This combination photo shows Asian American actors, from left, Tzi Ma, Olivia Cheng, Will Yun Lee, Jeannie Mai and Jon M. Chu. As people across the world shelter in place due to the breakout of COVID-19, some people of Asian descent are worried about what happens when they have to leave the safety of their homes, due to the rise in hate crimes due to the growth of the virus _ which is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China. (AP Photo)

This combination photo shows Asian American actors, from left, Tzi Ma, Olivia Cheng, Will Yun Lee, Jeannie Mai and Jon M. Chu. As people across the world shelter in place due to the breakout of COVID-19, some people of Asian descent are worried about what happens when they have to leave the safety of their homes, due to the rise in hate crimes due to the growth of the virus _ which is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China. (AP Photo)

Asian celebs work to combat racist attacks amid pandemic

President Donald Trump at times has called COVID-19 the ‘Chinese virus’

Actress Olivia Cheng was recently volunteering in Vancouver when she says she witnessed a man drive up to an elderly Chinese woman, roll down his window and yell, “This is your fault!” before throwing trash at her.

The incident enraged Cheng, and also served as another reason why she feels it’s so important for celebrities of Asian descent to use their voices and speak up against anti-Asian attacks, which authorities say are increasing during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t think we can pretend that this isn’t happening,” Cheng, who stars in “The Stand” on CBS All Access, said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “For now, it would not be unwise to be a little more careful, to maybe have buddy systems when possible to go get your groceries if you’re not feeling safe.”

The FBI reports there has been an uptick in hate crimes and harassment against Asian Americans since the outbreak of COVID-19, which first appeared in Wuhan, China, late last year.

Some people have blamed China and Asians in general for the spread of coronavirus; President Donald Trump at times has called it the “Chinese virus.”

In New York, state Attorney General Letitia James has set up a hotline to report harassment or other targeted crime. Some of those incidents have been filmed and posted online.

“Tigertail” star Tzi Ma says he’s been a victim of such harassment. He was entering a grocery store in Pasadena, California, recently when he was confronted by a man in a car.

“He looked at me straight in the eye and said, ‘You should be quarantined’ and took off,” said the veteran actor, who was born in Hong Kong but moved to the United States as a child.

“I got very angry obviously, flush with this kind of cold in your body. And I started screaming at him, but he was way too far away for him to hear me.”

VIDEO: Chinese Canadians warn against a repeat of the racism they faced during SARS

Actor Alain Uy, a star of the upcoming Hulu series “Marvel’s Helstrom,” worried early on that such incidents would occur after the virus’ spread.

“Once this outbreak happened in Wuhan, we all kind of went, ‘OK, we know what this is gonna mean,’” said the actor, who was born in the Philippines.

“Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon M. Chu said he’s been feeling more cautious than usual.

“It’s very sad when I feel a little bit weird when I’m going to go for a walk around the block,” he said,

“The Real” co-host, Jeannie Mai, who is half-Vietnamese and half-Chinese, revealed recently that for the first time, she needed someone to monitor her social media posts to delete racist comments.

“The Good Doctor” actor Will Yun Lee is even nervous about taking his baby son to the grocery store: “My wife is Caucasian, but my son is half Korean and half white. But he looks very Asian.”

But Ma and other stars are speaking up and working to combat the ignorance and harassment. Ma joined actress Celia Au and other celebrities and influencers in the recent campaign called ” Wash the Hate, ” created by IW Group, an Asian American-focused marketing agency. The PSA features Ma, Au and others washing their hands and reminding people that hygiene, not xenophobia, is the way to help combat the virus.

“If I can start the conversation, why not?’ said Au, who was also born in Hong Kong. “If we don’t talk about it, then it’s not going to be talked about at all.”

For Cheng, the recent wave of anti-Asian sentiment brought back painful memories of her childhood growing up in Edmonton, Canada, where she was the victim of a bias attack as a teen.

She went down an internet rabbit hole of attacks posted online. “I had to stop watching,” she said. “It brought up all those feelings again from being a kid and not being able to do anything.”

Mai says that it’s not only important for Asian stars to speak out against these attacks, but people of other races as well.

“These are the conversations you need to be having with your kids in your house. You need to, even if you’re not Chinese. You should be explaining that this is terrible, that racism is coming out of this pandemic,” she said. “So, have that talk with your kid. Have that talk with your friends. If one of your friends says, ‘Yo, this ‘Chinese Virus’ is crazy.’ Say, ‘No. Actually, man it’s called COVID-19. It’s not the ‘Chinese Virus.’’ Just check them.”

READ MORE: Why do people get xenophobic when diseases like coronavirus hit?

Earlier this month, “The Real” host Bill Maher defended calling coronavirus the “Chinese Virus,” comparing it to the Spanish flu.

“While people say it’s innocuous and that it came from China, it’s the undertones,” Lee said. “Certain people will grab those undertones and attach to it.”

There’s also a worry that anti-Asian American sentiment could translate to a regression in Hollywood after recent success of telling Asian stories.

This year, the South Korean film “Parasite” won the best picture Oscar, and Chinese-American director Lulu Wang took home the Independent Spirit Award for her film, “The Farewell.” “Crazy Rich Asians” was a hit at the box office in 2018 and last year, Sandra Oh became the first Asian woman in 39 years to win the best leading TV actress Golden Globe for “Killing Eve.”

“I worry, is this going to impact our chances so soon after it feels like we finally made inroads?” Cheng said. “Is this going to regress us and put us however many steps back?”

Ma says the only way to proceed is to keep putting out diverse stories.

“There’s no relenting. We’ll keep moving forward. And hopefully one day, people are going to say, ‘You know what? I not only accept the differences, but I also accept the fact that we’re very much alike.’”

Alicia Rancilio, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirusracism

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Greater Victoria’s Coldest Night walks go virtual this year on Feb. 20. (Photo courtesy Our Place Society)
Our Place neighbourhood walks raise money for Greater Victoria homeless

2021 Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser goes virtual

Members of the Saanich Fire Department can be seen working to put out a fire in the 4500-block of Chattertown Way on Jan. 26. (Saanich Fire/Twitter)
UPDATED: One cat killed, another resuscitated following blaze in Saanich townhouse

Neighbours evacuated following fire on Chatterton Way, third cat still missing

Air Canada /Jazz flight 8081 from Vancouver to Victoria on Jan. 22 had a confirmed cases of COVID-19 onboard, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control. (Black Press Media file photo)
(Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay fire reach ‘modern’ service agreement

Negotiations to update 1980 firefighting agreement began in 2015, stalled in 2020

An independent review is underway at the Royal BC Museum after employees called out systemic, individual racism at the institution. (Twitter/RBCM)
Royal BC Museum faces allegations of systemic racism, toxic work environment

Formal investigation, survey and training launched at museum

Rolling seven-day average of cases by B.C. health authority to Jan. 21. Fraser Health in purple, Vancouver Coastal red, Interior Health orange, Northern Health green and Vancouver Island blue. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
2nd COVID vaccine doses on hold as B.C. delivery delayed again

New COVID-19 cases slowing in Fraser Health region

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
Five big lessons experts say Canada should learn from COVID-19:

‘What should be done to reduce the harms the next time a virus arises?’ Disease control experts answer

A Vancouver Police Department patch is seen on an officer’s uniform as she makes a phone call. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver man calls 911 to report his own stabbing, leading to arrest: police

Officers located the suspect a few blocks away. He was holding a bloody knife.

Christopher Anthony Craig Dick is wanted by the Port Alberni RCMP in connection to multiple investigations. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Vancouver Island RCMP seek man connected to assault investigations

Christopher Dick, 36, was recently in the North Cowichan and Duncan region

Vernon has agreed to a goose cull to control the over-populated invasive species making a muck of area parks and beaches. (Morning Star file photo)
Okanagan city pulls the trigger on goose cull

City asking neighbours to also help control over-population of geese

Tahsis mayor Martin Davis stands with an old-growth tree in McKelvie Creek Valley. The village of Tahsis signed a Letter of Understanding with forestry company Western Forest Products to establish McKelvie watershed as a protected area. Photo courtesy, TJ Watt.
Landmark deal expected to protect Tahsis watershed from logging

Tahsis and WFP agree on letter of understanding to preserve McKelvie Creek Valley within TFL 19

FILE – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers his opening remarks at a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine CEO ‘very, very clear’ that Canada’s contracts will be honoured: Trudeau

Trudeau says he spoke to Moderna CEO on the morning of Jan. 26

Most Read