by Aden Tom, Opinions Writer
graphic by Angus Nichols
The excited screams from a group of friends rang out in the field house, the anticipated news of a two-week break hanging heavily in the air. Although my history teacher offhandedly mentioned the spread of COVID-19 and the possibility of a couple of days off from school, I couldn’t fathom the fact that it was actually happening. In the midst of hearing the news though, my confusion and disbelief dissipated into excitement; the thought of a spontaneous break sounded amazing.
Looking back on that moment now, it was naive of me to get excited. What began as a two-week break from school quickly turned into a worldwide shutdown that changed all aspects of our lives. Schools went virtual, jobs were lost and the world went silent. In a matter of days, our lives went from hectic and fast-paced to slow and confined.
The rapid, unexpected changes during the pandemic made it difficult to process everything that was going on. Like many other students, the virus has affected my life in unimaginable ways, both positively and negatively. I quickly found that focusing on the positive aspects makes it easier to cope with the negative impacts.
Merely weeks after the beginning of the pandemic, my mom got exposed to someone with COVID-19. As a result, she was required to self-isolate for 10 days. That week and a half without her was one of the scariest times of my life, and I could not stop thinking about my mom and what could happen to her. What if she had COVID-19? What health risks would she have to deal with if she did? Would she be admitted to an intensive care unit?
All these questions and what-ifs only worried me more. On top of my paranoia, exposure of COVID-19 from the media only worsened my mental state. Throughout her isolation, my mom sent me a culmination of old pictures, which documented everything from past family events and vacations to nostalgic memories of when I was a toddler. The stories tied to each picture reminded me of the immense role she plays in my life.
Life can be so unexpected, and the thought of not having my family by my side terrifies me. After the self-isolation and round of testing, she came back with a negative test. In that moment, I felt not only a profound sense of relief but also one of renewed gratitude.
Just as the roaring waves of my personal life died down, I was met with racial turbulence. During the pandemic, the number of anti-Asian hate crimes skyrocketed, driven by racially charged terms like “kung flu” and the “Chinese virus.” I felt helpless and disgusted. These nicknames were insulting and infuriating to say the least; such lies surrounding COVID-19 dramatically harmed the Asian community.
When I heard that Asian people were being targeted verbally as well as physically, such as in the attacks in San Francisco and Georgia, I was not shocked. These acts of unreasonable prejudice were unbearable, and the effects of COVID had reached a new level. The normalized hate towards the Asian-American Pacific Islander community was inflamed this year, and recent violence has only affirmed the increase in hate.
Through watching these petrifying acts committed against AAPI communities across the nation, I came to realize that standing as a bystander in the face of hate is not an option — I, like everyone else, have a responsibility to persistently advocate for issues that benefit the greater good. Being a bystander only perpetuates the problem at hand and regresses any change made.
Some people cannot speak out for themselves, which further underscores our responsibility to stand up for those who cannot. COVID-19 has brought awareness to the racism that persists and has pushed me to explore what is needed to progress as a community. I hope that the increase in awareness and advocacy can motivate people to speak up for themselves and work together to foster an inclusive anti-racist community.
With more students returning to school and moving past quarantine, what is next? I’d like to think of the COVID-19 experience as a learning opportunity. The months of being stuck at home brought on by the pandemic enabled me to reflect on myself and our society. We as a community have raised awareness for racial prejudice happening throughout our country.
Through these moments, I learned a lot about myself, my identity and the world around me. Truth be told, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the experiences of this past year. Experiencing something as substantial yet devastating as COVID-19 helped put into perspective the unpredictability of life.