Nicholas Wu (l.), a reporter with USA Today, was accosted while running on the National Mall.
By Stephen Kim
Los Angeles, Calif.
Nicholas Wu was on a morning run on the National Mall when a woman started shouting at him. “Stay away, stay away, stay away,” Wu recalled her yelling. But when a
white person ran by her—much closer than Wu had—she made no similar comments.
These days, Wu said, he gets weird looks and people moving away on the subway. Other Asian Americans have experienced even worse treatment amid the COVID-19 pandemic: physical altercations, racist slurs, and other racially motivated, hateful incidents.
“COVID has acted as an accelerant on existing inequities in American life,” said Wu, a 24-year-old congressional reporter for USA Today. He attributes it to the “forever foreigner” phenomenon: Even if Asian Americans were born in the United States, they will always be considered an “other,” a foreigner, in this country. No matter the hard work they may do, the amazing accomplishments and successes they may achieve, Asians in this country will never be identified as “real Americans.”
Growing up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, Wu was one of few Asians in a predominantly white part of town. “Teach us kung fu,” kids would say to him. They chanted “ching chong ching ling” when imitating speaking Mandarin. Wu was even asked if he was adopted because the only other Asian kids his classmates knew were adopted into white families.
Racism against Asians in both explicit and implicit forms has been present in this country ever since the first Chinese immigrants came across the Pacific to build the
Mos Neammanee commutes to class at Rutgers by public transportation. But in the wake of COVID-19, he has sensed a difference in the treatment from fellow students. As he entered the bus, and tried to find a seat on his way to class, he overheard a fellow pas-
senger saying, “Why are they letting these people into the country?” People routinely seemed uncomfortable with the presence of Neammanee on public transport, he says.
He chuckled as he recounted these memories in a Zoom call, but he acknowledges that they put great strain on him. Neammanee is an active member of an organization called RAISE that advocates for young Asians who are undocumented and trying to apply for DACA status, and a DACA recipient himself. When he encounters people like the man on the bus on his way to school, it adds additional insecurity and anxiety on top of his undocumented status, which has been the subject of controversy under the Trump administration.
Twenty-three-year-old community organizer Audrey Pan works with Neammanee at RAISE. While Pan said she doesn’t experience explicit racism, she does feel “hyper-visible,” she said. She experiences the “feeling of people watching” when she goes outside. If she wears a face mask, people stare at her. If she doesn’t, the same thing
Pan agreed that the “accelerant” of COVID-19 has accentuated the feeling of otherness experienced by Asian Americans.