Larry Jin Lee: Here We Go Again

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Larry Jin Lee says one minute Chinese Americans are the model minority and the next minute they’re the evil minority, and it's driving him crazy.

During this pandemic crisis some people have found a need to blame and to demonize people of Chinese descent for COVID-19. There were 1,500 racist incidents reported in April.

Sadly, Chinese Americans have been in this unenviable position before and here we are again. It’s a frustrating reminder that Chinese Americans are perceived as perpetual foreigners. I find this arbitrary flip-flop between being seen as the model minority one moment and the evil perpetual foreigner the next, crazy making. My descendants have been here for three generations. Can I be any more American? It seems clear to me that a German or Irish person is seen as an “American” at some generational juncture. Why aren’t we?

The last thing that I wanted to have to think about and fear during this pandemic was violence and hate directed at me just because I was Chinese. Back in 2009, the CDC determined that the H1N1 flu originated in North Carolina hog farms. Was the flu named the white North Carolinian farmer’s flu? Were they blamed or threatened with bodily violence? The argument to call the virus by where it originated rings hollow not because it is nominally inaccurate, but morally tone deaf and irresponsible. Calling this a Chinese virus is a racist bell whistle that unleashes energy, a racial fault line rupture that erupts in misguided violence. The leader of our country continues to implicate China.

Would anyone spew racial epithets at a Chinese American doctor who makes no racial distinction about who they help in the ER? Then why would you perpetrate violence on a random Chinese person blaming them for the virus? It makes no rational sense and there is nothing to gain by doing this.


I wish that the wistful catchphrase claimed during this pandemic — “we’re all in this together” — would be true and inclusive of Chinese Americans. We are interconnected and interdependent. We’re all Americans equally suffering and invested in rebuilding our country. The bigger test we have before us is whether we can we heal from the virus of blame and hate? We need to claim the healing hopeful energy of compassion, tolerance and community now more than ever.

With a Perspective, I’m Larry Jin Lee

Larry Jin Lee is a psychotherapist and father of two. He lives in San Francisco.