John Cho on American racism in the time of pandemic

Los Angeles, April 24 (IANS) Asian origin actor in Hollywood, John Cho, has given words to his feeling about Asian American discrimination during the coronavirus crisis, saying that the pandemic is turning out to be a reminder that their belonging is “conditional”.

The 47-year-old actor, who was born in South Korea and raised in the US, penned a powerful essay for the Los Angeles Times about how he believes COVID-19 reminds Asian Americans that their belonging is conditional, reports

“I called my parents a few nights ago to tell them to be cautious when stepping out of the house, because they might be targets of verbal or even physical abuse. It felt so strange. Our roles had flipped,” Cho began.

“The fact that the coronavirus seems to have originated in China has spawned a slew of anti-Asian hate crimes. Across the country, Asian American parents and children are making versions of the call I made,” he explained, adding: “Friends are sharing first-hand accounts of abuse on text chains and circulating articles on Facebook, always ending with the suddenly ominous ‘stay safe’.”

Cho, who came to the US at age 6, said that his parents always told him to assimilate and “act like the natives” in hopes that “race would not disadvantage us”.

The actor recalled when promoting “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle”, he saw how his co-star, Kal Penn, was unfairly treated at airports. The current pandemic has brought race to the forefront in new ways.

“Asian Americans are experiencing such a moment right now. The pandemic is reminding us that our belonging is conditional. One moment we are Americans, the next we are all foreigners, who ‘brought’ the virus here,” wrote Cho.

He added: “It makes people — including us — think that anti-Asian sentiment is somehow less serious, that it’s racism lite”.

However, he pointed out “that allows us to dismiss the current wave of Asian hate crimes as trivial, isolated and unimportant. Consider the comedians who mock Asians, but restrain themselves when it comes to other groups”.

He said: “If the coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that the solution to a widespread problem cannot be patchwork. Never has our interconnectedness and our reliance on each other been plainer. You can’t stand up for some and not for others. And like the virus, unchecked aggression has the potential to spread wildly.”

“Please don’t minimise the hate or assume it’s somewhere far away. It’s happening close to you,” he added.