Q&A: The Impact of Covid-19 on Asian Americans

by Tenzing Chosang

Eight months ago we went into lockdown because of the rapid spread of COVID-19. We all need to do our part by wearing masks, social distancing, and following medical advice in order to decrease Covid cases. Like other historic disease outbreaks, this pandemic has left many people looking for someone to blame, and most of the time they blame immigrant minorities. The spread of polio in the late 1800s was blamed on Italian immigrants, the spread of cholera in the 1830s was blamed on Irish immigrants, and jewish people were blamed for tuberculosis in the 1900s. During the spread of those diseases, people were violent towards the minority groups seen as responsible, and avoided shops owned by those groups of people. 

In this case the spread of COVID-19 is blamed on Asian immigrants. COVID-19 is said to come from China, and was able to spread quickly of how intertwined our world is. Some people have even begun calling it the “China Virus”, or “Kung-Flu” after the virus was first identified in Wuhan, China last year. Within a span of 3 months 800 discrimination and harrassment crimes against Asian Americans in California were reported. I’m Asian American, so these reports made me feel fearful, and disappointed. I was curious to see if Anti-Asian hate crimes have surged in my hometown of Berkeley, California. Berkeley has always been a proud liberal city, and I wanted to see if they are as accepting as they try to portray themselves. So I decided to do this by interviewing my friend Pema, who works at an Asian-owned business, Uucha. Uccha is a popular boba place that a lot of Berkeley residents love.  

Tenzing Chosang – Good evening. Could you introduce yourself? 

Pema Choekyi – Hi, my name is Pema and I’m 18 right now. I graduated from Berkeley High school last year and I’m currently a student at the University of California Irvine. I’m not physically attending the school, but I’m distance learning. I’m the shift manager at Ucha on BancroftWay. It’s very close to Cal. 

Have you seen your sales go up or down since March? 

Sales have certainly dropped since March. We were closed for a while due to the lockdown and reopened after the government gave us the green light, but there weren’t a lot of customers. We had a lot of slow days. 

Okay, how do you feel about the usage of the term “China virus?” 

I think it’s misrepresented and a racially charged term. It’s not in any way an accurate way of describing what we’re going through now, and honestly, I haven’t heard anyone refer to it as the China virus other than internet trolls and our own President. 

Do you think that being a boba store, which is associated with Asian cultures, has affected the profits that you make?

I think Berkeley itself and the Bay Area is very aware and, for the most part, appreciates Asian culture. So we haven’t faced direct racism other than the usual ones we would receive before pandemic. I think Berkeley has been pretty good in supporting local businesses and we haven’t felt any more outcast than before. 

Okay, so you haven’t experienced any racist customers or encounters? 

There hasn’t been a surge in the racist things that happen at work.  but I know that another boba shop in downtown Berkeley called Fang Cha had an incident where a guy tried to set one of the customers on fire and I’m not completely sure but there was some talk about it being racially charged.

Editor’s Note: Pema acknowledges that this is an extreme example, saying: “It was just a one in a million case.”

What would you say to customers who believe that Asian businesses are more dangerous than others in this current state that we are in?

I mean regardless of the business being owned by Asian person or not, it’s being visited by the residents of Berkeley. So, unless the community itself has a much higher rate of coronavirus cases, there really isn’t a huge difference dependent on who owns the store. There’s not really a big disparity between Asian businesses or white-owned businesses or black-owned businesses. I don’t think it matters, what kind of race the workers or the owner of the store is. 

And what advice would you give to the Asian youth, given the current issues that they’re facing, regarding the outbreak? 

I think regardless of whether you are Asian or not, just like everyone that has been fortunate enough to visit small business, or visit other stores and go out in public, be careful with whatever you’re doing. You never know who has the virus, or who might spread the virus to you. You can’t ever be too careful.

Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day for us.