Novel coronavirus
An electron microscope image of the new strain of coronavirus. Courtesy of NIAID-RML

For many Asian Americans, the COVID-19 pandemic has become very personal, due to feelings of anger and fear. They have experienced verbal and physical attacks, and harassment because the coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China, and has been characterized as a “Chinese virus.”

Across California, and in other parts of the country, there are incidents of discrimination against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. In February, an Asian American high school student in the San Fernando Valley was admitted to the emergency room after an attack by bullies who accused him of having the virus, while an AAPI teacher in Vallejo reported hearing a fourth-grade student say, “kill the Chinese.” In Fresno, the vehicle of an AAPI family was vandalized with a hateful message referencing coronavirus, while another Asian American family in Texas was stabbed by an assailant claiming they were “Chinese and infecting people with coronavirus.”

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These are not isolated incidents. In March, the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON) launched the #StopAAPIHate survey, and within two weeks over 1,100 AAPI individuals reported experiencing a hate crime or incident. The FBI warned that hate crime incidents would surge across the country, due to the coronavirus, endangering Asian American communities. Many individuals in the AAPI community do not feel safe, even in their own neighborhoods.

Many of us know that violence will not bring this pandemic to an end, but it can sow divisions among communities and undermine the trust that is necessary to defeat this virus by working collectively.

Ed Chau
Ed Chau

If we are to prevail together during these trying times, we must address issues of discrimination by dispelling negative images and attitudes, and highlighting the contributions of our state’s diverse communities.

Today, countless AAPI health care providers are on the front lines, working closely with their peers in the fight against COVID-19, both in hospitals caring for patients and in laboratories finding a cure.

In the U.S., approximately 17% of doctors, 9% of physician assistants and 10% of nurses are of Asian descent. At the national level, a group of medical scientists developing a vaccine for COVID-19 are doing so based on research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, including Eun Kim and Shaohua Huang who are AAPIs. Their work has yielded positive results and is awaiting approval to begin clinical trials.

Throughout California, many AAPI groups and individuals are also assisting to combat the spread of COVID-19. In the last few weeks, groups in the San Gabriel Valley and neighboring communities have collectively donated nearly a million face masks, thousands of protective gowns and gloves to those in dire need. Some have set up websites designed for such purposes, while others, like the Chinese American Federation, and the US Zhejiang Association, have served as clearinghouses for the acquisition, requests and distribution of personal protective equipment.

Since the outbreak began, these AAPI groups took the initiative to reach out and identify people in need of PPEs, starting with community hospitals, clinics, senior nursing homes, law enforcement agencies, universities and homeless communities. Through their networks, these individuals, many of whom are small business owners, have acquired PPEs and delivered it personally to ensure its timely arrival and safety.

The AAPI community is not alone in these efforts. Countless diverse communities and organizations throughout the state are working on efforts to resolve this crisis, as well.

Let us push back on the misguided nature of others who, through their acts of discrimination, seek to divide us. We must stand united as the virus does not discriminate. We must join hands to take on this Herculean task of defeating the coronavirus. Our community can preserve only if we fight together.

Ed Chau represents Assembly District 49, in Los Angeles County. Chau wrote this commentary for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.