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When Jennifer Ling Datchuk caught a cold in late February, she first took the concern around her coughing and sneezing as sympathy. A common virus was going around in her circle, and several of her friends also had it. It wasn’t until she – but not her sick friends – started getting inundated with questions about whether she’d recently traveled to China that she realized she was being treated differently.
The 39-year old artist and Texas State University educator said she often had to tell people she’d been to urgent care twice, and her cold had been confirmed, for them to relax around her.
Born to Chinese immigrant and Polish-Irish American parents and raised in Brooklyn and in Warren, Ohio, Datchuk has called San Antonio home for the past 12 years. Her husband, Ryan Takaba, also has lived in the U.S. his entire life and was raised in Hawaii to Japanese-American parents.
Still, the couple have found themselves feeling more anxious and hyperaware as they hear more stories from Asian friends and family who have experienced similar incidents, she said.
“I have become more paranoid of my family’s well-being, especially for the safety of [Ryan],” Datchuk said. “A friend recently wrote about her experience walking down a sidewalk in Amsterdam. A group of men told her to take her virus home with her – and she’s Korean. She didn’t want to create a fuss and or appear as though she is overreacting, but she was worried.”
Datchuck said she even found herself nervous to be sharing these experiences.
“ [But] these stories need to be heard because these things are happening,” she said.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began spreading across the U.S., so have accounts of xenophobia against Asian Americans – and San Antonio hasn’t been exempt.
According to a San Antonio Police Department report, a Chinese American restaurant owner was verbally assaulted with coronavirus-related slurs before being physically attacked toward the end of February.
The 70-year old restaurant owner’s name was redacted from the report; however, it notes he suffered a broken wrist that required four days of hospitalization. The two attackers were arrested, the report also states.
Kin Yan Hui, president of the San Antonio lodge of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance, said he is familiar with the incident. Hui said the owner and his employee had asked their would-be assailants to move their car, which was blocking movement in the restaurant parking lot.
After the driver refused to move his vehicle, the owner and his employee informed the driver he was trespassing, Hui said. The driver began using racial slurs and accused the businessman and his employee of bringing the coronavirus to San Antonio before attacking him. The employee was injured but didn’t need medical attention, whereas the owner was transported to a nearby hospital.
The SAPD report confirms Hui’s account.
Lifelong San Antonio resident Lily Lowder said she personally fears for her mother’s safety every day. Lowder’s mother is a Thai-immigrant who works in an essential retail store and is still going to work daily, she said.
“The climate alone is enough to make most Asians in the U.S. – including myself – feel on edge,” Lowder said. “My hope is that racists are a small contingent. My fear is that they aren’t.”
President Donald Trump has not helped the situation, Datchuk said. She said she is disappointed in the language and rhetoric the president has used in many of his speeches, which she said come off as hateful toward Asian Americans.
By using the phrase “the Chinese Virus,” instead of calling it the novel coronavirus or COVID-19, he is inciting blame toward Asians and Asian Americans, Datchuk explained.
Many people have written Datchuk asking her why they shouldn’t call COVID-19 the Wuhan Flu or Chinese Virus, the educator said.
“These conversations go nowhere,” she said. “It is deeply frustrating to have to explain how xenophobia works and how this exact language drives up apart when we all need to come together.”
A Northside Independent School District teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said she was shocked when a number of her elementary school students suddenly began treating the class’s only Asian student with newfound hostility.
The teacher said she’s had regular occurrences where her non-Asian students have made ugly public comments in their online classroom this month toward the Asian student.
“I’ve had to contact these other students’ parents to inform them of the things their child is posting,” she said. “Statements along the lines of ‘This is all her fault because she’s Chinese,’ or ‘I hate Chinese people,’ and so on.”
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, racism had never been an issue in her classroom, the teacher said. The student, who is of Chinese descent, is a very smart child in the gifted and talented advanced program and has normally been well-liked, she added.
“I don’t really believe my students mean the harsh comments they’re making. I don’t think they truly understand what they’re saying,” she said. “I believe they’re just repeating what they heard from … the internet.”
San Antonio resident Viviana Garcia, while shopping at the Target at The Rim, said she overheard a man make racist remarks about an Asian boy one aisle over.
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“He was being really loud and he said, ‘F–ing coronavirus over there,’ and the woman he was with laughed,” Garcia said.
Garcia said she walked up to the young boy and asked if he was OK, but he was just looking at the ground, frowning, and didn’t say anything.
“I felt so bad for him,” she said.
It is unfortunate that a few people in the community have used the pandemic as an excuse to express racist views against Asian Americans, Hui said. Still, San Antonians have had a long and distinctive history of pulling together and helping each other in times of crisis, he added.
Asian Americans are serving in the frontlines at local hospitals treating COVID-19 victims and seeking solutions and innovations at San Antonio’s research facilities, Hui said.
“I urge all San Antonians to work together against COVID-19 and against racism,” he said. “We are all in this together. We will get through this together.”