To me, being told to “go back to China” is not an insult; as an international student from Beijing, it is a decision I will have to make when I graduate. Last year, however, far from “going back,” I was in China, entangled by COVID-19 travel restrictions on top of geopolitical rivalry with the U.S. To have my student visa approved in time, I moved between four cities in three countries over a period of two months, alone for the first time. Right before the start of the spring semester, I finally arrived at Yale.
I started my new life with hope but little illusion. Even before I arrived, I had heard anecdotal evidence from my close Chinese friends spread out across the U.S. of them being told to “go back to China,” or equivalents, especially since last year. It aches to know that my friends, who come here for no other reason but to learn, are targeted for no other reason but their color; even more so, it pains me given the sacrifice my people made in the peak of the pandemic: hospitals were overwhelmed, doctors overworked, families locked down for months, people united to brave it through. What happened in China was not a “plandemic“; it was and is lived experience by peoples of the world that deserves compassion.
Settled down in New Haven, I am fortunate that the Yale community has safely enveloped me, such that I have the privilege to peruse ancient Roman and Greek authors, thinking that the catastrophe and hate of this year will sweep into history.
Then the massacre in Atlanta hit. Eight people, six of whom were Asian women, were killed, because the murderer, according to the captain, “had a bad day.” As of now, police have yet to acknowledge that the massacre is a hate crime, despite 75 percent of the victims being Asian in a city where they only represent 4.2 percent of the population.
When I heard the news, I was preparing for my classics seminar, pondering the troubling demonyms the ancient Romans assigned to the Ethiopian and Indian people to their east. After I read the news, I felt first anger, then fear, finally numbness. With anti-Asian hate crimes increased by nearly 150 percent in 2020, the massacre was not a probability; rather, an inevitability.
While we welcome the message of solidarity from the Yale administration in response to the massacre, we must acknowledge that bias against Asians and Asian Americans is still real and felt on Yale campus:
I feel it when people on Librex, protected by their anonymity, ask “why so many Asian girls SIMP white dudes” or find no discomfort trivializing Asian students’ experiences of being stereotyped. I feel it when I overhear in the hallway people loudly speak of the “nasty things” the Chinese Communist Party has done, along with mentions of a Chinese name that resembles mine. I feel it when my mere presence is political, when in the classroom or casual discussions, upon my name being pronounced I am expected to provide an “answer” for every report of China within American media, biased or otherwise. As a way out, when too often questions thrown at me already have preconceived answers, to my shame, I detach myself from my country and people back home. To live as oneself rather than a political exhibit, “go back to China,” for one of foreign nationality, changes from an insult to a surprisingly reasonable option.
The recent U.S.-China talks in Alaska highlight ever-rising tensions between the two superpowers. But when are we to recognize that political rivalry need not translate to the exclusion of a people? Yet the reality of race relations in the U.S. is ridding even the highly educated of the compassion they once had for minorities and underprivileged people. Furthermore, this hostility discourages or even shuts down meaningful conversations between those who carry too heavy a burden to speak the hard truths about race and nationality in the U.S. and those who have the privilege not to care or learn about them.
In 15 to 20 years, this cohort of Yalies will be the ones who dictate the race and immigration policies of the U.S. They will decide whether this country will still embrace her diversity of races, nationalities and thoughts. Yet with the racist paradigm already trickled down to her most select university at the micro level, it remains to be tested if America is truly able to restore her moral leadership, domestically and globally, by first healing the traumas to her Asian community and other peoples of color.
JINGCHU LIN is a first-year in Branford College. Contact him at email@example.com.