I can feel my voice getting louder as the white family passes us by, my words coming out more crisply and clearly than I normally would talk. I can’t control the instinctual reaction of my body when there’s even the slightest chance I might be perceived as “one of them.” I’m not other or foreign (I was born here in California), but with the way Asian Americans are being treated in light of COVID-19, I can’t help but feel labeled as dirty, sick, a virus — the virus.
I enunciate my words and speak just loudly enough to be heard because I want everyone who walks by and gives us even the slightest of second glances to know that I’m American, just like them. I want them to know that being Asian American doesn’t make me more susceptible to getting sick. It’s knowing this disease is being used against people who look like me that gets me sick.
Asian Americans are being spat on, beaten down, bullied. Asian restaurants were being avoided long before all non-essential businesses were getting shut down. On top of the fear and stress we all carry concerning the health and safety of our loved ones, racism against Asian Americans adds another layer to the anxiety, and we are weary.
I’m almost glad we’re being told to stay at home so as to avoid the chance I’ll be the next recipient of prejudice and xenophobia, but then I watch the news and keep hearing coronavirus referred to as “the Chinese virus” by our president, and I know it’s not over yet. Words can be wielded for good or for harm, and those are not neutral words.
I find relief and solidarity as I hear more Asian Americans speaking up about the impact this term is having. We share the collective toll this is taking on our souls, but will others be able to see it too?
I write this knowing some won’t understand, that some will say, “What’s the big deal? It came from China anyway, right?” And yet, I have to write this because the more we become aware, the more we listen and try to understand each other’s experiences and stories, the more we recognize the humanity in one another. Perhaps when we do, we’ll learn to think twice before we speak and act, before we mistreat someone who looks or acts differently from us, before we categorize people as “less than” in our hearts, minds, with our words, and even with our policies.
I’ve been ruminating on how Jesus looked at people with compassion — people who were distressed and sick, people who were unclean and dying, people who were stubborn and naive and didn’t understand Him.
I imagine what His eyes of compassion looked like, and the face of a Middle Eastern man with brown skin and brown eyes comes to mind. He looks at the crowd, at the rich young ruler, at the woman whose son has died, and His eyes soften. I imagine Him on the cross looking at John and His beloved mother, love spilling over for His people in His last breaths, and His eyes soften. He sees their pain and grief, their hunger, their blindness — both physical and spiritual. He sees their humanity, and His love for them changes the way He looks at them.
In a time when control is out of our hands, when fear and anxiety rule our hearts and cause panic and pain for others, I become overwhelmed and all my words seem useless. But like clay in my hands, I shape them into crude prayers — Lord, please. Help. Heal. Have mercy.
I pray for the people who hoard and steal out of fear or because they can. I pray for lawmakers and leaders in our nation and in our churches. I pray for Asian Americans and those who spit on us, judge us, and hurt us. I pray for the sick, the dying, the vulnerable, the ones exposed and those who won’t be able to recover from this. My prayers come out in tears, while lying awake in bed, while kneading dough to make bread, while playing with my children at home, while reading updates on the news.
I pray for eyes of compassion that lead to justice and generosity and for our lives to look more like Jesus’ when He lived on earth as human — absorbing the pain of others, overturning the tables of the greedy, making seen the outcast, welcoming the foreigner, comforting the lonely, exposing the systems that are cracked and in need of redemption. I pray we all come out of this time broken but kinder, weary but with a clearer vision for how to be human.
My prayer for this time: Lord, please. Help. Heal. Have mercy. #covid19 #compassion -@gracepcho: Click To Tweet