Some assaults in the city gained a lot of attention, but most people I interviewed described harassment or treatment as if they were carrying the virus because they are Asian. Some Uber drivers refused rides to Asian passengers, and children taunted Asian children, telling them to go back to their country or to stop eating bats.
“History has shown that during times of crisis, there has always been a tendency to look for scapegoats,” said Steven Markowitz about the rise in racism against Asians. Markowitz is the board chairman of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, near Flushing. “The Jewish community down through history has been the subject of scrutiny and scapegoating, and we’re undoubtedly seeing the same thing right now.”
“YOU EAT THIS?” said Zhongwu Qiu, a Chinese churchgoer and volunteer in the food program, about a stick of cheese.
Faith Bible’s volunteers were going through a truck of food supplies that came from a Mennonite relief program in Pennsylvania, Christian Aid Ministries. The volunteers winnowed out things the Asian elderly wouldn’t like, such as cheese and tomato soup. Then they added fresh produce, a bag of bok choy in every box, and tofu. Woo said the elderly in his community think cheese is “gross.”
Qiu, who goes by Brenden in New York, has lived in the United States for the last seven years. He works at LaGuardia Airport and goes to a Mennonite church in Flushing, Immanuel Community. Like other volunteers, he’s experienced discrimination himself.
When the coronavirus outbreak began, the other workers at the airport told him, “Your people brought this to the United States.” His weekly hours at the airport decreased from 40 to 32, but he is chipper about it: “Now I have more time to work with the church.”
Bill Wang, who is Chinese American and goes to church with Qiu, also came to help with the food distribution.
“The racism is there. But we can be better,” said Wang. “We want to be the hands and feet of Jesus to solve the problem.”
Chien, whom I saw speak Mandarin with the elderly Chinese woman in her church, has experienced harassment: When she was playing basketball one day early in the outbreak, a group of young people yelled at her about the virus and said, “Asian! Asian!”
“It hurts, but it was kids,” she shrugged. But she feels like an outsider elsewhere. “When you go out for groceries, you can feel it. ‘Oh, virus!’ You can feel it the way they look at you.” Woo too said he saw people grab their kids or walk the other way when they saw him.