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How The Pandemic Made Me Braver

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This may not be news, but 2020 had been a nightmare for nearly everyone. It was difficult to process everything that was happening from mask mandates, to social distancing, and sudden economic collapse. Not to mention a surge in racist attacks against Asian Americans. I’m a second generation Korean-American, and I had a lot to worry about. The already existing stigmas and hate towards the Asian American community were further heightened ever since the pandemic began. Endless headlines and news clips of elderly Asians and Asian women having to endure violence became ingrained in my mind. 

The day prior to the lockdown in San Francisco, I checked out my grocery items at the store. I brought my own bag and even though the cashier kindly asked me if she wanted to bag them for me, I still nervously crammed in my items on my own. 

“Are you sure it’s not too heavy? I could re-bag them for you?” the cashier kindly asked me. 

“Oh no, it’s okay. Thank you though,” I responded as my hands clutched the bloated tote bag.

As I scrolled through Facebook, I noticed all the memes making fun of extroverts who were sad they couldn’t go out.  I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do.

“But, going out is my therapy,” I sadly thought to myself. Prior to the pandemic, whenever I felt anxious, I would go out  and write. “Or was, that is,” I also sadly thought to myself, as I reminded myself of my newfound fear of going outside while Asian. 

Sure, he was being insensitive, since he could’ve brought a mask still. But him being Asian was irrelevant to his insensitivity. 

Someone I was Facebook friends with posted a status about how while she was going for a walk,  she saw an Asian man jogging without a face mask on. She was angry at how insensitive he was since she claimed that the sidewalk was too narrow for her to socially distance from him while on her morning walk. What hurt me when reading her status, was the fact that she bluntly stated his racial identity. Sure, he was being insensitive, since he could’ve brought a mask still. But him being Asian was irrelevant to his insensitivity. 

Comments on her status were all in agreeance. Not once did anyone question her on why she felt that she just had to call out his Asian identity. No one pointed out that race had nothing to do with his decision to not wear a mask. She eventually deleted the status. I hope that she recognized the racist undertones of her status.

 Yet, the damage was still done; it furthered my anxieties.

“What if while I’m doing jogging and needing to take my mask off in order to breathe, people would start judging me?” I panic-thought to myself, “Sneer at my ethnicity and tell me how I’m “one of them. One of those Asians?”

For some time, I merely remained in my room. I wanted to hide myself from the world. There were times even where I just would lie in bed all day. I did not want to move. I just wanted to sleep.

Some days, I would go out and get some groceries. Every time I stepped out, I made sure my mask was on. I tried not giving anyone eye contact whenever I passed by anyone while on my trek to the grocery store. Just so they wouldn’t get a glimpse of eyes and thus become triggered by my ethnicity that would fuel their anti-Asian hate. 

I would hold my breath any time I passed by, hoping for the worst to not happen. 

There were several times where I could hear a person hock in saliva and spit near me. Of course, they may have been simply spitting. At the same time, that spit could’ve been meant for me. I had no way or knowing, and I hated it.

Waves of childhood memories flew into my mind. Being one of the few Asians in the small Virginia town I grew up in.  I became numb to slurs thrown my way. I remember kids would mock me by saying “ching chong” and racist gibberish phrases they thought sounded Chinese.

Any time I tried correcting anyone who assumed that I was Chinese with “No you’re wrong, I’m Korean,” I either get a confused “oh” or “pfft, same thing!” 

Or the dreaded “slant eye” — where school kids would stretch out their eyes at me, in order to look “Asian.” Even though my eyes were more so almond shaped and wider than what they perceived my eyes to be.

During middle school, a group of girls used to bully me, claiming that me and my family “eat dog all the time,” since I’m Korean and because it is known that some Koreans in South Korea eat dog, and they figured  that because I happen to be Korean, I must eat dogs too.  

As 2020 went on, I grew weary of my isolation. I had to go out. According to the CDC, fresh air and outdoor exercise was still okay. Yet, I worried that, the minute I would go out, either my body would wound up motionless on the sidewalk. Or my spirit would melt away from my flesh, being haunted by the same old schoolyard taunts. 

I finally found the courage to go outside for a run. I saw other people jogging, walking their dogs and enjoy the outdoors. 

I had my headphones and could hear the eccentric and melodic beat of instruments from Yung Bae’s “I Can Tell,” blasting into my ears. I felt like I was flying as my legs moved into motion, feeling the music as I was outdoors. The brisk winds felt so calming, almost healing, against my cheeks. As it got darker, I walked back home I could see houses on the hills. Lights emitting from their windows. It was beautiful. 

As I made it home, I felt a sense of relief. There was a still a world out there that existed beyond the traumas of my past and the anxieties of the present.

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