I used to believe that America was a place of acceptance. I’m a second-generation immigrant whose parents came from Cambodia. I grew up in Lowell, and had many friends who came from Kenya, Thailand, Puerto Rico, and many more areas throughout the world.
I was taught about racism in school. I was taught about slavery, segregation, and Jim Crow laws, and about modern-day protests for equality. Although I learned about the history of racism in America, I didn’t think racism would be present in Lowell, because our city was a place of immigrants. I also never witnessed any discrimination toward Asians, so I didn’t think Asians ever faced racism in America.
In 2020, midway through my sophomore year, the COVID-19 pandemic began. Suddenly I started seeing reports on Instagram of Asians being attacked for being Asian. I read about a father and his two children being stabbed at a Sam’s Club in Texas. Their attacker blamed them for spreading COVID-19. Luckily, they survived. I read about a man in Santa Clara, Calif., whose attacker kicked his dog, spat on him, and said: “Take your disease that’s ruining our country. Go home.”
I was confused about why others were blaming us for the pandemic. Some called COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” or “kung-flu” or “Asian virus.” Our president, Donald Trump, kept using improper terms for COVID, which led to an increase of violence toward Asians. I was astonished, and I was also livid. I thought the president and the people who had the same mindset as him were ignorant.
One day, I was in school walking down the hall to get to my next class. I was listening to music, but then I heard another student shout dramatically: “Asians deserve to get beaten for COVID. They were the ones who spread it around and started it.”
It is important to keep in mind: I go to a diverse school where everyone comes from different backgrounds. Although the comment wasn’t directed toward me and I only overheard it, I was still upset. I was shocked to hear this. I was more than shocked, I was furious, and also confused. Lots of people ignored the comment. But a few stood up against this student and called her out on her ignorance. I was so upset that I couldn’t concentrate in class. I hated the blaming and generalizations. I hated the ignorance in her statement.
At that moment, I realized that racism can happen anywhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a diverse place. Racism and prejudice will still happen. A few weeks later, our school closed due to the pandemic. It was hard to adapt to the lockdown because I was missing most of my friends. As COVID cases increased, there were more hate crimes directed at Asians, and that broke my heart. I imagined that the Asians who were attacked could’ve been my family members. Eventually, we will have to find a way to address the bigotry we encounter. Our schools and communities should address the prejudice that is taking place. When we finally come back to school, I hope we can teach about prejudiced behavior in order to make the environment feel safe for everyone.