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Opinion: Racist Harassment of Asian Health Care Workers Won’t Cure Coronavirus

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On his way to work, a doctor was told to “go back to f—— China.” An Asian nurse delivering medicine to a sick patient was spat on. And parents at a children’s hospital refused care from health care staff with “Asian appearances.”

Violent hate crimes against Asian Americans have surged across the United States recently due to xenophobic perceptions that all Asian people are carriers of COVID-19. But some forms of harassment have been directed specifically at the Asian physicians and nurses risking their own health and safety to battle the spread of the virus in hospitals across the country.

“It’s really heartbreaking,” said UC Berkeley ethnic studies professor Catherine Ceniza Choy. “These health workers are parents, they’re daughters and sons. They are sisters and brothers. They’re our neighbors. … This is an additional level of trauma, anxiety and stress that we don’t need to place on them.”

UC Berkeley ethnic studies professor Catherine Ceniza Choy is also the author of Empire of Care: Nursing and Migration in Filipino American History. (Photo courtesy of Kirsten Lara Getchell).

Catherine Ceniza Choy, UC Berkeley ethnic studies professor.

UC Berkeley ethnic studies professor Catherine Ceniza Choy is also the author of Empire of Care: Nursing and Migration in Filipino American History. (Photo courtesy of Kirsten Lara Getchell)

Choy has taught at Berkeley since 2004 and has long studied Asian American history and ethnic studies. Some of her research has focused on the reasons why Asian countries, most notably the Philippines, have become the leading exporters of nurses to the United States.

According to the Pew Research Center, the Asian population in the U.S.  is the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country. Some of that growth comes from Asian-born health care workers that migrate here. A Thomson Reuters report found that, of health care professionals surveyed in the United States, 17% were foreign-born, and Asian-born staff made up the most.

In California alone, 25% of active registered nurses are either Asian-born or Asian American, according to research from the Healthforce Center at UCSF.

Despite having so many Asian health care workers on the front lines combating COVID-19, the history of associating Asians as disease carriers is repeating itself, said Choy.

“There’s a longer history of blaming Asia and Asian migrants and, by extension, Asian Americans for outbreaks of disease,” she said. “COVID-19 is just the most current example of this history.”

Choy talked with Berkeley News about that history and the reasons xenophobia can halt collective attempts to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Berkeley News: What has the experience been like for Asian health workers amidst this pandemic?

Cathy Ceniza Choy: We’re seeing reports of how stressed health workers are because of the incredible numbers of patients coming in with symptoms of COVID-19, and because they don’t have the personal protective equipment to protect themselves from the virus.

They have to go home to their families, and they don’t want to expose them, so many of them are isolating themselves away from their family members. It’s so heartbreaking. Many of them are also Asian migrants or Asian American.

Historically, the U.S. has been the leading recipient of over 150,000 Filipino nurse migrants who have come to this country to work in hospitals that are often serving the most underserved populations, in inner-city hospitals, as well as rural areas.

They are also currently on the front lines of fighting this pandemic.

So, we need to be very careful not to blame these health workers for this disease, because, in addition to being human beings, they are taking care of our parents, our siblings, our spouses. They might be taking care of you, and they don’t need that added stress while trying to save lives.

For most of us right now, in terms of honoring the shelter-in-place orders, we’re able to do that because there are health workers like Filipino nurses, and Asian Indian immigrant physicians, who comprise the largest number of foreign-trained physicians in the U.S.

We can be with our families because they are doing what they do.

What is the history of blaming Asians for the spread of disease, and how does that history relate to today?

Tragically, there is a longer history of this association between Asians as disease carriers, and a longer history of blaming Asian and Asian migrants and, by extension, Asian Americans, for outbreaks of disease. COVID-19 is just the most current example of this history.

Chinese Americans and Chinatowns in the U.S. were linked to smallpox outbreaks in the 19th century. In the early 1900s, Japanese arrivals to the U.S. were racially profiled and also targeted for examination because they were associated with the bubonic plague.

This has also impacted Filipinos in the Philippines, which was an official U.S. colony from 1898 to 1946. Health officials would refer to Filipino bodies as ‘incubators of leprosy.’ They used outbreaks of cholera in the Philippines to justify U.S. colonialism, saying that white Americans could bring health in the form of sanitation.

COVID-19, unfortunately, has been called the ‘Chinese virus.’ That is a misnomer because pandemics and diseases see no national borders. They don’t recognize color. They don’t see the ethnic enclave borders of a Chinatown or a Chinese restaurant.

But we know that President Trump and some of our politicians have used that reference in their communication about COVID-19.

As we’ve seen, though, the historical linkage between Asian bodies and disease, and the rise in hate crimes, have impacted all Asians and the Asian diaspora throughout the world — not solely Chinese and Chinese Americans.

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TownConnect Initiative Wish Program Downpayment Assistance

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Oakland Program Distributes $500 to Families of Color

The assistance, which targets low-income families of color in the 426,000-population city, will last 18 months. Mayor Schaaf detailed that the money comes with “no-strings attached,” and recipients can use it as they please. “We have designed this demonstration project to add to the body of evidence and to begin this relentless campaign to adopt a guaranteed income federally,” Mayor Schaaf told the local ABC News station.

In the middle of a worldwide awakening to the centuries-old racism and oppression suffered by Black people, some African Americans finally see tangible assistance – even if the help isn’t characterized as reparations.
Oakland, Calif., Mayor Libby Schaaf announced that the city would begin a guaranteed income project that would provide $500 per month to Black and Indigenous families.
The assistance, which targets low-income families of color in the 426,000-population city, will last 18 months.
Mayor Schaaf detailed that the money comes with “no-strings attached,” and recipients can use it as they please.
“We have designed this demonstration project to add to the body of evidence and to begin this relentless campaign to adopt a guaranteed income federally,” Mayor Schaaf told the local ABC News station.
The station reported that, for the project, the Oakland Resilient Families program has so far raised $6.75 million from private donors, including Blue Meridian Partners, a national philanthropy group.
The programs require residents have at least one child under 18 and income at or below 50 percent of the area median income – about $59,000 per year for a family of three.
Half the spots are reserved for people who earn below 138 percent of the federal poverty level or about $30,000 per year for a family of three, ABC reported. Participants are randomly selected from a pool of applicants who meet the eligibility requirements.
The report noted that Oakland’s project is significant because it is one of the most outstanding efforts in the U.S. so far, targeting up to 600 families. And it is the first program to limit participation strictly to Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities.
Oakland, where 24 percent of the residents are Black, is among a growing list of municipalities providing financial payments to people of color – or reparations.
Evanston, Illinois, a city where 18 percent of its more than 74,500 residents are Black, approved the Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program, which provides up to $25,000 for housing down payments or home repairs to African Americans.
The bill, authored by California Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, establishes a nine-person task force that will study the impact of the slave trade on Black people.
It does not commit to any specific payment, but the task force will make recommendations to legislators about what kind of compensation should be provided, who should receive it, and what form it would take.
“After watching [the presidential] debate, this signing can’t come too soon,” Newsom declared during a videoconference with lawmakers and other stakeholders, including the rapper Ice Cube, who championed the bill.
“As a nation, we can only truly thrive when every one of us has the opportunity to thrive. Our painful history of slavery has evolved into structural racism and bias built into and permeating throughout our democratic and economic institutions,” the governor stated.
“Hundreds of years of Black blood spilled that fills the cup we drink from today,” said Councilman Keith Young, one of two African American members of the City Council that voted 7-0 in favor of reparations.
“It is simply not enough to remove statutes. Black people in this country are dealing with systemic issues,” Young declared.
Asheville’s resolution doesn’t include monetary payments to African Americans but promises investments in areas where Black people face disparities.
Earlier this year, Congress debated H.R. 40, a bill that doesn’t place a specific monetary value on reparations but focuses on investigating and presenting the facts and truth about the unprecedented centuries of brutal enslavement of African people, racial healing, and transformation.
The commission’s mission includes identifying the role of federal and state governments in supporting the institution of slavery, forms of discrimination in public and private sectors against freed slaves and their descendants, and lingering adverse effects of slavery on living African Americans and society.
Congresswoman Jackson Lee, who sits on numerous House committees, including the Judiciary, Budget, and Homeland Security, has made the reparations legislation her top priority during the 117th Congress.
“I think if people begin to associate this legislation with what happened to the descendants of enslaved Africans as a human rights violation, the sordid past that violated the human rights of all of us who are descendants of enslaved Africans, I think that we can find common ground to pass this legislation,” Congresswoman Jackson Lee pronounced.
“Can anyone imagine that we’ve never gotten a simple, effective, deeply-embedded, and well-respected apology?”
The project in Oakland targets groups with the city’s most significant wealth disparities.
According to CNN and per the Oakland Equality Index, the median income for White households in Oakland to be nearly three times that of Black homes.
“The poverty we all witness today is not a personal failure. It is a systems failure,” Schaaf remarked. “Guaranteed income is one of the most promising tools for systems change, racial equity, and economic mobility we’ve seen in decades.”
Two years ago, 100 residents in Stockton, California, began receiving unconditional $500 payments, CNN reported. Other initiatives in Newark, New Jersey, and Atlanta, Georgia, were launched as recently as 2020.
Former Stockton Mayor, Michael Tubbs, is the founder of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a network of advocating mayors founded in 2020.
Oakland Mayor Schaaf is also a founding member of the network.
“One of my hopes in testing out a guaranteed income is that other cities would follow suit, and I’m thrilled that Oakland is among the first,” Tubbs told CNN.
“By focusing on BIPOC residents, the Oakland Resilient Families program will provide critical financial support to those hardest hit by systemic inequities, including the pandemic’s disproportionate toll on communities of color.”

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In a Letter to Voters, Rep. Barbara Lee Reflects on Pres. Biden’s First 100 Days

I was particularly struck seeing the Bay Area represented on the dais by Vice President Harris and Speaker Pelosi. That was the first time in history two women have held that position. It was reflective of the price women have paid to get to this point.

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Dear Friend,

     Last week marked the first 100 days of Joe Biden’s presidency. On (April 28), President Biden presented his vision for an American future that builds back better after some of our most challenging years. 

     I sat in the chamber and listened to President Biden reflect on his first 100 days, confidently reporting that we have a stronger economy, more resilient pandemic response, and a unified mission of building back better and bolder.

     I was particularly struck seeing the Bay Area represented on the dais by Vice President Harris and Speaker Pelosi. That was the first time in history two women have held that position. It was reflective of the price women have paid to get to this point. While this was a historic moment, as Vice President Harris pointed out, it is past time that it becomes “normal.”

      During his speech, President Biden discussed his recently unveiled American Families Plan (AFP). The AFP is a bold step in advancing racial equity and closing the gap in education, childcare, wealth inequality, and more. By extending provisions under the American Rescue Plan (ARP), and through programs of its own, the AFP would lift more than 10 million people out of poverty.

      I am excited to support this plan and similar efforts to improve equity in our school and childcare systems, and to combat inequality in the East Bay and across the country.

     The AFP offers an extended tax cut for families with children and American workers. This includes the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This will work to mitigate the growing wealth inequality that we see in America and invest in low- and middle-income families who help our economy thrive.

     Additional provisions of the AFP include:

  • Making child care affordable by ensuring that families will pay no more than 7% of their income on high-quality child care
  • Creating a national comprehensive paid family and medical leave program through worker payments of up to $4,000 a month
  • Expanding school meal programs and summer EBT funds
  • Extending ACA premium tax credits that were expanded under the American Rescue Plan
  • Providing up to $1,400 in additional assistance to low-income students by increasing the Pell Grant award
  • Addressing teacher shortages and improving teacher preparation, including programs that strengthen pipelines for teachers of color

     (Last) week, we heard about some of the progress we have made in the first 100 days of the Biden-Harris administration, but we cannot let our foot off the gas. Among many challenges ahead, we need we need to address disparities in our public health system, do more to help families that are struggling through this economic crisis, dismantle structural racism, implement police reform and immigration reform and address the climate crisis. 

     We still have much work to do, but I am committed to continue fighting for you.

     As always, my office is here for you. If you need help with a federal issue, please call my Oakland office at (510) 764-0370. You can also connect with me via email, Facebook Twitter , and Instagram .

Please continue to stay healthy and safe.

Best,

Barbara Lee

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