Being Asian American During Trump's 'China Virus' | Opinion

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began in the United States, Asian Americans have been under attack by the Trump administration, and more than 2,500 hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been reported to advocacy groups.

From a woman driving by and yelling "Chinese virus," to a man kicking a woman's dog after saying, "Take your disease that's ruining our country and go home," to an elderly woman being kicked in the face at a bus stop, to another getting punched in broad daylight while her attacker yelled racial slurs, these attacks are documented—and they keep coming.

Yet President Donald Trump continues to call COVID-19 the "China virus."

"I beat this crazy, horrible China virus," Trump said in a telephone interview with Fox News this month.

The president's dangerous language is not only a thinly veiled attempt to cover up his administration's catastrophic response to the pandemic. It is also an intentional strategy to give a face to a disease that has killed more than 220,000 Americans, and to make that face the enemy.

I am that face. And I am tired of being Trump's punching bag for the coronavirus.

I am an Asian American woman, a proud daughter of Vietnamese refugees. My parents fled a war-torn country wanting a better life for me and my sister—one where we felt safe.

But I certainly do not feel safe in America now. For me, it started in May. When I saw Trump bully Weijia Jiang, an Asian American CBS reporter, at a White House press conference, telling her to "ask China" about his mishandling of the pandemic, I went into a tailspin. My body immediately tensed up, my breath shortening. The president's remark was a reminder of feeling forever trapped in my Asian body and like a stranger in the country I call home.

This embodied feeling of racism was not new for me. I grew up about 45 minutes outside of downtown Houston. Our neighborhood was mostly white and very Texan. Implicitly and explicitly, I was often told I was different, like when I was placed in ESL (English as a second language), even though I spoke English fluently, or when a white kid in my tae kwon do class yelled a racial slur at me during our warmup.

Often, I cowered away in silence, not responding, slinking away in submission, passively doing everything I could to de-escalate a potentially dangerous situation.

When you're an immigrant kid, you do whatever you can to survive. You know your parents risked everything to come to this country, and you must not do anything to deprive your family of the American dream. So keeping my mouth shut felt like the best thing to do, along with adapting to the dominant culture and assimilating as quickly as possible.

Silence, essentially, became a tool for survival.

Now, I am the founder of GaneshSpace, an online organization that uses mindfulness techniques and tools to unlearn internalized bias and limiting beliefs. We look at different forms of marginalization and how they live in our body, so we can better manage them, live with them and eventually let go of them.

We do this often through silence.

So, amid the president's racist rhetoric, I have sat in silence with the question of how to stand up to a dangerous administration that uses me, an Asian American, as a scapegoat for its failures.

I sat in silence while racial slurs against Asian Americans became prolific.

I sat in silence while Chinese restaurant owners and Asian doctors and nurses suffered from workplace discrimination because people believed they had a higher propensity to carry the virus than other ethnicities.

I sat in silence while my mother's anxiety became palpable from across the country, like so many others'.

I sat in silence while we got attacked and beaten because of our almond-shaped eyes.

But the thing about silence is that it can be used against you. Events, experiences and people cease to exist. There is no changing of the narrative, no twisting of the truth, no alternative facts, because there is not even a story to begin with.

So I am stepping out of the silence that has liberated and suffocated me, and I am speaking up as an American, and as an Asian American, in the loudest, proudest way I know how—by voting.

Historically, Asian Americans have leaned Democratic, and because of where many of us live—in primarily blue coastal regions—our votes have often been dismissed as inconsequential. This year could be different. Turnout in the Asian American community doubled in 2016 and has the power in 2020 to move the needle away from Trump in swing states like Florida and Nevada. Asian Americans have a chance to tell Trump that he can no longer use us as human targets—and that we are ready for the first Asian American vice president.

Come November, Asian Americans might be the reason Trump is voted out of office. I know I will be showing up and doing my part to make that happen. And I hope that you will all vote, not only for a better future for you, but for a safer country for all of us.

Kim Thai is a writer, Emmy-award winning producer and the founder of GaneshSpace, a community organization dedicated to unlearning internalized bias and eradicating limiting beliefs through the practice of mindfulness.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.