The novel coronavirus crisis has brought out the tremendous good in so many people. Countless residents are donating their time and energy to do what they can to assist. Unfortunately, for a small minority, the crisis has exposed major character flaws.
Kevin Wei experienced the wrath of an ill-informed and racist woman.
Wei, 41, was born in China, moved to the United States 30 years ago, and has lived in the Geneva area for over two decades. He is a U.S. citizen who not only runs the successful Main Moon Restaurant in Geneva but oversees the sushi bar at Wegmans. It was at the latter where he recently had a fairly traumatic encounter with a customer.
She started by asking if he was Chinese. When he said yes, she went on a rant telling him how it was because of him she was unable to purchase meat, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, etc.
I became aware of this incident with a Facebook message he posted; after reading it, I, like others, felt an incredible sense of sympathy. I might have written empathy, but that would mean I would be able to understand and share the same feelings Kevin did. As a Caucasian, that is unlikely.
Kevin’s response to the woman: It’s a virus and it can happen anywhere and it had nothing to do with me. Then he walked away. But, he wrote on Facebook, “My heart hurt.” He knew he was targeted for the sole reason of looking Asian.
Wei is extremely likeable and very popular. He has over 900 Facebook friends. Even had a frappaccino drink named after him at the former Finger Lakes Gifts and Lounge in Geneva.
I am quite sure when Wei expressed how his heart hurt, many were as affected in the same way I was.
When Wei went home that night, his wife immediately noticed he was not his usual self. After telling her the story he said: “I just can’t put a smiley face on right now.”
Wei and his family, which includes three kids, have been great supporters of the community, including donating to many local causes. Though their take-out business has always been great, they have been forced to close for a few weeks — not due to enough food or trucks, but because many of the drivers of those downstate delivery trucks are too scared to work due to the daily contact they have with so many people.
That hasn’t stopped him from helping out.
On Monday he posted: “Dear friends: I hope everyone is doing well and is healthy. Main Moon closed yesterday and today we will be there cooking for the first responders and I will have over 150 plus meals for customers to take for free around 5pm.” He gave away 400.
Many people are unaware of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The federal government passed the first immigration law then, banning the travel of members of an entire race of people based solely on a shared identity. The law prohibited Chinese laborers from entering the country. The bottom inset photo shows a derogatory cartoon from that time period that reflected how some U.S. citizens saw the situation. After the Act was passed, anti-Chinese violence increased.
Sound familiar? President Trump rose to power in part because of his promises to keep Latin American and Muslim immigrants out of the United States. He has stated that his intention in saying “Chinese virus” is about geopolitics. He reasons it comes from China, and he wants to be accurate.
While it is true that past influenza viruses have been named after Spain, Hong Kong and Asia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that it is wrong to refer to the current COVID-19 strain as a “Chinese coronavirus.”
In 2015, the World Health Organization announced new guidelines for how it would name illnesses. The disease names should not focus on geographic locations, the names of people or animals, or particular cultural traits. Instead, disease names should include the year of first detection and descriptions of the general symptoms caused or bodily systems affected.
President Trump knows this, but still, as shown in the top inset photo, deliberately chose to cross out coronavirus and write Chinese during a recent national broadcast/briefing. Combine that with announcing the country is on “war footing” and it sends many wrong signals and “dog whistles” to people like the woman in Wegmans, freeing them to spew racist rhetoric.
There has always been racism in this country, but today it rears its ugly head far too often.
Words matter. Kevin Wei found that out the hard way.
New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Monday the launch of a hotline to report hate crimes and bias-based incidents. The hotline, 1-800-771-7755, will continue indefinitely. It comes in the wake of rising reports of harassment and assaults, as well as rhetoric, against Asian Americans during the current pandemic.