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'One More Thing To Worry About.' FAU Student Shares Anxiety As Anti-Asian Violence Continues

Daniel Bell is a sophomore at Florida Atlantic University – and secretary for the Asian Student Union.
Daniel Bell
/
Daniel Bell is a sophomore at Florida Atlantic University – and secretary for the Asian Student Union.

“Chinese virus.” “Kung flu.”

Asian Americans across the country say these two words have been weaponized by elected officials and online trolls against their communities.

The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found hate crimes were down overall in the United States in 2020, but up by nearly 150% against Asian Americans.

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One college student says those phrases have real-life ramifications. Stories surrounding anti-Asian violence have made him feel anxious and unsafe all year long.

“Hearing those phrases just makes me feel frustrated. Both add the implication that it has that Asian people have it in their genes or in their blood. Well, it still seemed really idiotic,” says Daniel Bell, a Chinese-American sophomore at Florida Atlantic University and secretary for the Asian Student Union. “It has a specific name. Coronavirus. COVID-19. And it just seemed very idiotic and nonsensical to call it like this because, one, it furthered these wrong beliefs. It also took away from the scientific facts of it.”

The multiethnic Asian community makes up about 2.9% of the population in Palm Beach County, according to the U.S. Census and Bell says he’s fortunate to not have experienced direct xenophobia but the snowball effects from the uptick in anti-Asian racism hovers over his consciousness.

“I am not in the Palm Beach area as of right now, and I can't say if anyone has experienced outward discrimination like the stories that you've heard. I can say that it has definitely affected the way people may look at you and it also affects the way you feel and the things you think when people look at you specifically because you know you outwardly look Asian,” Bell said.

“You can't hide that. It's something that's just on your mind as one more thing to worry about — worry if you're going to be attacked or discriminated against because of that.”

Since the pandemic began, there have been thousands of reports of hate crimes and incidents of harassment directed at Asian Americans. Asian American journalists also note that news media has been late in covering anti-Asian racism. And after Black male suspects were involved in physical attacks against Asian elders, some of the early coverage pitted the Black and Asian communities against each other.

Activists and celebrities used panel discussions on the social media app Clubhouse to discuss age-old divisions and solidarity between the communities. And Asian-American activists placed far more emphasis on the snowball effect of “Kung Flu” and “Chinese virus” being used on Twitter by elected officials during the early stages of the pandemic.

Bell says, before a white perpetrator killed eight people in Atlanta, including six Asian women, there wasn’t enough national dialogue that centered or humanized the lived experiences of Asians. Not enough language that juxtaposed his fractured sense of belonging with the latest tragedy just one state away. Not enough language, he says, that describes why society makes him feel “othered.”

He says it’s been difficult to find an outlet to express his feelings and perspectives, especially among his adopted family.

“They're both white. So I don't have a traditional Asian family. I'm usually the only person in my family who's Asian,” Bell said. “I have more of an understanding about what's affecting the Asian community because I'm Asian — I think because they're not, they have a much slower acknowledgment of these things that are going on.”

Bell said he has not had any direct conversations with his white parents about the wave of anti-Asian racism and violence.

“I am part of the LGBT community and I've had more talking with them about that much earlier in my life compared to now but I think because of these talks I used to have with them and then the reactions that I would get from them, I kind of understood that they weren't going to be able to understand as much as I wanted them to,” Bell said. “And part of me kind of stopped trying to make them understand.”

Bell says his father, on the other hand, actively listens to his story. He said his father is more “aware of things like this” and is more responsive than his mother.

“So he's easier to sit down and very readily asks me questions about stuff — tries to understand more about what I'm trying to talk to him about,” Bell said. “But my mother, she had a much more conservative upbringing. And she is a sweetheart but it's a little difficult to talk to her about more serious things because she's been raised in an environment, I believe, where she wasn't exposed to these levels of hate, of discrimination.”

“So she has a hard time understanding why someone could do this — why these things exist. And the same goes for my sister and a little bit of my brother.”

Bell says Asians are finding more outlets to express their anxiety, especially as organizations like Stop AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Hate continue to help mobilize communities.

He says the Asian Student Union, which is having online meetings, is another necessary outlet for him to discuss anti-Asian sentiments and cross-racial solidarity in the wave of anti-Asian violence.

Bell said ASU has “great diversity within the union” and that their unified message is “All for one Ohana,” which means one big family.