, all I could think of was my grandfather and aunt living in Beijing. Most people in America were brushing it off, believing it could never reach here, but even before they were proven wrong, I was filled with anxiety. Each day, my mind was occupied with worries that my family members might die from being infected. Each week, we would call Grandpa and Aunty to see how they were doing, and they kept telling us about the new precautions they had to take with masks and social-distancing. After weeks of hearing everyone around me dismissing the virus, I reached a point where I had convinced myself of that same belief. When my parents bought a gallon of hand sanitizer to use each day, I almost felt ashamed, thinking that we were just being paranoid after hearing how our relatives have been affected.
At the start of spring break when things took a turn for the worst, I stayed at home in shock for days. I was incapable of processing the pandemic that we were in, and the only way I could grasp a semblance of sanity was through the updates and video calls from Grandpa and Aunty about how China was beginning to come out of its quarantine. I was beyond relieved that there was hope at the end of the chaos and that they were still healthy and safe. I began to look forward to my country recovering as well, maybe I could still have a normal summer.
During quarantine, I decided to join my mother on a grocery shopping trip with as much courage and hand sanitizer as I could muster. We walked into the store with every intention of grabbing necessary items and getting out as soon as possible. I was a nervous wreck, darting my eyes around to make sure that no one was coming near us and even holding my breath when quickly passing by an occasional shopper. After finishing with the cashier, we began to leave the store, but not before I suddenly realized that many people were watching us and making a visible effort to avoid us. My cheeks began to burn with embarrassment as I became painfully aware that we were a couple of Chinese people among an overwhelmingly Caucasian array of individuals. When I made eye contact, they glanced away as if even that degree of interaction would infect them, so I just angled my gaze to the ground and walked briskly away.
I have never felt more self-conscious or ashamed for simply being Chinese in my entire life. Because of my skin color and hooded eyes, I was somehow responsible for this virus that has stripped people’s normal lives from them. In the news, I see hundreds of Asian Americans openly humiliated and attacked for bringing the “China virus” or the “Kung-flu” to America with them when many of them have never been to China or aren’t even Chinese. And even for me as a Chinese-American, I haven’t been to China in years and was in agony for months praying that my at-risk relatives wouldn’t get sick. As these racist attacks continued to surface, my blood boiled with anger and frustration. In these times of uncertainty and strife, why are we preaching messages of division and fear? If we want to get through this pandemic, we need to do so together. During this inflection point of change for our country fraught with racial injustice and political tensions, I hope that we can learn as a country that we cannot afford to alienate and pin the blame on our own people in a time of crisis.