The pandemic within a pandemic: anti-Asian racism
By Riggs Zyrille Vergara, Publishing Editor
When the COVID-19 pandemic started infiltrating Canada, there was one other thing that spread quickly aside from the virus — anti-Asian racism. Almost one year into the gruelling pandemic, it still persists — it even got worse.
Last January, 84-year-old Thai immigrant Vichar Ratanpakdee was on one of his morning walks in his San Francisco neighbourhood when a man violently shoved him to the ground suddenly. Ratanpakdee hit his head on the pavement and retained brain hemorrhage from the attack.
While on his way to work, a 61-year-old Filipino man had his face slashed by a stranger. Noel Quintana’s face bled from ear to ear, but no one in the New York subway came to his aid. When he got off at the next subway stop, a member of the staff helped him by calling 911. Quintana’s face had to receive 100 stitches.
In California, a 64-year-old Vietnamese grandmother was robbed in her car. While getting into the vehicle, her car, the driver of another car blocked her way, snatched her purse and fled. She was left shaken.
These are only a few of the many reports about Asian elders being attacked in public when 2021 started. Although these all happened in the United States, Canada had experienced these horrors as well.
Last March, a 92-year-old Asian man with dementia had wandered into a convenience store in Vancouver. The store staff were trying to assist him when another man started berating him with racist remarks. In a surveillance video, he was also seen grabbing the elderly man and shoving him, causing the Asian man to hit his head on the pavement.
In July 2020, Calgary resident Jessica Lau was skateboarding along Inglewood when a random man on a bicycle spit at her and then called her a racist slur. Lau’s boyfriend happened to be filming her and caught everything on video.
A few weeks ago, employees from Mai’s Kitchen Vietnamese Cuisine in Saskatoon were yelled at by a man. He accused them of bringing “the virus” to Canada and told them to go back to China. This happened after employees had instructed the man to wear his mask.
A study from Statistics Canada has found that since the start of the pandemic, one in five Canadians with Asian backgrounds reported a dramatic increase of race-based attacks in their neighbourhoods. The study revealed that these types of incidents were more pronounced with Filipino, Korean and Chinese Canadians.
A community-led grassroots data campaign called Project 1907 has collected over 600 reports of incidents of anti-Asian racism towards Canadians. Racial slurs, threats and derogatory remarks are the most common attacks with 65 per cent, but nearly 30 per cent of these reported attacks are also physical, including targeted coughing, spitting and violence.
As much as Canada is revered to be a diverse country, racism seeps through and hides in plain sight. The onset of the current pandemic has proved just that. It showed us that Canadians are not as inclusive as we have thought. As a Filipino Canadian, I fear for my friends and family. I fear for the day that their experiences might become more than looks and whispers from afar. I fear the day I might not be there with them if something bad happens. And with every Asian name I hear on the news involved in a race-based attack, that fear grows.
At a time like this when assemblies and protests are discouraged or even dangerous, there is only so much that the Asian community can do. Most of the affected elderly Asians are too busy working for their families to worry about protests or raising awareness. Such is the plight of people who are underprivileged; people who are not given job offers because of their race.
But even with all the discrimination, Asians have been hard at work as frontline employees in the food service and healthcare industries. In 2016, 30 per cent of all immigrant nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates were Filipinos, according to Statistics Canada. 10 per cent are South Asian and four per cent are Chinese.
A year into the COVID-19 pandemic and we have come a long way in terms of treating the symptoms of the virus and creating vaccines. But, the progress on inclusivity doesn’t seem to have the same pace. We are still stuck with decades-old beliefs of power dynamics when it comes to race.
Every day we are faced with the fear of getting the COVID-19 virus. But for Asians, there is another pandemic to fear — racism. It might not be contagious, but it can be just as deadly.