Pacific Arts Movement Founder Speaks Up Against Xenophobia Toward Asian Americans Because of Coronavirus

Lee Ann Kim

Lee Ann Kim, founder of California-based Pacific Arts Movement (Pac-Arts), has added her voice to the chorus against xenophobia toward Asian Americans in the growing COVID-19 outbreak.

Pac-Arts, formerly the San Diego Asian Film Foundation, is one of the largest media arts organizations in North America that focuses on Asian American and Asian international cinema.

Lee Ann Kim. Image via CharlesDChang (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Speaking with other San Diego Democratic leaders on Thursday, Kim slammed the term “Chinese virus,” which a number of Republicans — led by President Donald Trump — have used to refer to SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen responsible for COVID-19.

As a first-generation Korean immigrant, Kim said that the term felt “so old,” and that such kinds of tropes reflect how fear had been associated with immigrants in American culture.

“History has shown that when we’re afraid, we want someone to blame,” Kim said. “We often turn to xenophobia and we know that doesn’t really solve anything, and only creates more problems.”

There have been countless incidents of attacks against Asian Americans and Asians around the world amid the coronavirus pandemic. A dedicated Wikipedia page even emerged to cite some of the most notorious cases.

In her speech, Kim went on to describe how Chinese people were seen during the so-called “Yellow Peril Era”: dirty, diseased and taking away jobs from “good people.” Such perceptions, she said, ultimately led to the Chinese Exclusion Act, a law that effectively stopped Chinese immigration and prevented them from becoming U.S. citizens in 1882.

Additionally, Kim acknowledged the financial losses of Asian restaurants ahead of social distancing measures. She also cited the case of a Thai American subway commuter who felt racially attacked by a man who claimed that every disease comes from China.

This week, Trump doubled down on his use of the term “Chinese virus,” while his allies in Congress came to his defense and perpetuated the same message.

“When we hear xenophobic rhetoric especially from Washington, we cannot ignore it,” Kim said. “We must condemn it right away, call it out and force our leaders to be accountable because our well-being is at stake. And can I gently remind everyone that Asian Americans are American.”

Feature Images via Lee Ann Kim (left) and NBC 7 San Diego (screenshot; right)

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