When I was younger, I was most aware of my race when my parents cooked. We would have eggs and bacon for breakfast, tourtière for lunch and Gong Bao chicken for dinner — it was like having access to an international buffet at home.
It wasn’t until a family trip to Aruba when, for the first time, I felt stereotyped. We were on the resort shuttle and a woman was on a tangent about how Chinese people were all money-grabbers, mimicking the accent of an Asian man she met that day.
Being 17 and fired up, it took only a second for me to turn, point at her son and tell her that she was setting the wrong example for him. Then in an unexpected turn of events, the woman burst into tears, hugged me and cried about how thankful she was that I set her in the right direction.
Since then, I’ve received multiple ignorant and stereotypical comments, from small comments about my “tan” to comments about whether my father supports communism (albeit, none ever ended with a tear-filled hug). But now there’s a new stereotype in town and it centers around a virus.
Coronavirus — now "COVID-19" — originated in Wuhan, China. It has since become a global concern. Its rapid spread and fatal effects have caused mass panic and consequently has resulted in racism and stereotyping towards the Chinese community.
In Canada for example, CTV investigative reporter Peter Akman tweeted a photo of himself and an Asian barber wearing a mask, with the caption: “Hopefully ALL I got today is a haircut.” That particular instance stung, not just as someone of Chinese descent, but as a journalist.
We should know better than to perpetuate that kind of behaviour. Norman Poon, co-chair of the Calgary Chinese Community Service Association (CCCSA) wants to emphasize that he is “disappointed” as “this is unacceptable and one discrimination case is one too many." Unfortunately, there has been more than one case of COVID-19-based discrimination in Canada.
In Vancouver, Chinese-Canadian businesses have reported a business drop of up to 70 per cent and are struggling to stay afloat.
At a school in Toronto, a petition was created to demand that students who have recently travelled to China should disclose this to the school and parents and be prevented from attending — It has received 10,020 signatures. Comments on the petition include:
“Qurantine [sic] all Chinese until the CHINESE virus is gone!!!”
“This has to stop. Stop eating wild animals and then infecting everyone around you. Stop the spread and quarantine yourselves or go back.”
This kind of reaction is reprehensible and makes me so incredibly disappointed in my fellow Canadians. As the daughter of a health professional, I urge everyone to look at the facts and listen to the experts.
My aunt’s ID card which she and many others in China have which allows her to go out once a day for work, groceries or any other necessities. For privacy and security, identifying elements have been removed. Photo courtesy of the Huang family
“I have full faith in our public health system, in providing the right guidance for issues like this,” says Poon. “I think ultimately we should follow all the experts in their judgment.”
One expert, Dr. Chris Mody, head of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the University of Calgary, says there are precautions we can take such as maintaining handwashing.
“This virus is spread very easily,” says Mody. “Carrying a hand sanitizer with you is very important. Do not rub your hands [on] your nose or eyes or mouth, because if you do have it on your hands, you spread it to yourself.”
And the masks aren't doing much either. According to the World Health Organization, wearing masks is not helpful because of the short duration that they work.
“If you wear a mask, that mask will work for maybe 10 or 15 minutes,” says Mody.
"My focus has been on my family in China. Though they’re in good health, they are still right at the center of it and it’s a very real threat."
The academic community is also taking COVID-19 very seriously. According to Mody, an emergency call for research proposals has been made and grants that would usually take six to nine months have been prepared in just a week.
As for me, I have never been worried about contracting COVID-19. My focus has been on my family in China. Though they’re in good health, they are still right at the center of it and it’s a very real threat. In addition to worries about the virus, they haven’t been able to travel freely since the initial outbreak, not even within their own neighbourhoods.
As of Mar.9, there are 72 cases in Canada and one death. Of those 72, seven cases are in Alberta. The risk to Albertans is still low.
If you do want to know more about COVID-19, you can visit Alberta's information page and the public health services page. In the meantime, we can do our part by putting a cap on the fear-mongering and stereotyping.
“[An] Asian person in Calgary now is no more likely to have coronavirus than a non-Asian person on the street,” says Mody. “It just doesn't make any sense to me. There's no biological rationale for that.”
Being Chinese is something I’ve always been proud of and will continue to be very proud of. Like all cultures, it has many beautiful and worthwhile things about it. This trend of scapegoating and ostracising needs to stop. As succinctly put by Poon: “The virus doesn’t discriminate, so why are we?”
- By Solaya Huang