By Amy-Xiaoshi DePaola, AsAmNews Intern
Rep Andy Kim (D-New Jersey) recalls recently taking a seat on a public bus. A passenger suddenly confronted him, “screaming” racial slurs.
“They were fearful that just by sitting next to me, they were going to contract the virus,” Kim said, describing the recent experience as “visceral.”
This incident of coronavirus-centered xenophobia is something Asian American supporters of the 2020 Joe Biden presidential campaign hope to end.
“We feel isolated or unsure or think we have no control,” said Michelle Kwan, director of surrogates for the Biden campaign, during a press call with Asian American leaders on Monday afternoon.
The call’s participants included Kwan, a former U.S. Figure Skating champion and two-time Olympic medalist; Shekar Narasimha, chairman of the AAPI Victory Fund; Paul Tiao, president of Asian American Action Fund and Kim.
Kwan noted that Asians are “the fastest-growing racial group,” particularly in states like Nevada and Virginia, and that many have experienced hate crimes, harassment, and other harmful rhetoric as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, including healthcare workers.
1 in 5 doctors are Asian American, as well as 1 in 12 nurses, Kwan said, praising those who were “soldiers in the war against the virus.”
Even so, their status has not stemmed anti-Asian attacks, such as when a Korean American doctor was kicked out of an Indiana gas station and was told he “‘wasn’t allowed to buy anything there, not allowed to use the bathroom'” and to “‘Never come back.'” In other countries, there have been similar incidents, notably of Asian doctors being told by parents not to treat their children.
Even Kim — who worked in the State Department, served as a U.S. National Security official under then-President Barack Obama, and is currently a U.S. representative — is not immune to racist attacks.
The incident on public transportation is not new to him. Kim is the first Congressional member of Korean descent in the Democratic Party, and while running for his seat, GOP ads attacked Kim as “not one of us” and “Real Fishy,” the latter written in “Chop Suey” font paired with a picture of a raw fish.
He, along with many on the call, criticized President Donald Trump and other officials’ rhetoric.
“It is coming from our own elected officials and our President,” Narasimha noted, saying that it is “scapegoating” Asians.
“It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world. They are amazing people, and the spreading of the Virus is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form,” Trump Tweeted in March.
But his apology had paled to weeks of repeatedly calling coronavirus “the Chinese virus” and his lack of response to the pandemic.
Some Republican representatives, including Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), had touted conspiracy theories that the coronavirus was engineered in a Chinese lab, while GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and others continued to refer to the virus as “the Chinese virus” long after corrections from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC).
“Bigotry and ignorance go hand-in-hand, and this President has both of them,” Narasimha declared.
All participants touted Biden’s history with the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and his AAPI-centered platform: increasing representation in schools and government, removing language barriers, reforming the immigration system, and disaggregating AAPI data.
In the call, Kwan specifically highlighted Biden’s agenda for tackling hate crimes.
“It’s about truth, facts… taking responsibility and making sure nothing like this happens again,” Kwan said.
She and Narashimha paralleled the coronavirus-centered xenophobia to the attacks against Muslim Americans and other AAPIs after 9/11.
“Remember, the first person to experience a hate crime after 9/11 was an Asian American,” Narasimha said, referring to Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh gas station attendant who was murdered in Arizona as “revenge” for the terrorist attacks.
Kim and the two AAPI super PACs had endorsed Biden for the 2020 race, along with other AAPI politicians, such as Gary Locke, former Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Ambassador to China, and Norm Mineta, former Secretary of Commerce and Secretary of Transportation.
AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our new Instagram account. Go to our Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff, or submitting a story.