Seven things you should know about COVID-19, China and Asian Americans

As President Trump continues to call COVID-19 “The Chinese Virus,” anti-Asian American hate is on the rise. We have seen this before.

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Members of Chicago’s Chinatown American Legion walk in a Chinese New Year Parade on February 10, 2019. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

James Foster/Sun-Times

As Trump continues to call COVID-19 “The Chinese Virus,” anti-Asian American hate is on the rise. 

In March, a Burmese family, including a 2-year-old and 6-year-old, were stabbed in a Sam’s Club in Texas because they “looked Asian.” In April, a Naperville Chinese American man was spit on. This month, a downtown Chicago Korean American woman was hit with a rock while being told to “go back to China.”

We’ve seen this before. Anti-Asian rhetoric leads to anti-Asian American discrimination and violence. 

When we were at war with Japan, 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated without due process. When we were competing with the Japanese auto industry, Vincent Chin, a Chinese American, was murdered.  

Why does this keep happening? 

Because most Americans don’t make a distinction between the Chinese government, Chinese immigrants, Asian Americans and anyone who looks Asian. 

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As a Chinese and Japanese American, I have lived this. From veiled compliments on my English (my family has been here since the 1800s) to being “ching-chonged,” I understand that as an Asian American I am assumed to be foreign, not American.

The Asian American Caucus, of which I am the founding chair, is fighting to change this pattern in policy and perception. The caucus is made up of Asian American non-federal elected officials in the Chicago area.

But we need your help.

Here are seven things we want you to know about COVID-19, China, Chinese immigrants and Asian Americans.

1. COVID-19 is not a “Chinese Virus.” The first case in Illinois came from Italy. This is a global pandemic.

2. The rise in American COVID-19 deaths has been caused by our president’s failed response, not China’s. Data shows that the infection and death rates in each country correlate to the effectiveness of their own response.

3. China and the Chinese government are not the same as Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans.

4. Not all Asian Americans are Chinese. We are incredibly diverse, coming from nearly 50 countries and speaking hundreds of languages and dialects. And no, we do not all look alike (not funny). 

5. Asian Americans are Americans. We don’t have to prove our American-ness. We just are. Period.

6. Asian Americans are people of color. We are not model minorities. We are not white (or wannabe white). We have been targeted by racist policies from the Chinese Exclusion Act to the Japanese Internment, and now face rising discrimination and hate crimes during this crisis.

7. Asian Americans are the fastest growing population in Illinois. And we’re not going anywhere.

We hope that if we know better, we will do better. Let’s do better together.

Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!

Josina Morita is a commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

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