The Second Wave of the Pandemic has turned my Facebook Timeline into a daily obituary.
This edition of the COVID19 virus, with all its glorious mutation, has harvested more lives than the numbers last year. Just when we thought we were on our way to normalcy, this happens. The recurrence of the virus ceases to be interesting because of its lethal quality. It is far more deadly because of its ability to infect faster and generate more dangerous effects.
It is as if dealing with the pandemic is enough. More than the endless fear for one's health and life is the mental torture of isolation, social distancing and the recalibration of the way you deal with your everyday existence. It has now become apparent that one of the biggest scourges of the pandemic is that it has kept us apart. Social distancing is a term we will never forget for the rest of this earthly existence. Equally lethal is the safety measure to keep away from each other --- to guarantee greater chances for survival.
Yet there is another virus that is as terrifying and dangerous. Like COVID19 that was spawned by the irresponsibility of man to push the card to the farthest end of nature's tolerance, this other virus is as toxic and life-threatening more so because it is man-made. This is other side of the pandemic; it is called Asian Hate.
When the SARS virus crossed over from bat to humans, nobody is to blame but man himself. Point to his sense of exoticism and certainly not a call for human survival. It may sound innocent but it is not: it is sheer recklessness and carelessness added to ignorance and defiance. But leave it at that. The pandemic started from a wet market that sold exotic animals such as pangolins and turtles that have turned into culinary delicacies for a niche market. What spurned this worldwide catastrophe is recklessness.
But not racial prejudice. Yes, it may look reckless but it is deliberate. Discrimination is deliberate. It is not natural. It is learned. It is conditioned by the environment and triggered by socio-political and economic factors that are brought into culture. It is not within one's DNA to look down or hate others who are not the same in terms of color of skin, eyes or hair: this is something pre-conditioned by society or the immediate environment where a person or community exists.
The rise in Asian American and Pacific Islander Hatred in the United States is nothing new. It has always been there. As far back as one can recall, Asians have been tolerated in the U.S. because of their sense of utility and assumed personality of resourcefulness, resilience and ... most important, servitude. There are so many pre-conceived notions about the character of Asians --- so much so --- that anyone who comes from that side of the world , whether you are from Mainland China or any of the countries or islands bordering the Pacific --- the assumption is that you are Chinese.
Moreover, there is this generalized view that all Asians are alike.
We all have chinky eyes. We are all good in Math. We are all hard workers. In the American labor force, we will accept anything that can make us earn a living especially those jobs that Americans themselves do not even want to consider because they find such occupations demeaning. They are the salesmen, the vendors, the convenience store owners, the small restaurant operator.
Asians are indeed hard workers. The professionals earn big time because they are the doctors, the nurses, the medical technicians the engineers, the finance and marketing wizards. They are the slit-eyed geniuses who wear thick glasses as they pound on their computers doing miraculous programming.
In other words, they are part of the machinery of American economy and they are successful because they do nothing but work, work, work --- and in the process depriving the white bread citizen of job opportunities.
First the Asians were blamed for the economic imbalance of the better side of capitalism favoring the naturalized citizens or the immigrants. Asians were blamed for depriving what others deem as the truly American of the jobs they should be savoring in the Land of the Brave and Free. Such was never blamed to the Black Community: the discrimination against this sector is completely different and yet the same as with Asians. Both are deemed not to belong to America, unworthy of sharing the same land and skies only meant for the fair of skin regardless of level of intelligence or caliber of dignity.
The pandemic changed the equations all together.
Whereas before there were all these mutant Barbie-like Karens or hee-haw Kens shouting curses at Asians and telling all of us to "Go back home to China", now the aggression has been amplified.
Simply put, that sector of the population, not necessarily whites alone and not limited to the United States, needed to blame someone for the Coronavirus --- and guess who is the most convenient scapegoat but the seemingly docile, invisible Asian who goes about his business quietly ... and perhaps spreading the virus to what they perceive as an uncomfortable Paradise.
Now amplified beyond verbal assault or a barrage of insulting words all summarized as "You don't belong here", the hatred has become physical. The hatred has become violent because the Asian in a foreign land is now the pandemic personified.
Out of a need to vent out anger and frustration, the quiet, hardworking, placid, invisible Asian has become the punching bag of the mentally disturbed, socially rattled and economically devastated. Suddenly, in the eyes of those who have always felt that the Asians belong and should stay on their side of the planet, the insults have turned into punches and flying kicks.
Many have theorized that this was further affirmed by the not only tactless but malicious racist language of the former resident of that house in Pennsylvania Avenue. Calling the pandemic Kung Flu or the China virus fuelled the anger of those who invested their belief --- or even blind faith in him. The power of words from those who occupy the uppermost echelons of authority trickle down into simplistic actions and reactions from their minions.
What nations and especially in the U.S. is experiencing now is a more blatant manifestation of what has already been in the undertow for years. Racism has always been there --- except now, for that chosen some, it has become not only permissible but acceptable and admirable. First, it was in the inconsequential treatment of Black people but now it is the brutalization of Asians --- whether they are US born, naturalized citizens or immigrants.
In a country that, for four years, condemned anyone who does not fit the mold of white bread or believed that America (or any nation) is blemished by the presence of blacks or threatened by the overruling of immigrants, proactive expressions of hatred became a norm and a rallying point as endorsed by the then President.
Efforts have been made to curb the rise of violence against Asians in America. But it would take more than just legal action when the problem has a history as long and as deep rooted such as this. In the same manner that any noble intention to wipe out the violent attacks on Asians through a series of legislations may prove short of achieving its cause, the uncontrollable surge of violence costing lives mostly of women and the elderly will continue.
The parade of reports in mainstream news and the net showing close circuit camera videos of elderly men and women being pushed, thrown to the ground or kicked in the stomach then stomped on the head certain shock --- then numb the viewer of the extent of violence that inhumanity can concoct. The fact that this can be done to helpless old people just because they are Asian shows something more than just --- mental disorder. It is symptommatic of the cracks in a civilization.
Beneath all these is a personal fear: having relatives and close friends who have chosen to live across the Pacific triggers worries as much as the coronavirus.
These are people who have dreams for a better life believing in the promise of the Land of the Brave and Free ... and any other corner of the planet that can offer a brighter future for themselves and their children. For most of their lives they have settled and grown roots in the Americas with a single awareness: the acceptance of the fact that racism shall be part of their way of life. There are various coping mechanisms one can learn along the way.
( In the short years that I lived in the U.S. as a graduate student, I knew racism of various degrees. Whether it is the shouts you hear from passing cars with windows drawn down shouting, "Go home, you f--g Chink?" or "Go back to China!" or being deliberately ignored by salesladies in a department store then throwing you a look like you do not have the right to buy whatever it is they are selling, you just learn to grit your teeth and say: Yes, this land is your land. But I really do not give a flying f--k.
But there are other ways you encounter racism: what hurts even more are those moments of passive racism when the condescension and belittling come as a package. That is when someone suddenly smiles at you and says, "For an Asian, you speak good English. Where did you learn that?" or "What part of China do you come from?" or worse, "Philippines? Is that part of China?" --- which you would like to quip back by saying something crisp and bitchy but opt not to do because you do not argue with morons. )
After watching all those YouTube accounts of Asian Hate, one wonders whether the real pandemic is not just the virus ... but what darker side of human nature emerged as a result of the worldwide tragedy.
Instead of compassion and seeking for healing, the dark side amongst some us emerged with a fury directed at specific people who are equally suffering and devastated by the virus.
What does it take for a man to go to an old man quietly waiting for his train to go to work and slash his face with a box cutter? Worse, what does it say about people when they simply look and do not help as this old man screams for assistance of any sort as his face is bathed with his own blood?
What does it say when a grandmother stands on a corner waiting to cross the street is approached by a man twice her size and punches her on the face for no reason aside from the fact that she did not look like him or the people around her? (NB: the granny beat the living daylights out of the motherf---r. He too had to be hospitalized ... for worse physical damage. Moral lesson: never underestimate a granny.)
What does it say about people when a sixty-five year old woman walking to church at mid day right at a busy part of New York City gets kicked in the stomach and stomped on the head by a man thrice her size and on parole for killing his own mother? Worse, what does it say about man as a species when three people witness the event from inside the lobby of an adjacent building ... and nobody helped the woman but instead one of them closes the door?
What does it plainly say about these people?
And what do WE ASIANS do about it?
NB: I found this interesting piece on YouTube which says so much so painfully about Asian racism.