It was Tuesday before spring break. I was in line for Dunkin like the dozens of other UConn students every morning, supposedly just another normal day. “It’s not racist if it’s true. It’s a Chinese virus. It’s their fault for eating bats. Why don’t we seal off all the Chinatowns? That would stop the spread.” I froze after hearing the words of the girl in line in front of me, conscious of being a Chinese American. She turned around and noticed me before turning back to her friend and declaring, “I’m not racist. I’m just saying. It’s a fact.” She glanced at me again to see my reaction, her eyes hard and unapologetic.
I headed back to my apartment immediately. Forget about the coffee. Forget about classes. UConn was supposed to be my safe space away from such sentiments, and I lost even that after hearing the hate being expressed by my peers.
While walking home, I convinced myself that the worst was over. It could not possibly get worse.
At my apartment, I felt the shock and fear transform into anger, venting to my roommate about what I’d heard earlier that morning. I expected sympathy, but what I got in response was, “I see her point. It’s not racist, it’s just a fact that it’s safer if we quarantine all the Chinese in Chinatowns to contain the spread.” For the second time that Tuesday, I felt the bile rise in my throat. She claimed that she knew what was better for the greater good because her major related to the health and medical field. I almost couldn’t believe one of my best friends was making these xenophobic comments. This “friend” was suggesting a solution fueled by misinformation and xenophobia, justified by a “greater good.” This person, whose people were one of the minorities killed in the ovens of Auschwitz, was suggesting a solution akin to internment camps for Chinese Americans to my face. How did she not see the parallels between my people and hers?
That night, after vomiting up my anxiety and anger, I moved out. Turns out I didn’t know her as well as I thought. The rest of the week I couch surfed until spring break began. I could not live another second in that apartment.
While moving out, I convinced myself again that the worst was over. It could not possibly get worse.
Since then, my fear and anxiety has only worsened as news reports started pouring in of Asian Americans being attacked and verbally abused. These people are from a community I belong to, people that I look like. That could be me. That could be my family. That could be any of us.
Wednesday before spring break, my family’s restaurant and every other Asian establishment in our strip mall were broken into and vandalized. They left the Italian place and the Sprint store untouched.
It did get worse. It can get worse. At this rate, it will only get worse.