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Asian Americans Condemn Coronavirus-Based Xenophobia

Advocates in the Asian American community gathered on the steps of the Massachusetts statehouse Thursday morning to say since the outbreak of the coronavirus, they have been the targets of unfounded concern and prejudice.

"This is not an Asian American virus," said Dr. Elisa Choi, who spoke at the gathering. "There is nothing inherent in us as Asian Americans that makes us, 'carriers' of this virus. And it does not give us any particular reason to be more fearful of us transmitting this to anybody."

The gathering was coordinated by the Massachusetts Asian American Commission.

Members of the Asian American Commission, who gathered at the state house to decry racism and xenophobia against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. (Steve Brown/WBUR)
Members of the Asian American Commission, who gathered at the state house to decry racism and xenophobia against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. (Steve Brown/WBUR)

"Some people worry about Wall Street, but a lot of local businesses are also impacted," said Karen Chen, executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association. "This virus could have been started anywhere and and impacts everyone the same way. I don't think the virus sees color. I don't think they see, you know, your economic background."

While concerned about bias and discrimination against the community because of unfounded fears, the group still says it's important to take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.

"It's very important for us to remain calm in this period of crisis involving a disease that we are still all learning about," said Quincy state Rep. Tackey Chan, who indicated this isn't the first time Asian Americans have been the targets of misinformation related to an epidemic.

"For those of us old enough to remember SARS from 2002, there was a degree of discrimination and misinformation and flat-out racism against different parts of the Chinese community, among many others," he said.

Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins also spoke at the news conference and said her office will investigate any possible cases of hate crimes.

She also said there are resources available for people who may find themselves victims of discrimination that falls short of a criminal act.

"We have the Mass. Commission Against Discrimination, we have the Boston Public Schools where if you believe you're being targeted or treated poorly there, you can file a grievance or issue something internally," said Rollins. "Then we have the attorney general's office, which has an office of civil rights, as well as the federal government."

An effort to support Asian Americans in Boston, especially in Chinatown, has been led by Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, among others. She was also at the press conference on Thursday.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct a misspelling of Dr. Elisa Choi's name. We regret the error.

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Steve Brown Twitter Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.

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