Melissa Chin’s mask reads "I am not a virus" in protest of the recent surge in anti-Asian American hate crimes. (Photo by Christian Lee)

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Column: Asian Americans and COVID-19: Combating anti-Asian hate during the pandemic

On a breezy Saturday evening, my family and I shared a meal near a sandwich shop in San Pedro. We parked beside a row of compact homes and ate in our car, conversing about our plans for the upcoming week. Both passenger windows were rolled down, and I sat on the left side, gazing pensively…
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/christianleephoto/" target="_self">Christian Lee</a>

Christian Lee

July 17, 2021

On a breezy Saturday evening, my family and I shared a meal near a sandwich shop in San Pedro. We parked beside a row of compact homes and ate in our car, conversing about our plans for the upcoming week. Both passenger windows were rolled down, and I sat on the left side, gazing pensively at the looming palm trees that swayed above us.

Suddenly, a red Ford pickup sped past us. A man with sunglasses, whose window was rolled down, spat on me, then sped downhill only to disappear within seconds. I sat completely still, utterly petrified. My dad swung open the door and looked up and down the street as my mom handed me a wipe & asked me if I was OK.

“He’s gone,” my dad muttered as he re-entered our car and slammed the door shut. I remained silent as my parents discussed the incident.

We arrived home, and I texted my friends to tell them what happened.

“I’m sorry man,” one of them replied. “It must be tough for you right now.”

“It is,” I said and turned off my phone.

I spent the rest of the evening painfully reliving the event in my head. I endured racist comments my entire life, and I hadn’t thought much of them. I sadly accepted it. But the acts rarely turned physical, and I certainly had never been spit on.

I soon realized that racist actions perpetrated against minorities in America became normalized. Hundreds of thousands of reports of Asian Americans being yelled at, spit on or beaten crowded the internet. And after a brief but spectacular wave of support poured in, silence fell, and most people seemed to forget. Similar incidents occurred throughout the U.S., and they still are as I write these words.

In all truthfulness, anti-Asian sentiment existed long before a deadly virus, known as COVID-19, devastated millions of people throughout the globe. The pandemic merely allowed these vicious and hateful attitudes to rise to the surface. When a world leader used his platform to spout offensive rhetoric associating the virus with a specific ethnic group, others followed.

The assault against our communities began, and it continues. I urge every reader to combat xenophobia and racism in any way they can. Having a conversation with family and friends about the issue or criticizing those who use racist rhetoric can lead to actual and sustainable change. Believe it or not, you can help our communities to combat bigotry. In the words of a first-century Jewish scholar, “If not you, then who? If not now, when?”