The Monsters in Our Midst
By Dorothy Chan & Marina Fang
Since 2020, Asian Americans have faced two, intertwining monsters: the COVID-19 pandemic and racism.
After a few minutes of waiting, the subway finally arrived at my station and stopped promptly to open its doors. Stepping inside, a shiver ran down my spine, and it wasn’t from the 40-degree weather. Despite taking the train for several years, something was different this time.
Everything seemed duller and eerily silent amidst the soft rumble of the subway as it departed my station to go to the next. I felt paralyzed in my seat, yet my eyes kept darting from one person to the next as I shifted my mask up to hide more of my face.
It finally consumed me. After years of slow growth, it wrapped itself around me, suffocating me with paranoia and fear. I prepared myself for an attack, listing off the things I had in my backpack for possible defenses. I turned my music up in hopes of shielding myself from any verbal assaults.
Last January, I started to hear about two monsters. The first was a deadly virus, infecting thousands of people, pushing hospitals and health care workers to their limits and shutting down entire cities and countries. I heard dispatches from my relatives in China, talking about being sequestered inside and having not left their homes for a month. I saw terrifying images on the news: overflowing hospitals and empty streets, caused by the monster. Later, these same images would start to repeat themselves in other places, like Italy and France. But it still seemed distant, affecting people far away from here.
Though it had been rearing its ugly head for several centuries, the second monster felt more immediate. I heard the president of the United States and his allies start using racist and xenophobic phrases to describe the first monster. I noticed other people repeating those phrases. I saw reports of Asian American restaurants and stores losing revenue and patronage because some of their customers falsely believed they caused the first monster. More people started to falsely believe that people who look like me caused the first monster. The president kept repeating the racist phrases, making the second monster bigger and more powerful, while downplaying the severity of the first monster as it was getting closer to us and becoming less distant and more urgent.
The monsters were now converging. In early March, the first monster arrived in New York. My mother kept urging me to wear a mask to protect myself from it. But I had heard about the second monster targeting people who wore masks, so I was afraid wearing one would make me a target. I had heard about older Asian people being attacked and spit on in public places, so I worried about my parents every time they went to the grocery store.
After an ineffective stimulus bill and numerous failed social distancing rules, both monsters kept growing, becoming grossly intertwined with each other and making their way through every inch of the world.
I was far from safe. On the subway, I was afraid that the first monster had marked its territory on my seat and the second monster had whispered its malicious intents into the vulnerable ears of the passengers around me.
I was afraid that these two monsters would soon take me next, and no sword or shield would be able to protect me.
We began with a general writing prompt: “A monster you’ve imagined is now terrorizing the world. What does it look like? What motivates it to grow? How can you stop it?” The prompt led us to think about how to conceptualize the past year of anti-Asian racist attacks, and we realized we could use the image of monsters to talk about the racism linked to the pandemic.
Dorothy Chan is a junior at a high school in Brooklyn. Fascinated and inspired by the world around her, she seeks to explore her curiosities while educating herself on intersectional socio-political issues. Through her writing, she aims to amplify her voice along with those from underrepresented communities.
Marina Fang (she/her) is a senior culture reporter at HuffPost. She primarily covers film and television, examining their intersection with politics, race and gender. Some of her areas of focus include representation and inclusion—both on and off the screen—and issues surrounding Asian American identity. Previously, she was a breaking news and national politics reporter, which included managing much of HuffPost's evening and weekend coverage of the 2016 election. She has been a fellow at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's National Critics Institute, a leading program for arts and culture writers, and the Poynter Institute's Power of Diverse Voices writing program. She frequently mentors young journalists and advocates for racial and gender equity in journalism. She is a member of the Writers Guild of America, East, the Asian American Journalists Association, and the Television Critics Association. Raised in Pittsburgh and a graduate of the University of Chicago, Marina lives in Brooklyn, NY.