Asian American lawmaker warns of fear of racism over coronavirus stigma

Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) on Monday urged fellow lawmakers to sign on to her resolution condemning anti-Asian rhetoric, stating that the racism against Asian Americans due to stigma over the coronavirus is leading people to be afraid to go out for basic errands. 

Meng has introduced a resolution that would formally condemn “anti-Asian sentiment” caused by rhetoric labeling the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus,” “Wuhan virus” or “Kung-flu.”

“As we’ve seen today, as what people are saying and doing against fellow Americans, there is a lot of fear in our communities. I just heard a story about someone’s mother, elderly mother, who is terrified to even go grocery shopping because she doesn’t want to yet again be the victim of someone whispering or saying something to her. And she’s literally scared to go buy groceries,” Meng told reporters during a press briefing.

The anti-Asian sentiment has led to people being harassed and attacked in public spaces, such as being spat on, physically assaulted and verbally harassed with racial epithets.

President Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) are among the GOP officials who have used the term “Chinese coronavirus,” though Trump indicated last week that he may stop using it after he tweeted support for Asian Americans, who he said “are amazing people, and the spreading of the Virus is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form.”

Trump has defended using the term as a way to indicate where the coronavirus began spreading in Wuhan, China, comparing it to Ebola, which is named after a river in Africa, or Lyme disease, which is named after a town in Connecticut.

But public health experts and the World Health Organization have advised against using geographic locations to name infectious diseases as a way to help reduce any stigma.

“I talk about the Chinese virus and — and I mean it. That’s where it came from. You know, if you look at Ebola, if you look at all — Lyme. Right? Lyme, Conn. You look at all these different, horrible diseases, they seem to come with a name with the location. And this was a Chinese virus. But I don’t have to say it if they feel so strongly about it. We’ll see,” Trump said at a press briefing last week.

Asian American lawmakers said Trump should go further than suggesting he might stop invoking the term.

“What [Trump] should do is send a strong message to his followers to not say that,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. “So he should send the message directly to them that they need to stop using that term if he really means what he said when he said that Asian Americans should not be blamed for the coronavirus.”

“At this point, every [Asian American and Pacific Islander] knows somebody or have themselves been subject to this xenophobia,” Chu said.

Meng’s resolution currently has 131 co-sponsors, all of whom are Democrats. Meng, whose district encompasses Queens, is the first Asian American to represent New York in Congress.

Last week, Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) introduced a resolution to condemn the Chinese government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and affirm that it made “multiple, serious mistakes” downplaying and censoring information about the novel virus that as of Monday has infected more than 775,000 people worldwide.

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) originally signed on to the resolution with Banks.

But Chu last week urged Democrats not to support it and said that she spoke with Banks to warn that it could stoke “xenophobia.” Banks still proceeded with his resolution, which now has 39 other GOP co-sponsors.

Moulton has since withdrawn his support for the Banks resolution.

Moulton said he originally signed on to the resolution “because it is important to recognize and condemn the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian tactics.”

But he explained in a statement last week that he was withdrawing from the resolution after hearing from members of the Asian American community who he said “were hurt at a time when their community is under assault by racists in our own country.”

“I apologize for that, and I am withdrawing my support for the resolution,” Moulton said.

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