The pandemic is harming Asian Americans. We can change that.
The recent shootings in several Atlanta spas have brought violence against Asian Americans into the headlines. Again. Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated incident.
Unwarranted suspicion, fear, and even hatred of Asian people has been on the rise ever since word of the pandemic began to reach U.S. shores.
Yuchen Ye, 28, visited her parents in China in late January 2020 for Chinese New Year. She recalls being stared at while wearing a mask on the train when she returned to New York City a month later.
“I was very scared,” she says. “Especially in March and April, people started being really against Asians, especially Chinese people. I tried to cover my face as much as possible when I went out, with sunglasses and a hat, because I saw more and more scary news about Asians being attacked.”
Ye also worried about her work visa, and felt pressured to put in more hours at the hospitality public relations agency where she worked to prove her value.
COVID-19 has already put an unrecognized burden on the Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) community even without acts of discrimination and violence.
Even among those who aren’t subject to acts of violence, daily racism and discrimination creates mental fatigue and exhaustion, compounding the stress and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recent studies currently awaiting publication by Dr. Gloria Wong-Padoongpatt found an increase in microassaults against Asian people in the United States during COVID-19.
The studies conclude that consistent experience with everyday racism may have led Asian Americans to believe in a sense of inferiority, leading to internalized racism and a low sense of self-worth, furthering the toll.
According to Mental Health America, the AAPI community is less likely to seek mental health services than any other racial group.
There’s still a strong stigma in Asian cultures surrounding mental and emotional well-being.
This is especially worrisome during a time when access to mental health services has been disrupted, according to a
Much of the country is grappling with isolation, bereavement, fear, and loss of income.
Dr. Leela R. Magavi is a Johns Hopkins-trained psychiatrist and a regional medical director for Community Psychiatry, California’s largest outpatient mental health organization.
Magavi has evaluated multiple Asian American children and adolescents who conveyed that they’ve experienced increased bullying at school this past year, along with Asian American adults facing discrimination at work.
“Some children have shared things such as ‘They tell me to go back to my country, but this is my country’ or ‘They said I ruined our country,’” Magavi says.
Her adult patients have experienced colleagues making derogatory jokes about Chinese people eating bats.
“These people later expressed that they were joking, but words like this are significantly demoralizing,” she says.
More subtle microaggressions, such as people avoiding eye contact and moving away when you walk past on the street, can be just as painful to endure.
“Therapy is not a thing in China,” Ye says. “If you tell your parents you’re going to see a therapist, they might think you are psycho.”
Ye had difficulties finding a bilingual therapist who she felt comfortable with and could afford. She tried several apps and virtual therapy programs, including Talkspace and a mindset training program on WeChat.
“I had zero experience in seeing a therapist,” Ye says. “But I did try to download some apps to try and help track my mood. I tried to do meditation in the morning, record my mood, and write about what motivates me at night.”
Ye says she’s in a better place mentally now, but it hasn’t been easy. Detaching herself from social media and the overwhelmingly negative news has been key to finding peace.
AAPI people can find bilingual and trilingual AAPI therapists and psychiatrists by calling their insurance providers or searching through the Asian Mental Health Collective directory of therapists.
This video was developed by the Division 45 Task Force on COVID-19 Anti-Asian Discrimination and Xenophobia to help AAPI families talk with children and teens exposed to anti-Asian bullying and harassment.
If you or someone you know has experienced a hate crime, pro bono legal resources are available at the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association Hate Crimes Task Force and Pro Bono Legal Resources.
For people dealing with added stress and anxiety during this time who don’t necessarily wish to see a mental health professional, there are alternative self-care therapies that may help too.
“We carry so much tension in our face and in our cranial muscles,” she says. “And we often concentrate on body massage without remembering that we all hold so much of our stress and tension above the shoulders.”
There are plenty of ways that non-AAPI people can help ease the burden on Asian Americans.
Share stories and posts among your social circles to raise awareness of Asian American racism and why it’s not acceptable.
Call it out
Call out anyone making hateful or insensitive jokes. Report hate incidents at Stop AAPI Hate, and step in to help anyone who might need it.
Don’t be a bystander. Sign up for free bystander intervention training to stop anti-Asian and xenophobic harassment. The kindness of strangers has the power to save lives.
Connect with care
Make a point of smiling and greeting AAPI people you see in your day-to-day life, especially elders and strangers. With minimal effort, you can brighten somebody’s day and help heal the damage of glares, avoidance, and racial slurs that many silently endure.
Support AAPI and anti-racism advocacy groups across the country like:
- Hate Is A Virus
- AAPI Women Lead
- Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority
- New York-based Asian Americans for Equality
- Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Washington DC
- Asian American Advocacy Fund in Georgia
Buy from Asian American-owned independent businesses in your community. You can find a list of Asian American-owned businesses on Finder.
Racism against the AAPI community is killing us, from senseless murders to the insidious microaggressions we face daily.
It’s so important that we speak more openly about mental health and normalize therapy. We all need somebody to talk with at times, and there are resources available to the AAPI community.
Non-AAPI people can be better allies by educating themselves, being kind and compassionate to AAPI people you encounter in your daily life, and supporting Asian American businesses and community development organizations.
Amber Gibson is a freelance journalist specializing in luxury travel, food, wine, and wellness. Her work appears in Condé Nast Traveler, Robb Report, Departures, Bon Appétit, and Travel + Leisure.