Despite playing a key role in handling the coronavirus pandemic on the front lines, Asian American healthcare workers have been consistent targets of hate. Despite risking their lives protecting Americans from illness, these individuals are facing hate on a daily basis as a consequence of misinformation about the COVID-19 crisis. Xenophobic language like “Chinese virus,” “Wuhan virus,” and “Kung Flu” have been connected to a rapid surge in hate crimes nationwide.
Asian Americans are facing verbal and physical violence daily in nearly every state. Data consistently reveals alarming increases in anti-Asian hate incidents. Most recently a report found the number of anti-Asian hate crimes reported increased by 50% from 3,795 cases reported in March to December 2020, to 6,603 reported between January to March 2021, Daily Kos reported.
CNN spoke to Asian American health care workers about the two viruses they are fighting, COVID-19 and racism. Here is what each of them had to say:
Kathleen Begonia, a Filipino American registered nurse and a specialist in nursing informatics in Floral Park, New York noted that the rise in crimes made her feel unsafe prompting her to stop taking public transportation and carry pepper spray.
“I actually signed up to take self-defense classes because I still carry my childhood experiences of racism with me,” Begonia told CNN. “I don’t trust that anyone else can take care of me, not even police, so I make sure that I can defend myself. I run every day and keep fit in case I need to defend myself.”
While Begonia shared that she’s experienced racism her whole life she said it is disheartening that those she treats could be her perpetrators.
“Thinking about how we are nurses taking care of anyone who comes into the hospital — it can be infuriating. The very people who insult us in public can also become vulnerable themselves and require our care,” Begonia said. “So, when I see people hurting the Asian American community, it saddens me because we are also your health care providers.”
Others shared the same fears noting that it has been “incredibly difficult” to witness all anti-Asian violence especially amid the increase of xenophobic language used by the previous administration to blame Asians for the pandemic.
“It was demoralizing to see politicians and media outlets talk about the ‘Kung flu’ and spread misinformation when health care workers were overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients in the hospital and trying to do their best for the patients,” Cherry Wongtrakool, a Thai American pulmonary critical care physician in Atlanta, told CNN. “That divisive speech and misinformation was harmful and continues to be harmful the more it is perpetuated.”
Unfortunately, Wongtrakool has come to expect aggression from patients, while she doesn’t discriminate she is discriminated against with some assuming she doesn’t speak English or isn’t American. But more so than that, the rise in anti-hate crimes has terrified her.
“I used to not have to worry about this, even in this diverse, multicultural city I have moments where I pause and rethink what I’m doing and where I’m going,” she said
Another healthcare worker, George Liu who is a Chinese American internist and endocrinologist in New York City, as well as the president of the Chinese American Independent Practice Association (CAIPA) also expressed similar sentiments.
Through his work with CAIPA, Liu helped establish a mobile center that tested more than 3,000 people in Brooklyn, Flushing, Chinatown, and Elmhurst for COVID-19, one of the city’s first mobile testing centers.
Yet, despite the work the Asian American community has done against the COVID-19 pandemic people still target them.
“We’ve been discriminated against for years, since the 1800’s and far before the coronavirus, although it definitely has made it worse,” Liu told CNN. “These situations cannot be tolerated. We are all human beings doing our best to support our country and our community, and we deserve respect.”
Healthcare workers are not only facing the draining COVID-19 crisis but the increasing violence against them.
“I had a sinking feeling as soon as I heard President Trump utter the words “Chinese virus,” Kathy Wu, a Chinese American nurse practitioner at an out-patient oncology center in New York, said. “I was scared about what that meant for us Asian Americans. I braced myself for the uptick in anti-Asian violence.”
“I’m exhausted already from working the past year dealing with the repercussions of Covid, and now I have to watch my back constantly because we’re being used as scapegoats for a virus that had nothing to do with us?”
The statistics don't lie and healthcare workers are not exempt from the violence. Hate crime data from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino found that hate crimes against Asian Americans surged in 2020 in at least 15 cities, Daily Kos reported. As the cities were further reviewed, a new report indicated that crimes against Asian Americans rose by 169% when comparing the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021.
The rise of racism is proven to be the “scarier" virus the U.S. is facing. The escalation “makes racism seem a lot scarier than the virus” to Dr. Amy Zhang, an anesthesiology resident at the University of Washington’s hospitals.
“It’s a constant fear. You never know when you’re going to get targeted,” Amy Zhang, an anesthesiology resident at the University of Washington’s hospitals said, according to The Associated Press.
The AAPI community needs our support now more than ever, whether it be checking in on our family and friends, spreading awareness of COVID-19 misconceptions, or contacting members of Congress to do more against anti-Asian hate. Check out this guide on resources and ways to support the AAPI community and our Asian friends. Hate is the real virus and we must end it.