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Sinophobia – Asians facing racism during Coronavirus pandemic

How coronavirus pandemic fuels Sinophobia

The Coronavirus pandemic brings huge racism towards Chinese and, more in general, Asians.
Discrimination against China is nothing new. Sinophobia is a well-documented phenomenon that has occurred for centuries.
This bad attitude towards the Chinese population has resulted in racism against them and it’s linked to, at present, the coronavirus.
When it is related to the pandemic we all are experiencing, it is not only affects China and its citizens.
People feel justified to vent their racism and their fear of this virus against the entire Asian community.
This also brings to light another kind of racism, according to which ” they all look alike”. They don’t care if you’re Chinese or not, if you have Asian features that will be enough to be targeted.
In Europe, they can’t access to restaurants, shops and public transport because of concern that they might be carrying the Coronavirus. As if being Asiatic was enough to have it.
Passers-by, radio programs, television and social media ridiculed and insulted them.

Why this project?

I’m a portrait photographer and I mostly work on projects about social activism.
Last month I’ve read on Facebook something like two hundred posts of Asian people living here in The Netherlands. They experienced really bad racism episodes during this pandemic.
How cannot this be shocking and awful?

I decided to work on a photographic project about this, to speak out, to do something. This is not only an ethnic cause, but this also is everyone’s cause. People need to know that this is happening.

Being a volunteer for my project

This racism again Asians affects the whole world, not only the country where I actually live. It is present also in Italy, America and so on.
It’s global.

That is the reason why I’m looking for volunteers, worldwide. I have an interest in listening to people all over the world, because this isn’t an issue that exists only in one place.

I know that what I’m asking it’s a big step. It’s not easy to put own face and share own painful, unpleasant experience.
Although, I truly believe that we need to talk about important issues in our society and to make people aware.
In case you want to, the project is like this: since we cannot meet, we will have a Skype, Hangouts or Zoom call in which you share with me your experience. In the end, I’m going to take a photograph of you through the computer screen with my camera.


This is Kyungmi’s story

Kyungmi photographed by me
Kyungmi is from Seoul, Korea. She lives and studies in Eindhoven, The Netherlands

“I want to be part of your project because I feel the need to speak out as a way to protect myself.
I’m afraid of going outside alone due to people that call me “corona” or worse and make fun of my ethnicity. When you answer them back they just tell you ‘Oh you’re overreacting, it’s just a joke’.
I also have a lot of friends went through these racist episodes, they decided to return to Korea until this virus will be over.

Once I went out to the grocery store with my boyfriend. Outside of the shop, there was a lady who sneezed. After a while, I sneezed as well. I won’t forget the way she looked at me. Like I was nothing and I shouldn’t be there. Like being Asiatic is synonymous with Coronavirus.

Why in the world do people have no respect for other human beings?

A racist is following his fears, his instincts. We are not animals, we don’t live on instincts. We are human beings who live in a society.
I hope people don’t use a virus as an excuse to be racist. I hope everyone can be human and respectful of those around him.
We always have to remember this”

This is SeungJae’s story

Sj photographed by me
SeungJae is from Seoul, Korea. He lives and studies in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Seung-Jae lives in Amsterdam for three years.
“You have to be brave to be an Asian in a European country” told me during our conversation.
“I avoid being alone in public situations. Once I was walking down the street and a guy stopped me, grabbing my shoulder, and told me ‘Hey Chinese, go back to your country with rice and sushi’.
This is light racism, because there is much more over here. Every day”.

He shared with me two episodes he experienced linked to racism during Coronavirus pandemic.

It was the beginning of March.
I took a tram and I realized my card didn’t have enough money to get in so I went up to the service desk in the tram to buy a ticket.
The woman behind the desk didn’t want to sell me a ticket and she suggested I bought one outside.
I asked her the reason, maybe the card reader was broken.
“I don’t have a ticket for you”. So I told her to explain to me what she meant saying that. She tried to refuse the conversation.
After a while, she said “I have a responsibility to protect passengers in this tram and keep this tram clean. I want you to get out of here and have a nice day”.
I was really furious and I left the tram.

The following episode happened a month later, at the beginning of April.

I was late for my work and since I really hate to be late at work, I called a uber and I took it. He started a conversation “how are you doing” and I answered back “I’m good, thanks”.
Since I was checking my phone and some email, I didn’t go further with the chat and after few seconds of silence, he turned at me from the driver seat saying in a very aggressive way “If I say how are you, you have to say how are you back to me. If you don’t want to talk back to me just get out of my car”
I was very offended so I decided to get off of the car. When I was about to get off, he said “You fucking Chinese are cancer, you bring Coronavirus.”

I got really mad, it’s not the first time that I face racism, my patience is almost over.

I also insulted him and I slammed the door of the car.
He got angry with the slamming. While I was searching for another Uber, he got off from his car, and he grabbed my cloth saying ‘Hey kiddo what did you say’?
As soon as he went away from me, I try to call the police.
He got scared with the word ‘police’ and he suddenly tried to negotiate with me as offering travel with no fee.
I told him to go away, but he doesn’t listen to me.
I decided to walk and try to reach the tram station. He took his car and he drove to the walking road blocking me with his car.
Then finally he noticed that I was actually calling with the police, so he tried to run away. I tried to block his car with my body but he ran away.

I had various levels and types of racism so far past 3 years but I didn’t report any of them until today. Unfortunately, the police told me they had bigger things than mine to solve.

I read a lot of articles about racism related to Coronavirus all over Europe. So many Asians are discriminated against because they look like Asians.

What I really want is simple, you should know that racism in Amsterdam exists very well and it happens daily. Please support who faced racism because they are going through something that you’d never experienced here as a majority race group.

This is Jiye’s story

Jiye is from Seoul, Korea. She lives and works in The Hague, The Netherlands

At the end of February, I was biking back home from my usual dance class when I started noticing two men on a scooter following me. I had this bad feeling that something will happen.
Those men driving past me on a scooter yelled out “Chinese” and the one sitting on the back tried to punch me.
It was really scary because it was late, I was alone and I was on a street where I couldn’t see anyone nearby.
I swerved when I saw the punch coming. The men drove away and I rode the rest of the way home.
Unfortunately, they were too far away to take a photo of the license plate.
I’ve filled a report to the police in my area, and I stopped going out at night for a couple of weeks.

There is more.

In the first days of February, I was on the tram and I noticed people intentionally avoiding me.
As soon as I got off the tram, the crowd has split into two parts to not be around me.

Jiye told me, with a bitter smile, that Asians created the metaphoric expression correlating them to Moses. “We split the people, instead of the sea”.

In the middle of March, I was on the train, going back from Leiden.
I was wearing a face mask.
A guy was sitting in front of me, not too distant. He was on the phone and, staring at me, he said “Corona, corona, corona”.
And I was like ” Ok, maybe he’s just talking about the Virus, without referring to me”.
Getting off the train, he kicked my lower leg saying “ Why do you wear a mask?” in an aggressive tone. “What’s your problem?” I answered him.
Luckily some people calmed down the situation.

De Volkskrant magazine interviewed Jiye. They also wrote about this racist situation against East Asians. I suggest you read the article, you can find it here.

One of the thing that touched me the most, listening to people I interviewed and reading about racism, is that almost every country truly believe that this issue doesn’t affect their nation.
For this reason, and many others, we need to raise awareness on the increase of racism in the Netherlands and in the entire world against Asian people.

This is Sumin’s story

Sumin is from Busan, Korea. She lives and studies in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Racism towards Asians didn’t begin with Coronavirus. It’s been here all the time. This is what Sumin told me in the first place.
When the minority of the people talk about racism episodes they experience in The Netherlands, she notices Dutch people usually answer with “ Be positive. You’re so sensitive. Maybe you got something wrong. It’s full of bad people everywhere. Focus on positive things, you have to get away from this trauma. You have to live your own life”.

People who have the privilege of not suffer racism don’t believe what we are going through almost every day.

It was the end of March when Sumin incurred this severe racism episode.

I and my Korean (female) friends went to the groceries. When we came back to my friend’s house we noticed people in their thirties gathering around there. They were having a drink, smoking. Technically it is not allowed getting together, due to the Coronavirus.
As soon as I saw this group of guys I knew that they’re going to say something to us. They said, “Hey how are you?” “I’m good. Take care”. Then they added in a very denigrating way “Chinese, Chinese”. I just stopped “Hey are you being a racist?”
And then the all thing happened.
They were shouting at me “you Chinese, go home, why you are here, why are you spreading the virus”. They threw the drink that they were drinking at me. I started filming to have a piece of evidence, otherwise people don’t believe this is really happening.
I took the picture of the license plate.
They were four. As soon as I started filming two of them ran away. Another one took his motorbike. The last guy had a car so he couldn’t go away so easily. I was filming him. We had a little argument again.
He said “I’m alone, I’m going to bring more people, stay here”.
He never came back.

Sumin contacted the Korean Embassy. This time with the proof they believed her words but they didn’t know what to do to help her out.
She also explained to me that the Chinese Embassy got tons of files about racism episodes with proper documents and they were able to make a public announcement. Instead, the Korean Embassy didn’t have enough papers to do that.

Racism here has always existed. It is just floated to the surface. Everybody can see I am Asian. We are so easy to blame, because we are recognizable. Not matter what nationality you are, if you are Asian you probably have something. No matter what, you came from China, you have the virus.

Every time she goes out she has to be really prepared to face racism. She put earphones all the time so she can ignore all the comments.

One month ago, it was early in the morning. There was nobody, so silent, no rumors, so nice weather, no birds, no cars. Nothing was there. I told myself “I want to be alone in this world for like few hours so I don’t need to prove myself, to protect myself. I can just be myself without thinking”.
It was such a big moment in my life.

Sumin is still scared to go out.

It’s tough, it’s not fun sharing, but people need to know, because they’re not going to be in my shoes. We need to share things even if this is a difficult topic. We have to communicate to get a better understanding of our society for us and the next generation.
How can we destroy barriers? With communication.

She is not going to stop telling people about her story, because what it’s happening is not only her personal misfortune. Every Asian people had the same experience. She is just one of the cases.

A lot of victims think that no one is going to understand. A lot of people don’t want to share and that makes them be more isolated and more traumatized. Not everyone got discriminated against having to voice out but we could do that all together and then find a way to do something, as a collective.

She confessed to me that she did almost everything by herself. She doesn’t ask for any help because she doesn’t want to bother people, because they don’t care, they don’t listen. And she feels like all of that was kind of her fault.

I want to encourage people “ Nothing of this is your fault. No matter what people say about it.”


Ongoing project


If you want to join my project that would mean a lot. Feel free to contact me through my contact form, email or social media accounts!

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