Members of the Massachusetts Asian American Commission and several of their allies held a press conference outside of the State House this morning to remind people to stop being bigoted fools during the scramble spurred by COVID-19.
Taking turns condemning “racism towards the Asian American community due to fear mongering and misinformation about the coronavirus,” speakers brought various perspectives—medical, legislative, business, prosecutorial. Their specific messages were different, but all focused on the need for facts and the danger of baseless presumptions.
“It’s social media-driven,” Quincy state Rep. Tackey Chan told the crowd. “There’s a lot of bad information … it’s important to get good information out there … There are updates occurring on a daily basis now. Use local news. I know a lot of people rely on national news and Facebook and Twitter, but use your local media, your local stations, your local newspapers. That is the most up-to-date information locally about what’s going on.”
Karen Chen, executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association, noted, “We know that with the rise of COVID-19, the entire Asian community has been hit the hardest. While some people are worrying about Wall Street, a lot of local businesses are also impacted. … It’s really important for all of us to remember that while some of us have options and things that will protect us, we have to make sure the people around us are also protected and have the options that you have. It’s a time for us to think about social safety nets and why they should be available to everyone.”
“We also know that individuals have experienced racism, discrimination, and to an extent violence,” the CPA executive director added, telling a story about a young Chinese student whose parents sent her to school with a face mask. “The minute that she got on the train,” Chen said, “the entire train moved away from her.”
Vira Douangmany Cage of the Massachusetts Asian American Commission spoke in similarly frank terms: “The Asian American Commission today condemns the unfair attacks, the xenophobia, the hatred, and the bigotry that have been experienced by members of our community.”
A former member of the Asian American Commission and practicing physician, Dr. Elisa Choi is working through the public health crisis, but said she took a short break to speak to the press because she “felt so strongly that this message needed to get out.”
“There’s been increasingly widespread reports of discrimination, hate speech, shunning, and in some cases race-based violence targeted against many Asian Americans,” Choi said, speaking on her own accord. “There’s a lot of social media circling calling this virus ‘The China Virus.’ That is absolutely incorrect and it should be noted that when the virus was officially named, it was distinctly a conscious effort to avoid stigmatizing. … Please, be aware of how you yourself may propagate, even unconsciously, anti-Asian discrimination. This is not a kind of Asian illness. There is nothing inherently that makes us ‘carriers’ of this virus.”
For anyone who still didn’t get the message about how people should behave and follow facts, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins made her position clear: “I stand here as an ally. The coronavirus does not discriminate, but unfortunately many people do. … If you are bigoted and hateful, if you are targeting people based on xenophobia or racism, you will be held accountable in Suffolk County.”
“This virus could have been started anywhere,” CPA executive director Chen said. “It affects everyone the same way. I don’t think the virus sees color, I don’t think they see your economic background.”
In her closing remarks, Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu noted immediately pressing concerns, but also looked ahead.
“We have to start planning for the long-term now,” Wu said. “When we get past this, there will have to be a moment when everybody supports the businesses and all of the sectors and communities that have really been hurt by this.
“We talk a lot in this moment about social distance, but as we are talking about that physical distancing, we have to come together as a community.”
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.