Whenever people ask me, “How was the pandemic for you?” I know they want a particular answer.
I know they want me to say I was attacked. That I was called slurs or yelled at or spit on. They want to hear terrible, violent things that prove just how bad the pandemic truly was for Asian Americans.
But none of that happened to me.
I spent the pandemic employed, unlike the 46% of unemployed Asians who were out of work for more than six months in 2020, making us the group with the highest long-term unemployment rate. I don’t own a business, so I avoided the difficulties suffered by 3 in 5 Asian American business owners in Southern California who reported significant negative effects due to the pandemic. I worked from home, meaning I escaped much human interaction, including the 73% increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans from 2019 to 2020.
So no, COVID-19 didn’t affect me in the way people expect. Instead, it pervaded my life quietly, insidiously. It was hearing the name of my mom’s hometown, the place my extended family still calls home, dragged through the mud. It was listening to white work colleagues laugh about St. Patrick’s Day on Zoom while I sat, muted and with my camera off, crying about the six Asian women murdered in the 2021 Atlanta spa shootings. It was arguing that despite high vaccination numbers, Asian Americans are a vast community experiencing COVID-19 in drastically different ways, so we still need attention and resources and funding. It was knowing that we were watching the past repeat before our very eyes.
I wish people knew that my Asian American experience doesn’t start or end with the pandemic. Being APISA in the United States means carrying the weight of generations of anti-Asian sentiment embedded in this country’s history. My very existence in this country calls back to the Page Act of 1875, the 1896 law banning Hawaiian language from school instruction, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the constant threat of a Muslim registry that gained traction after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and continues to persist to this day.
Being APISA in the United States also means celebrating the generations of Asian Americans who shaped the foundation of this country. It means remembering the radical origins of the term “Asian American;” celebrating the introduction of APISA studies in our schools; honoring activists such as Yuri Kochiyama and Grace Lee Boggs; and building solidarity with each other and with other underrepresented groups in the nation.
APISA have countless stories to tell. We’ve been here—both in this country and at USC—for a very long time, and we have so many forgotten histories and untold experiences to share. This year, with the launch of elevASIAN, the first Asian American vertical at Annenberg Media, we finally have the opportunity to tell them.
So please, pitch us your stories. Tell us all of the things that show the USC community and beyond that we are here, we are heterogeneous and we won’t be ignored. And just like it says in our name, we will elevate you.
Correction: A previous version of this article used the acronym “APIDA.” All instances of the term have been changed to “APISA,” which is more reflective of the heterogeneity in South Asian communities.