By Aiden Tam
Aiden Tam was a Summer 2022 Intern at Novelly. Aiden is passionate both about fictional writing and helping the underrepresented, seeing an opportunity in expanding both of the aforementioned by targeting the youth. He is a rising senior at the Peddie School, with experience in leading, designing and managing social media and content creation in multiple school podcasts and platforms. He has an academic focus on creative writing and history, hoping to develop in these departments while helping others do the same.
How COVID Gave Racism a Way
In the winter of 2019, every life in the country was upended. A new virus from Wuhan, China had made its way into the United States, and was one of the most contagious and fastest spreading diseases the world has ever witnessed to date. As America was thrown into a frenzy of panic shopping and toilet paper hoarding, people began to seek a source to point a finger at. To Americans who didn’t know any better, every Asian person was at fault. We were pinned with the crime of causing the pandemic, and we were somehow far more likely to have the virus than everyone else.
Some of them kept their thoughts to themselves, only letting it through in the form of dirty looks and side-eyes when I went on a run on the streets of my suburban neighborhood. However, no amount of glares compared to a white senior girl yelling “Get your coronavirus ass back to China!” at your young sophomore self in the dining hall in front of the entire school. I turned on the news that night, and the same sentiment was present all over the country.
One particular e-book in the Novelly library that I recently read stood out to me as I reflected on the COVID-19 Asian-American experience. Year of the Rat by Alissa Xiao is a poem that details a firsthand account from a Chinese-American point of view, and a crucial event she dedicates an entire section to is then-President Donald Trump’s branding of it as the “China Virus” and subsequently kickstarting a chain of anti-Chinese sentiments and attacks.
The poem fixates itself on the white viewpoint on Asian-Americans immediately following the pandemic. Told from the perspective of a young Asian girl still in school, it describes the alienation of the Asian population in America. Caused by the naivety of the average Americans and their stubbornness to exert blame during times of crisis, Asians were faced with hate on all fronts, even (and especially) children. Armed with insults and insensitivity heard at home or even told to them by their parents, children who didn’t know any better went to school and simply regurgitated ruthless sentiments at their Asian classmates.
According to Act to Change, among the 3785+ reported cases of COVID-related bullying, 60% involved being bullied by an adult and 41% involved youth-on-youth bullying. Years and years of civil rights and social justice were torn apart as America turned on its Asian compatriots in their own country, spewing racial stereotypes and derogatory terms that they had spent decades combating. As documented by the FBI, hate crimes against Asians skyrocketed, shooting up 77% in just one year after the COVID outbreak.
The same country that prides itself of being a melting pot of cultures became a place where the minority feared for their safeties and livelihoods. As Xiao says to conclude the poem, “our voices rattle in our own homes and yet no one seems to hear us.” To me, this poem put words to my thoughts and emotions. It gave me both a broad overview and an intimate perspective of a tough time, and it certainly felt relatable. I resonated heavily with the emotions conveyed in the poem, and it was a nice touch of dejà vu.
Although the severity of COVID-induced Asian hate has somewhat alleviated with time, the COVID experience is forever etched into the brains of Asian-Americans in the form of trauma. This poem, like many of the stories in the library, showcases how racism is still very much prevalent in society, and hopefully this awareness will motivate people to educate themselves and make a change. Perhaps it’s promoting inclusivity in your community, or further educating others who are also misled, or even simply stopping a case of bullying that you witnessed. There are so many things that could help society progress in its harmony, and every little helps. Go read about these unique experiences in the “Race” subsection of the Novelly library!