We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofJanefer Hong

I used to believe that America was a place filled with acceptance. I’m a second-generation immigrant whose parents came from Cambodia. I grew up Cambodian-American in Lowell, and had many friends who came from Kenya, Thailand,  Puerto Rico, and many more areas throughout the world. 

I was taught about racism in school. I was taught about slavery, segregation and Jim Crow Laws, and about modern day protests for equality.  Although I learned more about the history of racism in America, I didn’t think racism would even be present in Lowell, because our city was a place where the majority were immigrants who came from many different countries. I also never witnessed any discrimination towards Asians, so I didn’t think Asian ever faced racism in America. 

In 2020, midway through my sophomore year, the COVID-19 pandemic began. Suddenly I started seeing reports on Instagram of Asians, especially elderly and the kids being attacked for being Asian in the United States. I read about a father and his child who got stabbed at a Sam's Club in Texas for being Asian. Their attacker blamed them for spreading COVID-19. Luckily, both of them survived. I read about a woman in Santa Clara, California whose dog was kicked, and she was spat on, the attacker yelling at her: “Take your disease that’s ruining our country and go home.” I wondered why most of it wasn’t covered on the TV station news. I was confused why others were blaming us for the pandemic. Some called COVID-19 the “Chinese Virus” or “Kung-Flu” or even “Asian Virus.” Our own president, Donald Trump, kept using improper terms for COVID, which led to an increase of violence towards Asians. I was astonished and I was also livid. I thought he and the people who had the same mindset as him were ignorant.  That spring, as COVID spread, I was really worried about other Asians in the other states in America, but also here in Massachusetts. 

That spring, I was in school one day walking down the hallway to get to my next class. I was walking and listening to music, but then I heard another student shout dramatically: “Asians deserve to get beaten for Covid. They were the ones who spread it around and started it.”

It is important to keep in mind: I go to a diverse school where everyone has come from different backgrounds. Although the comment wasn’t directed towards me and I only overheard it, I was still upset. I was shocked to hear this. I was more than shocked, I was furious, and also confused. Lots of people ignored the comment. But a few stood up against her, they called the person out on her ignorance. I didn’t get to listen to what they said to her since I had to go to my next class, and I didn’t want the situation to bother me throughout the day. But I was so upset that I couldn’t even concentrate in class. I hated the blaming and generalizations. I hated the ignorance in her statement. 

At that moment, I realized that racism can happen anywhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a diverse place. Racism and prejudice will still happen. A few weeks later in March, our school closed due to the pandemic. It was hard to adapt to the lockdown because I was missing most of my friends. As COVID cases increased, there were more hate crimes directed at Asians, and that really broke my heart. I imagined that the Asians who were attacked could’ve been my family members. Eventually, we will have to find a way to address the inequality we encounter. Our schools and our communities should address the prejudice that is taking place. When we finally come back to school, I hope we can teach about prejudice behavior in order to make the environment feel safe for everyone.** **

© Janefer Hong. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person’s teacher.