Iowa’s Asian Americans Experience Increasing Racism Under COVID-19 Pandemic
By Shiyu Xu
When Hannah Pinski, a sophomore at the University of Iowa, returned to campus in September, she was worried.
As she walked along the street near the downtown area after picking up her books from the book store, a woman grabbed her kids and pulled them away from Pinski as she was passing by. As soon as they passed Pinski, the woman let go of her kids.
“I felt very pointed,” Pinski said.
A month later in October when Covid-19 cases in Iowa started to spike again, Pinski was waiting in line outside a restaurant. Just like everyone else in line, she stood inside the box marked on the ground for social distancing. A man stood behind her took a step back to move further away from her, even that meant he had to be less than 6-ft from the person behind him.
During the pandemic, the Asian community has confronted the dual-threat: the infection of the Covid-19 virus and the infliction of xenophobic assaults.
In one of the whitest states in the country, the Chinese nationals and immigrants in Iowa are vulnerable to the increasing racial tension in their everyday life.
Iowans of Asian or Pacific Islander descent make up 2.7% and 0.1% of Iowa’s population, according to the State Data Center, with Des Moines, Ames and Iowa City having the largest numbers. That percentage is projected to grow to 4.4% by 2050.
Pinkski says even at her school, she feels she stands out.
“This is why it’s very easy for us to become the target,” she said. “We’re very much sometimes the only ones in the room.”
According to Iowa state’s Covid-19 data, more than 221,000 people have tested positive as of Dec.3. Among them, around 6,254 are Asian. The death rate for the Asian community in the state is 1.4%.
The chart below shows the total positive cases among each race in Iowa. Among the minority races, Asian’s number is the second-highest, following those who identify as black.
Under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, any person has 300 days from the last discriminatory incident to file a complaint alleging discrimination. “Therefore, it is entirely possible that many claims alleging discrimination related to COVID-19 have not yet been filed,” Elizabeth Johnson, executive director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission wrote to the Register and IowaWatch.
The graph down below shows the number of deaths from Covid-19 among each racial group in Iowa. Similar to the total case number, the death number for Asians in the state is the second-highest, following the black community.
To keep track of incidents in Iowa, the Asian alliance has created an online form where community members can submit reports of harassment and discrimination.
Nu Huynh, the Executive Director of Iowa Asian Alliance, says so far they only received a handful of reports, and most of them are verbal bullying and abuse instead of physical harm.
“We’ve been blessed and fortunate that we did experience what we were seeing around the country,” Huynh said. “But at the same time, we didn’t want to be blinded and not do anything about it. We did this so people feel safe and get their voice out.”
Huynh said in Iowa, more recent immigrant refugee populations have experienced more bullying, targeted by other minorities. And this existed before the pandemic.
“What we felt as a community is given the current political environment and the current state of everything, it just gave people more reason to show their true colors and to act upon it,” Huynh said.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, President Donald Trump’s administration has been using languages such as “Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu” repeatedly to associate blame on Asian Americans.
According to the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, there have been more than 2,583 anti-Asian American hate incidents reported between March and August.
Among the reports, seven out of ten incidents involved verbal harassment, which included racial slurs, name-calling, and profanities. Shunning, the deliberate avoidance made up 22% of the incidents. Physical assaults made up 9% of the incidents. Online harassment made up 4.8%.
More than half of Asian Americans are worried about being subject to COVID-19-related hate crimes and discrimination, according to the 2020 Asian American Voter Survey.
As the nation is facing a second surge in the coronavirus infection, Asians like in Iowa fear their lives won’t be able to go back to normal under the racism against the Asian American community.
“The damage has been done, you can’t get back,” Huynh said. “Now, I feel like it’s being talked about a little more, and that anxiety has gone down. But it’s still there. It’s something that’s not going to go away.”