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“We Are All Chinese In This System”: Nancy Nguyen, Statements Regarding The Anti-Asian Bias in COVID-19

Mar 27, 2020

I wanted to first start by framing my comments in VietLead’s analysis of our time, place, and conditions: We live in a white supremacist, anti-black, heteropatriarchial, capitalist system – this is true for much of the world due to globalization – but its logics were perfected right here, in the United States.

We are, however, living through a moment where those systems and the logics that they superimpose on our cultural milieu are being struggled over right now as we speak. This is evidenced by a myriad of efforts over the last decade: the rise of the Movement for Black Lives, Occupy’s 99%, the Me Too Movement, and so much more. Especially in the $2.2 trillion dollar relief package contested at Congress right as we speak – what was impossible just a few months ago, is about to be written law. The ground is moving beneath our feet. 

What is being struggled over is what this system does to our communities – to each of us – as Asians, and as people of color. The system and the state that carries out its policies enriches some, and bankrupts others. The state erases and invisiblizes some histories, realities, and experiences – and for others, it utterly destroys and eradicates.

At the same time, there are those of us who use this system and have benefited from this system – for sure. But, what is happening to us right now, is a reminder that this system was not made for us – and that any inch that we’ve gained, can be taken from us instantly, in one statement – “Chinese Virus.”

We are all varying shades of Chinese in this system. 

I want to quote Kabzuag Vaj, the Co-Director of Freedom Inc – a Black and Southeast Asian organization in Wisconsin: “We are used as pawns, and at any time we’re disposable. It reminds us that white supremacy will never be in our favor, and supporting white supremacy and systems that perpetuate violence against people of color – it doesn’t benefit us to support that system.”

This is not to say that the everyday, interpersonal violence is not real, it is real. The fear and anxiety is real. Our uncles and aunties fear harassment, being screamed at, picked on, can’t even leave the house because we have fear of being targets. This is harmful & painful, and part of our work is to support our communities, call for solidarity, and end this.

But what I am trying to point out here is that this – this interpersonal violence that we are seeing – it is linked to institutional violence and this is linked to a history of xenophobia and racism – that actually serves the logics of white supremacy and anti-blackness that are inextricable to this country – and because of that it likely will not change and will not end – that is, until we decide to channel our anger to challenge/disrupt/reinvent the system as it stands. 

Right now though, what we see is that our anger, fear, pain is focused on the interpersonal violence that we are seeing and experiencing – this makes sense. It’s a visceral threat. But 10 years ago, when I was part of organizing against the anti-Asian violence in South Philly High we had to ask the students: Who is letting this happen to you? Who is benefiting from this happening? Who is creating the conditions that cause the interpersonal violence in the first place? 

To our broader community today we ask: Who created the conditions for our Asian/Black tensions in the first place? Who disinvested in black neighborhoods? Who created unstable governments in Asian countries that led immigrants and refugees to flee? Who resettled Southeast Asians in Black neighborhoods and pushed Chinese workers already exploited for their labor to the fringes? 

Trump and his administration are trying to divert our attention and move the target from their backs to ours.  But, we are agents of history. We all have such critical roles as leaders in the AAPI community in Philadelphia and beyond – to lead our people through what lies ahead. So the call is this: our will and fight to end anti-asian violence – must be as strong as our will & fight, & solidarity work needed to end white supremacy and anti-blackness – because the system does not serve any of us. 

The ground is moving beneath our feet – this is our country – and every generation we are bolder, braver, and have more capacities, tools, and strategies to do the damn thing. 



Nancy Nguyen is the Executive Director of VietLEAD. She read the above statement during Asian Americans United’s webinar, Coming Together Against Anti-Asian Bias in COVID-19 ON 3/26/2020.