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Asian-American leaders decry racism amid global pandemic

March 12, 2020 GMT
Jessica Wong, of Fall River, Mass., front left, Jenny Chiang, of Medford, Mass., center, and Sheila Vo, of Boston, from the state's Asian American Commission, stand together during a protest, Thursday, March 12, 2020, on the steps of the Statehouse in Boston. Asian American leaders in Massachusetts condemned what they say is racism, fear-mongering and misinformation aimed at Asian communities amid the widening coronavirus pandemic that originated in China. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Jessica Wong, of Fall River, Mass., front left, Jenny Chiang, of Medford, Mass., center, and Sheila Vo, of Boston, from the state's Asian American Commission, stand together during a protest, Thursday, March 12, 2020, on the steps of the Statehouse in Boston. Asian American leaders in Massachusetts condemned what they say is racism, fear-mongering and misinformation aimed at Asian communities amid the widening coronavirus pandemic that originated in China. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

BOSTON (AP) — Asian-American leaders in Massachusetts on Thursday condemned what they say is continued racism, fear-mongering and misinformation that is targeting Asian communities amid the coronavirus pandemic that originated in China.

State lawmakers, local officials and public health professionals speaking at the steps of the Statehouse cited reports of recent attacks in London and New York City. They also called out news organizations that continue to link the virus with Asians.

Running stock images of Chinatowns and Asian people wearing face masks with coronavirus stories, as well as using the phrases like “China virus” or “Wuhan virus” aren’t reflective of the current pandemic, which has, for instance, hit Italy particularly hard, said Elisa Choi, who heads the Massachusetts chapter of the American College of Physicians.

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“This is not an Asian-American virus, this is not a Chinese virus,” she said. “There is nothing inherent in us as Asian Americans that makes us carriers of this virus.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.

Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins said her office wasn’t aware of any discrimination against Asian Americans locally that rose to the level of a crime.

But she and others speaking Thursday noted that other big cities are dealing with such concerns.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the State Police Hate Crimes Task Force to help investigate an assault on a woman of Asian descent in Manhattan on Tuesday. The assault was apparently motivated by the false fear that Asian people are more likely to carry the virus, Cuomo said.

Much of the bigotry Asians and people of Asian descent are experiencing is on social media, rather than physical encounters on the street, said state Rep. Tackey Chan, a Democrat from Quincy, a Boston suburb with one of the state’s largest Chinese communities.

And “microaggressions” — mundane, sometimes subtle discrimination — have become a part of daily life for many since the virus emerged in December, said Sam Hyun, a member of the Massachusetts Asian American Commission, a state agency that advocates for Asian communities.

“It’s the whispers in the grocery, the side glances, the avoidance,” he said.

Low-income Asian American workers are also struggling as customers continue to stay away from Boston’s Chinatown and other Asian neighborhoods, despite efforts by officials to support local Asian American-owned businesses, said Karen Chen, of the Chinese Progressive Association, a Chinatown advocacy group.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.