UW professor explains history of discrimination toward Asian Americans during pandemics

MADISON, Wis. — Asian Americans are experiencing an increase of discriminatory and racist remarks amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the director of Asian American studies at the University of Wisconsin– Madison, this isn’t the first time this has happened.

“They would look to the Chinese as being the ones who spread small pox and syphilis,” Cheng said. “In the turn of the 20th century, there was also an outbreak of the bubonic plague in San Francisco. Once again, they looked to Chinese immigrants as somehow the perpetrators. And this is always the fear. Whatever they identify as foreign elements, they’re suspicious and they cast that.”

UW Madison senior Cynthia Liu said this is exactly what she’s experiencing when she leaves her home. Liu said while she was at the grocery store, a man came up to her and asked if she was from China.

“I just said I’m from Chicago and he said, ‘Oh okay good. Because if you are from China, then I’m getting the *&%@ away from you.’ I didn’t even have any time to reply. I think I was just so shocked. Some people pretended like they didn’t see it and that kind of bothered me as well.”

Cheng said the COVID-19 has nothing to do with race. It’s a human health issue. Cheng said blaming asian people is called immigrant scapegoating. She said by creating labels like the “Chinese virus”, it leads to xenophobia, misinformation, fear and distraction from the real issue surrounding health.

“There’s so much hurt coming from this,” Liu said. “It’s a time when people should be coming together. People shouldn’t be throwing the blame game around right now. It’s just not the time for that.”

Cheng agreed and said if we want to create a more positive future, “We really need to dig deep and think through the kind of world we want to create and return to. This is a start.”