May 25 2024

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Cho: Belonging Is Conditional For Asian-Americans

3 min read

In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Star Trek: Beyond’s John Cho spoke about what it’s like to be Asian-American in the time of COVID-19.

“I called my parents a few nights ago to tell them to be cautious when stepping out of the house, because they might be targets of verbal or even physical abuse,” he wrote. “It felt so strange. Our roles had flipped.

“My plea mirrored the admonitions I received from them as a child growing up in Houston. The world, they cautioned, was hostile and it viewed us as strangers. So they warned me to stick close to my family. Close to my kind.

“The fact that the coronavirus seems to have originated in China has spawned a slew of anti-Asian hate crimes. Across the country, Asian-American parents and children are making versions of the call I made. Friends are sharing first-hand accounts of abuse on text chains and circulating articles on Facebook, always ending with the suddenly ominous ‘stay safe.’

“Growing up, the assumption was that once we became American enough, there would be no need for such warnings — that we would be safe. To that end, my parents encouraged me and my younger brother to watch as much television as possible, so that we might learn to speak and act like the natives. The hope was that race would not disadvantage us — the next generation — if we played our cards right.”

For the most part, this was true other than the occasional comment in a store, or when watching those of other ethnicities targeted because of the color of their skin.

But “The pandemic is reminding us that our belonging is conditional,” said Cho. “One moment we are Americans, the next we are all foreigners, who ‘brought’ the virus here.”

In times of trouble, people become more tribal and turn against others who they perceive to be different. “During times of national stress, it’s these darker stereotypes that prevail,” said Cho. “My wife’s families were incarcerated in camps during World War II, even while her great-uncles were serving in an all-Japanese American battalion of the U.S. Army. Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American autoworker, was brutally beaten to death in Detroit in 1982, blamed for the Japanese ‘takeover’ of the auto industry. And just recently, an Asian woman in Brooklyn had acid thrown at her while she was taking out the trash, another among the skyrocketing attacks against Asians.”

Cho asked his fellow Americans to be aware, and to speak up when they see others behaving badly towards others. “You can’t stand up for some and not for others,” he said. “And like the virus, unchecked aggression has the potential to spread wildly. Please don’t minimize the hate or assume it’s somewhere far away. It’s happening close to you. If you see it on the street, say something. If you hear it at work, say something. If you sense it in your family, say something. Stand up for your fellow Americans.”

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