Recently, I asked my wife not to go to Costco by herself for our weekly supply run. It had nothing to do with the fact that my spouse’s solo trips to Costco have a way of resulting in budget busting purchases of dubious necessity (“It was on sale!”), or the fact that Costco has turned into a post-apocalyptic thunderdome of toilet paper hoarders; I asked her to avoid going out shopping because in the current environment I am afraid someone will try to hurt her because of the way she looks. Because she is Asian.
As the United States has begun to grapple with the devastating and profoundly disruptive consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been accompanied by an equally virulent strain of anti-Chinese and anti-Asian bigotry. People of Asian descent all over the United States are reporting a surge in racist abuse, both verbal and physical, while simply going about their daily lives in public. These incidents range from the relatively mild dirty looks in the supermarket to harassment and intimidation in the streets to assault and attempted murder. Just last week, a Burmese man and his son were brutally stabbed in the middle of a Sam’s Club in Midland, TX. The FBI is investigating the incident as a racially motivated hate crime.
Sadly, New México has not been immune to these dangerous prejudices. Just in the past few weeks there have been multiple reports of anti-Asian bigotry in our community, including harassment of an international student at the University of New México, the defacing of a popular downtown Asian restaurant, and intimidation of employees at the New México Asian Family Center offices in Albuquerque.
The scapegoating of racial minorities amidst a national crisis is depressingly predictable in the United States. Just as we saw paroxysms of ethnic and racial hatred against Muslims and other immigrants following the 9/11 attacks, we now see Chinese Americans and other people of Asian descent targeted because the coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan Province, China. However, unlike President George W. Bush who, despite his numerous faults, immediately attempted to diffuse some of the anti-Muslim backlash in the United States following 9/11, President Trump and his cohorts have gone out of their way to racialize the virus, referring to it as the “Chinese Virus,” the “Wuhan Virus,” or even the “Kung-Flu.” When that tone is set at the top, it permeates the culture and emboldens bigots to act out their prejudices against their fellow Americans.
This current spate of anti-Asian bigotry is hardly the first in the American experience. In the late 1800s, white-nationalists organized systematic purges of Chinese immigrants from communities throughout California and the Pacific Northwest, evicting entire Chinese populations, burning neighborhoods, and instigating a campaign of terror via lynchings and murder. Congress went so far as to pass the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, barring Chinese immigration and citizenship until the mid-20th century. Many Japanese Americans alive today remember too well the internment camps where the U.S. government imprisoned their families for the duration of the Second World War.
As New Mexicans, we must reject and repudiate this most recent surge of bigotry against our Asian friends and neighbors. This is a frightening time for our state, our country, and indeed our planet — but in these difficult circumstances let it be said that New Mexicans rose to the challenge by exhibiting the finest and best of our values. New Mexicans have long found strength in diversity and now is the time to draw upon that strength to have each other’s backs through this extraordinary and dangerous period. New México has survived pandemics before, and we will survive this one as well. We just need to be certain we are still proud of who we are when we come out on the other side.
Micah McCoy, is a Senior Communications Strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union in New México.
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