Racism as a Covid-19 Side-effect, Part I: Bao Phi on Sustaining Community

The pandemic has unfortunately caused hate incidents against Asian Americans to rise across the United States. Asian Canadians too report incidents of abuse. I asked spoken word artist and writer Bao Phi: How are you sustaining yourself in these circumstances?

He writes:

I alternate between being enraged and being depressed. Of course, this is nothing new – the color of my skin and the shape of my features has marked me as an enemy my entire life. Racist xenophobia, informed by militaristic, colonialist imperialism, is nothing new to Asians. But it is certainly magnified now. My former partner once observed that Asian Americans are positioned to be victims of vigilante violence – we saw this after 9-11, towards Arabs, South Asians, and anyone who presented as Middle Eastern – and of course Japanese Americans were wrongly incarcerated after Pearl Harbor. It’s happening again now.

How do you maintain stability yourself?

To be honest, I am unwell, and when I am unwell, I find it very difficult to concentrate on my own craft. I am constantly alternating between rage, to being on edge, to fear, to sadness. I should also mention that I am a single co-parent, and doing my best to be honest with my child about the happenings in the world without filling her full of despair and fear. She already has a heightened sensitivity to danger. It takes all my energy and will to hold things together while I’m with her. 

Bao’s efforts are leaning toward sustaining community.

Instead of focusing on my own craft, I am trying to encourage other Asian Americans to share their stories at the collective Asian American social justice website, www.unmargin.org. I am also doing a lot of reading. And for my work at the Loft, I am working both behind the desk and in front of it as we pivot towards online events. 

If humankind could only take this as a point of reflection and not an opportunity to turn on one another….but I think Bao’s right, this is nothing new.

More on this subject soon from writer Paula Yoo.

Immigrants and Neighbors on this Fourth of July

Today, NPR reports the story of a deported migrant, named only as Nasario, who waits anxiously to be reunited with his daughter. Nasario, a victim of the Trump administration’s so-called zero-tolerance policy, is a Guatemalan farmer fleeing gang violence. He and his young daughter were apprehended crossing the border illegally and were separated. Six weeks later, he’s been deported and his daughter remains in a New York shelter. She is five years old. She was taken out of his arms by border patrol agents. They both cry every day. Nasario is a broken man.

These are the stories of our time. A new one every day. Someday there will be books for young readers about these stories, but how will we frame them? As part of a grim interlude that has been overcome and the culprits brought to justice? Or as part of a successful takeover by fascists and racists of a country once founded on principles of liberty and justice?

What would I do if my child and I were in danger in my homeland? Would I not try to leave by any means available to me?

Meanwhile, in the book trenches, I’m Your Neighbor continues its collection of books for young readers, books that celebrate and honor immigrant experiences and offer booksellers, librarians, educators, community organizers, and families information and titles that can help build connections across cultures. IYN-Web-Banner-2.jpeg

I was honored to be on a panel at ALA 2018 with Anne Sibley O’Brien, Thi Bui, Bao Phi, and Terry Young speaking on Unpacking the Immigrant Experience: Creating a Space for New Arrivals . And beyond honored to receive the 2017-18 APALA award for children’s fiction for Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh.

This is the America I know. Today, it seems in danger of extinction.