The spotlight on anti-Asian attacks in America is spilling over to New Zealand, and has highlighted the fact that such sentiments lurk beneath the surface here too
The rise of Asian hate crimes is growing in America, with the White House introducing new measures to stop it.
New Zealand may seem like a safe haven compared to what’s happening in the US, but the ugly undertones of racism against Asians exist here too.
In February, a Human Rights Commission Report done to explore the effect of Covid-19 found that Chinese communities, along with Māori, reported the highest rates of discrimination.
Last month, spurred on by events in the US, hundreds of people marched down Queen Street in the Auckland CBD, protesting against Asian hate and racism.
But more than just numbers or reports, I know because it’s happened to me.
We spoke to my mum Jenny Chiang about our experience of being verbally abused outside Middlemore Hospital during the peak of Covid.
We encountered a couple who started questioning why we were wearing masks, telling us to go back to China.
After a year of working on the frontline fighting against COVID-19 as a nurse, I did not predict that an act of anti-Asian racism would be what welcomed me at the end of my usual 12-hour night shift this week.
Standing in an immigrant-owned business that I’ve visited multiple times before in my scrubs and mask, I was shouted at for asking a maskless cashier and her staff why they weren’t wearing masks while preparing food. She didn’t answer me, instead her boss got very agitated and aggressive, shouting “It is 150 degrees back here. I have health issues I can’t (wear a mask). I never thought it would be death caused by China!”
Alarmed and offended by his response, I told him what he said was racist. Getting even angrier, he screamed back, “NO IT’S NOT. You people are always causing problems!” I asked him, “what do you mean by you people? I am a frontline worker. I work in the hospital,” as I pointed at my scrubs.
Shocked that I pushed back, he tells me he’s talking about, “Canada people.” Scared for my safety, I quickly took my money and left. I am left disgusted by this treatment and this anti-Asian racism.
I am sharing my story because I believe we need to fight back against anti-Asian racism. After a year of being told health care workers were “heroes,” “brave”, and “lifesavers” I never imagined such overt racism could happen to me. I am a Chinese- Canadian nurse that works in the emergency department. My parents immigrated to Canada in the 80s and I was born and raised in Toronto. As a result, I very much identify as Canadian.
Being a nurse is not glamorous, it is mentally, physically and emotionally straining. With the pandemic, it’s become even more challenging especially being Chinese. We are taught to be “model minorities,” to stay quiet and not speak up when we are met with racism. We are taught by Western society that if we behave and act a certain way, we will be exempt. But this is far from the truth, every day we are subjected to micro-aggression and racist comments that are passed off as “jokes.”
Questions and guesses about my ethnicity are frequent conversation starters which I often feel forced to entertain as part of good bedside manner. And in addition to the normal abuse nurses face on the job, I’ve been called a “chink” and “stupid Asian” and greeted with the all too-common “ni hao.” When I complain about it, I’m repeatedly told to brush it off. But like many in my community, I am tired of staying quiet and being gaslighted when I try to speak up. As anti-Asian racism continues to rise in Canada, I feel a duty to stand up for myself and others.
The pandemic is far from being over. It is simple to wear a mask. Nurses and other health care workers wear masks and other personal protective equipment for hours on end, even when we’re drenched in sweat. But wearing masks is not the hard part of my work. The hard part is seeing people every day in the hospital suffering from the consequences of COVID-19.