Guest Contributor: Jessica “Lylan” Nguyen.
I am not Chinese – and neither is COVID-19. I am a proud Vietnamese American woman. Proud to be Vietnamese. Proud to be American. #wearenotavirus
My name is Lylan, or Jessica, or The-Most-Awesome-Person-In-The-World. Please address me by any of those names. I would like thank Nikki for asking me to write a post for her site. My goal is for you to imagine me sitting in front of you telling you my story. So, get comfortable because I want you to be able to feel all of my emotions, see every eye roll and dramatic expression, and hear every exasperated sigh. But, more importantly, I want you to learn something.
Will this blog be as scatter-minded as my brain? Maybe, but that’s Nikki’s job to make sure it isn’t. (Good luck with that, bitch.)
Will this blog be a hot mess of words? Quite possibly. But, bear with me because this blog will be 99% unfiltered and 100% me.
“She and her people should pack up and take the virus back to China with them.”
A few days ago, I left my apartment for the first time in a while since the COVID-19 quarantine began. Why did I leave? Because a wonderful and heroic friend had made cloth masks for her friends. I left the safety and comfort of my home to pick up the masks for me and Justin (my superhero boyfriend who still has to go to court every week for his job as a public defender). When I left my apartment, I made sure to bring a scarf to wear because I needed to stop by the store to pick up a few essentials. My scarf covered my face while perusing the store.
Now, being the responsible and safe citizen that I am, I caught my face masks in a bag that my friend threw from her balcony because, you know, social distancing and all. I then proceeded to go to the grocery store to pick up soap and paper towels. When I parked my car, I tied my scarf around my face to cover my nose and mouth and made sure it was tight before exiting my vehicle. I walked inside the store, and went straight for the items I came in to buy. SUCCESS! FOUND PAPER TOWELS AND SOAP!
Feeling victorious, I placed the items in my basket and proceeded to the check out. Before I left, I remembered my dog was having allergy problems. I decided to go pick up some Benadryl for the itchy-pup in the pharmacy section. Now, I was having a successful grocery store trip. I was happy to see people staying 6 feet away from one another and was mentally preparing myself to fight with my dog over taking allergy medicine.
If you’ve ever met my dog, Appa, you know she’s the sassiest little old lady dog around. At 11 years young, she has the attitude of a certified diva and constantly outsmarts me when it comes to taking medicine. It’s a struggle! I can’t trick her into taking her medicine. Pill pockets, peanut butter, cheese… nada. Nothing works. She’s too smart for her own good.
Anyways, this isn’t about Appa. So, there I was, standing in front of the allergy medicine section of the store’s pharmacy when I hear a voice behind me (who was definitely closer than 6 feet away from me, may I add) say to another individual, “She and her people should pack up and take the virus back to China with them.” (UMMM I’M SORRY. BUT WHAT?)
To make sure I wasn’t mistaken, I discreetly looked around and realized there was no one else around. They were referring to me! I WAS FUMING. ABSOLUTELY LIVID. LIKE HOLD *clap* THE *clap* FUCK *clap* UP *clap.* (Yeah, that’s right. I did a mental clap-back.)
I could not believe what I was hearing. First, that remark was so wrong on so many levels. Second, it took everything in my being not to retaliate. I had to fight the urge to turn around and cough all over them. But, it wasn’t worth the possibility of getting arrested for public endangerment or terrorism.
Now, let me rewind the tape and let you take a look at my life as a minority in “White America.”
Growing up as an Asian American living in multiple states, I’ve encountered a wide range of personalities. I knew what it felt like to be a minority. For example, I looked different from most of my classmates, I ate different foods and I celebrated different holidays. However, I grew up very “white-washed” so to speak. I didn’t speak Vietnamese, rather I just went with the flow. It was easier that way. (Ugh, what a sad truth that is. “White-washed.” I hate that term. But that’s the term we used growing up so there you have it. Gross.)
It wasn’t until I moved to Texas when I began to truly appreciate my heritage. Living in Texas, I found a love for my language, my community and my culture. I joined my local Vietnamese Student Association chapter in undergrad and was constantly surrounded by other Vietnamese Americans. There was Vietnamese food EVERYWHERE which was fabulous! But for personal/professional reasons, I decided to take my Texan-self to Ohio for law school. I knew I would be moving to a place where it would be almost impossible to get a good bowl of bún bò huế in the winter. However, I was prepared to deal with that struggle. (BTW, still haven’t found any place.)
I’ve dealt with the ignorant questions like: Where are you from? Where are your people from? Can you read this chinese menu? What kind of “-ese” are you?
I’ve heard “wonderful” comments like: your English is so good; wow you have such big eyes for an Asian, you must be mixed; and, you must be so good at math. (For the record, I am not good at math. That’s why I went to law school.)
Unfortunately, I’ve been told that I’m lucky to be Asian because we are the “model minority.” Put simply, “model minorities” are not subject to racism because we are taking over the world. (UM. OKAY.) But cool. Whatever. I’m used to all that passive-aggressive racism floating around.
What I wasn’t prepared for, COVD-19 and the aggressive racism attacks that would come with it.
Back to the store.
I felt like a cartoon character after hearing that horrible comment in the store. You know, one of those characters with steam coming out of their ears. All 5’3” of me, clutching the Benadryl in one hand and my shopping basket in another, imagining all the ways I could knock this dude out. With 22 years of martial arts experience, I thought about how easily I could kick his ass. I contemplated for what seemed like forever about whether or not it was worth it. Ultimately I decided it wasn’t worth it because he was not worth the consequences. Like my momma always told me, you can’t *snap* fix *snap* stupid *snap*. (Yup, I did mental snap-backs too.) For some reason, the person who made the comment assumed that I was Chinese. This led that person to think that COVID-19 is a “Chinese Virus.” And, the logic behind that is beyond my comprehension.
With all of these thoughts racing through my head, I quickly checked out and went to my car. I sat in my car for 10 minutes fuming. Replaying that encounter over and over again, I found myself getting more upset. I had all this anger, but didn’t know what to do with it. I needed to calm down because I was in no condition to drive. So, I decided this was a great time to blast my “BOSS A$$ B*TCH” playlist on Spotify to help release some energy.
I left the store. I drove out of that parking lot jamming out to my music and leaving behind the toxic waste. By the end of my drive, I sat in the parking lot of my apartment complex and reflected again on the incident. I couldn’t help but wonder if I had done the right thing. Should I have said something or done something? Did I do the right thing by walking away? Then I thought: THEY DON’T KNOW ME. THEY DON’T KNOW MY STORY. HOW DARE THEY.
But then I thought: I also don’t know them.
I don’t know their story. I know nothing about them. Although I refuse to stoop down to their level, I felt like I did the right thing. It upsets me to know there are people so vicious and ignorant out there. Yes, it was just one comment. But, look at what one comment did to me. I had an internal battle with myself and had to keep my cool. That incident has permanently stayed with me. People, regardless of their background, are quick to judge. It doesn’t matter if those people in the store were Democrat, Republican, Green Party, or fucking Martians. They still said something racial.
Where to go from here.
After some reflection, I realized that I want people to be kind to one another. These are trying times. This quarantine has not only caused anxiety but also depression. You never know what people are going through. Why go out of your way to make people feel bad, when we can help each other instead? Why not use whatever energy we have to do something proactive?
COVID-19 affects everyone. It is a virus that doesn’t discriminate. People are getting sick and dying. This is not the time to be racist. Well, there is NEVER the time to be racist. But now is not the time to excuse it.
Jessica “Lylan” Nguyen got her Juris Doctor from the University of Cincinnati College of Law where she became immediate besties with the lovely Nikki Srivastava. Prior to coming to law school, Lylan earned her Bachelors Degree in Biology from the University of Texas at Dallas. Lylan is a bookworm who has dedicated her life to supporting her community, working to promote equality, and empowering women and her Vietnamese-American community.
Follow Lylan on Instagram for book recommendations: @literaturewithlylan