June 5, 2020

Webster students experience discrimination during COVID-19 due to Asian heritage

Webster student Mimiw Seagrave returned hometown in Thailand as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across America. Her parents, however, were worried about the spread of racism in America. 

For Mon Mon Aye, a Webster senior, getting sick from the coronavirus was the least of her concerns.

“I was actually more worried about discrimination and being alone than coronavirus,” Mon Mon Aye said.

Mon Mon Aye experienced discrimination when she was at the airport and on the plane going to New Mexico for her spring break class before her connecting flight was canceled. Most people gave her dirty looks when they saw her. Mon Mon Aye said she ignored the stares.

This kind of act did not surprise Nguyen An Nhat Mai, a sophomore, who said she experienced racism and discrimination when she first came to the United States from Vietnam in 2018. She was with a group of friends and they went to Steak and Shake late at night. The people in the restaurant, who were mostly white, looked at Mai and her friends in a disgusting way.

“I didn’t know why. Then, I asked my friend who has been here for 10 years,” Nguyen said. “He said because we are Asian and we looked Chinese.”

Maria Gunawan, a senior who is from Jakarta, Indonesia, has a similar experience to Mon Mon Aye. Gunawan received stares at the grocery store, some of the shoppers even moved their cart away from her.

Gunawan said it annoys her when people act that way towards her but she doesn’t let it affect her mindset.

Gunawan is back in her home country after being quarantined in St. Louis. Gunawan’s parents wanted her to come back home to be with them during this time. She caught a flight on April 24. On April 25, Gunawan arrived home and was placed in a 14-day quarantine. Gunawan said while she was in St. Louis she was still cautious to step outside because of the harassment against Asians she had seen on the news.

Videos and reports of physical attacks and verbal harassment against Asians in the United States and Europe have surfaced in the news due to the coronavirus.

Graph by Kayla Shepperd. Sources from the FBI, A3PCON, and CAA.

These kinds of acts are hard to hear for Mimiw Seagrave, an international human rights major who is sad that the Asian community is being mistreated during the pandemic.

“When I heard that an Asian family, including a 2-and-6-year-old, were violently stabbed by a 19-year-old, who could be considered a child himself, my heart broke. My heart continues to break hearing the exponential rise in violent attacks against the Asian community,” Seagrave said.

Seagrave said she was privileged she escaped racist attacks from others but feels angry and hopeless that she could not do anything to help besides educating her friends and peers to call out discrimination.

She is currently in her hometown of Chiangmai, Thailand after her study abroad trip to Leiden was canceled. Her parents did not want her to go back to the United States because of the racist attacks on Asians so she flew back home. Seagrave was quarantined at a hotel for two and a half weeks before going home to her parents.

Seagrave said she had a friend in Texas who was verbally assaulted when she had crossed the street. A man told Seagrave’s friend to go back to her country and proceeded to use profanity against her. Seagrave and her friend laughed off the incident, but she said it wouldn’t be a laughing matter if it were serious.

“We both understood the consequences of that day. I don’t think we would have laughed if she was physically attacked,” Seagrave said. “I also don’t think there’s a right way to experience and deal with racist attacks.”

Seagrave supports and uplifts her friends during this time by sending funny memes and positive news. She’s even there for her friends when they want to talk or cry.

The group believed people not only lashed out at a particular ethnic group because of their race but it can also be fueled by fear of the virus. Mon Mon Aye said fear is a normal reaction. People will assume if someone comes from a place that carries the virus, then those people have the virus.

That’s not the case, according to Dr. Jameca Falconer, who teaches behavior analysis at Webster and is a licensed psychologist. She said people have implicit bias where they will put a certain group of people in a category. Falconer thinks people are often looking to put the blame on someone for the virus.

“I feel like the brain finds it easier to categorize and describe people and things. Typically, people like to associate bad things with people of color and countries of color. Anti-Asian bias plays into a long history of racism in the United States that often associates immigrants and countries that have large numbers of people of color with disease,” Falconer said.

Falconer continues by saying fear generates from the lack of understanding of ethnic groups and racism, which leads to people directing their anger to certain people or groups.

They all agree that it does not mean to harass or physically attack someone because everyone does not have the virus. However, Nguyen does not believe that everyone is racist or prejudiced.

“There are a lot of nice people out there, so I don’t have to care about those racists. The price they have to pay is very obvious. I was born in a Buddhist country, so I believe in karma. If you do something harmful to anyone, you will have to pay the price,” Nguyen said.

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