Jenny has served as a board member for Levi Strauss & Co. since 2014. In recognition of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month this May, she shares her personal story on what it’s been like to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic as a Chinese American.
When COVID-19 first broke out in Wuhan, China, anti-Chinese and anti-Asian sentiment spread almost as quickly as the virus itself across the globe.
People immediately began referring to the mysterious illness as the “Wuhan virus” or “Chinese virus” – labels that came with problematic racial undertones. That’s exactly why the World Health Organization established guidelines for naming infectious diseases back in 2015. They were meant to discourage names referring to specific places, people and professions to avoid stigmatizing a geographic area or a population.
And while its official name is COVID-19, the ramifications of that early labeling, as well as rhetoric used by the current U.S. Administration as recently as March, continues to negatively reverberate throughout Asian communities here and abroad.
As a Chinese American myself, I am particularly conscious of the tension. The fear is palpable in the stories I hear from friends and colleagues. Elderly Chinese folks afraid to go to the grocery store with masks out of fear they will get attacked. Kids dreading verbal abuse from school peers. Those who are anxious about leaving their homes altogether. As we all know, it’s hard enough navigating the outside world in light of the virus but imagine trying to do that while also fending off stigmatization.
Culturally, we have not always been known as a community that speaks out. But if I’ve learned anything during this pandemic and the negative ramifications that have followed, having a voice is more important than ever. And we must use ours to call out the negative biases. Our heritage is Asian, but we are Americans first. And we are giving back in ways big and small every day to support this country. It’s why I am personally using my own platform to counteract that false narrative.
I currently serve as a member of the Committee of 100 (C100), which is comprised of prominent Chinese Americans from a broad array of professional fields. We promote constructive relations between the United States and China and the full inclusion and equality of Chinese Americans in American society.
As a committee, we have been greatly alarmed by racially charged slurs, actions, and violence against Chinese American and Asian American communities. So, we have galvanized our membership to shape the narrative that Chinese Americans are helping and leading the efforts to fight the coronavirus, for all Americans.
Since the virus breakout, we have been very active as a committee, shedding light on the ongoing discrimination we are seeing – and in some cases personally experiencing – while also leveraging our resources and relationships to support relief efforts. We have raised more than $1 million to date, and we have collected and helped distribute an abundance of medical supplies while also making critical connections between donors, hospitals and governments to ensure supplies are going where most needed.
It’s also been inspiring to see LS&Co. CEO Chip Bergh use his voice to speak out against the racial backlash and the work the company is doing overall. The Levi Strauss Foundation recently provided a $50,000 grant to Chinese for Affirmative Action for a national website and hotline to document and respond to anti-Asian bullying, hate crimes and violence in the wake of COVID-19. It also meant a lot to me personally to learn that this was the first grant announced from the company’s $3 million commitment to support our communities in response to the pandemic.
As the C100 declared in a recent public statement:
We are living in a once-in-a-lifetime crisis that calls for cooperation and collaboration, not finger-pointing and recriminations. As we continue to be vigilant in preventing the spread of racism, to slow the spread of the virus and ultimately find a cure and vaccines, we must bring everything—and everyone—to the table, and not fuel anxieties and fears. Now is the time that we should all unite in a common goal of finding solutions to the shared challenges we face.
In the end, the virus does not discriminate, which makes this our shared problem to solve – together.