Scared to go in public, student from China says of growing encounters with xenophobia related to virus

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Huyen Nguyen, instructor of journalism from Vietnam, said she has luckily not been a victim of the intolerance yet but sees it happening all around her. (Photo courtesy of Huyen Nguyen)

Concerns about Asian Americans and individuals of Asian origins being attacked both physically and verbally due to COVID-19 are surfacing worldwide. Those concerns have hit a little close to home in Manhattan, community members say.

Riley County Commissioner Marvin Rodriguez said Manhattan did not need to be worried about COVID-19 because there are not many Chinese people — pinning the problem on Chinese people.

Rodriguez has publicly denied that his comments were racist. He was unavailable for a comment for this article.

Yishi Zhu, junior in journalism and mass communications, is from Guangzhou, China. She said she is scared to encounter people in public and has felt targeted at times.

“After spring break, my Chinese roommate and I went to Walmart and noticed two women whispering and step away from us in the checkout line,” Zhu said.

Zhu said while this is the only time she has noticed someone talking directly about her, political figures are adding fuel to the fire. President Donald Trump previously referred to COVID-19 as the Chinese Virus. Other politicians have been accused of calling it the Kung Flu.

Huyen Nguyen, instructor of journalism and mass communications is from Vietnam. She said she has luckily not been a victim of intolerance, but sees it happening all around her.

“I’ve just felt a little bit weird whenever I go to the grocery stores with a mask on my face,” Nguyen said. “In my country, wearing masks is required amid the coronavirus outbreak, but the practice seems to be unfamiliar in the west. People can’t help staring at me and my mask.”

Nguyen said she has observed Asian Americans and individuals of Asian origins being very careful and strict with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s protocols to protect themselves, their families and their community.

Nguyen said she feels that people are wasting time trying to point fingers and should be figuring out a solution to the problem.

“I think I can understand this situation a bit because some people in my country also blamed foreign tourists for the disease,” Nguyen said. “I wish everyone around the globe would shift the question, ‘Who should we blame for?’ to ‘How should we curb the outbreak?'”

Fanny Fang, owner of the Asian Market, took a public stance against insensitive remarks made by political leaders, specifically Rodriguez’s comment.

“At first I was angry, but then I thought about how I could turn my pain into progress,” Fang said at a press conference on Monday morning.

Fang’s currently working with other community members to spread a petition that calls for Rodriguez’s resignation. As of Monday morning, it had 624 signatures and is still being circulated in Riley County.

Fang said since the county commissioner’s comment, she has been forced to hire extra security for her business. She said the next step in combating the prejudice against Asian Americans and individuals of Asian origins is to “elect true leadership in the next voting cycle.”

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