Jordan: Are you scared of the Coronavirus? If so, what exactly are you scared of and why? How does that fear show up in your life right now? Do you do anything differently or do you just work even if you’re not really afraid? How do you feel when you see somebody, a couple of seats over from you on the bus wearing a mass?
What if they start coughing? When you see the latest numbers of cases and deaths in China and other countries who are, what do you blame and why? This was all psychology, but it is important. Because fear makes otherwise rational people irrational and it gives the ugliest impulses that people can have an opportunity to take the wheel.
And for the worst of us, it’s not even a year. It’s just an excuse. So how can we fight the other viral infection that Canada is facing? The one that is so far harming a lot more people than a disease. It’s almost exclusively on the other side of the world.
I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. This is The Big Story. Evelyn Kwong is a digital producer at the Toronto star. She also writes a weekly column about social media. Hello.
Evelyn: Hi, how are you?
Jordan: I’m doing all right. Um, before we start, because we’re going to talk about the real impact of the Coronavirus in Canada.
Before we do that, to give us some perspective, can you give us an update? It is Monday afternoon as we’re talking. What is the scope of this worldwide and what’s the scope of it in Canada?
Evelyn: So right now in Canada, as of Monday, we have four cases in Canada, one in BC, two in Toronto, and one in London. Um, the latest one was the woman in London.
She’s in her twenties, but apparently because she’s younger and she had like a, you know, the immune system is a little bit better. She’s actually just sent home quarantine. So they think those cases are ones that they can tackle and that can be solved by the Canadian health system. So actually here it’s not a crazy or like.
Fearful kind of, um, epidemic or anything that’s happening right now. That’s what we’re hearing from the public health officials. So basically it’s not something that we need to worry about that much in Canada, and they didn’t really have to suspend any flights or anything, but air Canada just went on their own to make their own decisions, to kind of suspend flights for a month from Beijing and Shanghai.
But they said that’s on their own accord, um, around the world though, there are, there have been 361 deaths. As of Monday afternoon, I’m mostly from China and one being the first out of country, one being from in the Philippines, a 44-year-old man. Just recently they had, I think last week they declared it a, um, global health emergency only for the reason that countries that didn’t have as good as a health system as China wouldn’t be able to handle that kind of situation.
So I think they’re kind of seeing that. With the person in the Philippines who just passed away. Um, I think that was just on the Saturday too.
Jordan: So it’s interesting because you said that in Canada, we don’t have a crazed, fearful epidemic.
Evelyn: We definitely do not. And our health officials are telling that straight to us too.
Jordan: But you use the word fearful and there is fear here.
Evelyn: There definitely is fear because a whole different thing that really reminds me of the 2003 SARS situation.
Jordan: Why don’t we start with that, because I should note that you wrote your column on this. You also spoken about it a lot on Twitter, and it’s why we wanted to talk with you.
So start with that. What do you remember about that experience as an Asian woman in Canada?
Evelyn: Well, at that time I was only in grade three but you could already feel that. And I feel that when you’re in. When you’re that young, you still have to internalize that sort of everyday kind of racism, which does happen.
You know, like before the SARS thing, people would ask me weird questions like if I ate dog, but then in 2003 it would become this whole different thing where people, friends of mine would actually start moving, you know, across the room and not sitting with me for lunch or really questioning what I was eating.
And it could be just something as normal as tofu. It is Asian food, because that’s what my mom made at home. Right? So. It would just be something that I felt really embarrassed about and not understanding my identity fully. I would throw those lunches out and not eat them because I just felt so shameful of having them in front of me and just people surrounding me.
And other than my own experience, I would see my mom kind of, she doesn’t have like, she can speak English, but I think when she has to defend herself in that situation, she’s someone who immigrated here from Hong Kong. It’s not her first language, so I didn’t really know how to defend her being that young.
And she kind of just told me like, let’s just kind of avoid everybody if we can, you know, just wanting to be invisible.
Jordan: And when you started to hear the news of the coronavirus three weeks ago, it’s out of China. What was your first thought?
Evelyn: I was already, I knew there was a huge backlash gonna come through.
Not like, not just in Canada, but in America, in other Western countries. I knew that it was coming and it was something that. I think I tweeted a long time ago, even before we had one case here, I’m like, I can’t not, I can’t wait, but I’m like, I just know this is going to happen or something. And that totally did take place as well.
And as much as we try to, you know, make sure the misinformation of like, you know, don’t go to Chinatown, like all that is not real. And all that doesn’t need to be said, or it’s actually not scientifically proven. But to this day, we’re seeing a lot of implications and not just like for personal experience.
And of course that’s important, but a lot of small businesses in Chinatown or in Markham, the places where there’s predominantly a Chinese community, they’re feeling crazy impacts from this.
Jordan: Give me some examples.
Evelyn: So one example is that, I mean, I don’t know if everyone knows what 6ixbuzz is, but 6ixbuzz is kind of like, I would say a social media news conglomerate thing that’s for young people, and as much as it is great that young people have something to look forward to, they’re spreading a lot of misinformation. So one example is that they took a photo, they were sent a photo or took a photo of this noodle shop in Markham called Wu Han noodle, which is obviously a horrified, like for most people seeing that it’s still going to trigger them to feel a type of way.
They put it on their Instagram and they have 1.4 million followers, and by no means like no science behind it. Just saying, like tag someone you would want to eat here or like tag the person that should eat here. You know, just implicating like you’re kind of finding one person. You want to wish them harm by eating at this place.
But really when we, we had a reporter go out from toronto.com which is kind of our sister paper. They went out and spoke to the owner and they said they’ve lost two thirds of their business, which is, I mean, that’s just really sad for someone who said they came to Canada with the dream of opening their little business and you know, making their life here and now they’re really feeling the repercussions, which are not scientifically based at all.
Like if you eat there, it’s not going to change anything. They don’t have bad soup. And I think that was the first line that came out of that article. It was a quote by them saying, we don’t have bad soup. We don’t serve that. So it’s like all this stuff that you’re the justify, which kind of seems weird when you’re in Canada and a lot of Asian people in the Asian diaspora don’t eat those sort of things, but it’s like, now we all have to kind of defend ourselves in that way.
Jordan: Can you explain a little bit about the role that, uh, stereotypes from Western folks around Asian food and Asian culture in general play in this, uh, this treatment
Evelyn: 100%. So it started back even like from the inception of our country, um, with the Chinese head tax was, which basically.
Started because they brought Chinese laborers from China and just use them as kind of like workers for the railroad and other things. And if some of them died, they would just bring more, it was like such a replenishment or something like that. And to deter them from bringing their own families to Canada because they didn’t want Chinese people here.
They would put a $50 head tax on them. So it’s kind of like that kind of started that whole thing. And it’s been something that has happened in all Western countries, but it’s kind of a overall fear or mystery around Chinese people or Asian people in general. And then when the food started, Cub started coming here in America as well.
And in Canada, I believe there’s a New York times review that went in and in the sixties or seventies that said, Oh, MSG is really bad for you. And also Chinese restaurants are really dirty. And that’s where that whole notion came from. And. You can obviously find videos of people eating different food and different cultures, and that’s all they know.
And of course, I wish that there was a way to show the different health implications of all these kinds of things, but when it comes to that, even to this day, people still have that stereotype of, you know, do you guys eat dogs? Like I was literally asked that question two years ago by a stranger. And it’s like.
Very strange to hear, obviously for me. Um, but even for anybody, cause not many people do that. And it’s just like, because you’ve seen one video on social media and now you’re just going to expand it and say, every Asian person does that. It’s kind of sad. So there’s always been a fear around Asian food and this whole idea that the things that Asian people eat aren’t really civilized and, and gross honestly.
Jordan: This is going to sound like an extremely white question of me to ask, but when you’re speaking with other folks in the Chinese community and you talk about this virus and what you’re experiencing in Toronto, uh, around it, what are those conversations like?
Evelyn: There are, I mean, it’s really disheartening and you can actually see it on social media.
The good thing about the fact that we have social media now is that. We have people telling the human stories, you know, Hey, my mom just got yelled at by a person who was in a car saying, you’re infected. Or like different stories that people are sharing about what’s happening in this situation. It kind of brings a human lens, like how can you really tell someone how sad they felt about this or that because it shows you that.
This place can be crazy. Like we all like to talk about Canada sometimes as a multicultural blanket, and that’s all it is. But really there are things that happen day to day that, and this is not just a just because of coronavirus, but it’s only elevated because of that. So speaking to them, I think what I’ve learned from them and what we have kind of come to realize is that we kind of need to share our own experiences.
So sharing that Sarge experience of mine was something that. People were like, wow, I can’t believe it. Like people who are kind of confused about how this fear-mongering really works. It was just like, Hey, I’m a girl who was born in Canada, doesn’t, didn’t travel anywhere, but still I had to throw my lunches cause I felt so embarrassed to be part of that.
Or even linked to that Asian-ness that I had. So I think right now all we want to do is step up and. Mostly it’s, it’s angry. People are angry, like in the Chinese community, people are sad, but the way to fight it is with also just sharing our own stories and also hoping ally step in as well.
Jordan: What do I need to do?
Evelyn: I feel like there’s a lot of misinformation I wouldn’t want, I wouldn’t wish on. Wish it on anyone to just scroll through Twitter and report stuff and fight people. I think that doesn’t work at all. I think one thing is just take it off social media and talk to someone in that community. It doesn’t necessarily have to be, of course the Chinese community is really reeling from this, but also.
Asian communities are are as well, because they’re often mistaken as being Chinese anyways, so it doesn’t like no one really kind of looks beyond the fact that you could look Asian and asks you where you’re from. So I think it’s about speaking with someone in that community and understanding a human level of like, Hey, what’s going on?
I want to know how you feel. I think that would really change your mind and before for some people who are really active on Twitter and just want to give their thoughts and just put their thoughts out there, I think it’s good to just reevaluate and check with someone who’s going, maybe who’s probably going through it.
Jordan: You spend an awful lot of time on social media. The point of your column in the star was that when something like this happens, it makes it worse.
Evelyn: How so? In 2003 we had social media, but obviously it was at a very slow and not user friendly stage, so not a lot of people were on it anyways. Kinda hard to be someone in tech to be experimenting with that, to even have a presence on social media.
Jordan: That’s like MySpace.
Evelyn: MySpace. Exactly. I actually sorta remember that. I’m old enough to remember, but yeah, now, I mean, anyone can get an account and as you can see, anyone can get several accounts to their thoughts. There are people that. Go on different accounts to say the same thing, just to prove like Chad, to show that there’s more people supporting their cause.
So social media has given people access to say anything at their fingertips and anything can go viral. So just because you’re a person who’s racist, who made a comment, who has maybe like five followers, it just takes a couple of retreats for that to really, you know, keep circulating throughout the web.
Right. So right now I think it’s. More than ever. It’s time to be really responsible with that, if you, if it’s possible. And I mean, I, I, we work in media, so I’ve seen it also happen, you know, with media companies in Toronto where, you know, they’ll just take a photo inside an Asian grocery store. I mean, it could be your local T and T and, you know, just find a guy wearing a mask.
And just to preface that. Asian people wearing a mask, specifically Chinese people is not an uncommon thing.
Jordan: I was going to ask about this because I know it’s something that, um, people have questioned and it’s something that people don’t understand, so tell me about it.
Evelyn: They don’t get it. But in China, because for so long there’s a lot of smog.
It was just a way to protect themselves from the dust and stuff. And. And after time when they just kept using it because they didn’t want to be sick, it was just a way as like they don’t have the sickness, they’re just trying to keep the sickness out. And we have a lot of international students here and a lot of people that come from China and different Asian countries, and they take that with them.
They just wear the mask. And we’ve never said anything about it before. In some ways, it’s also also a fashion statement. And like Japan, it’s a thing that is a statement. So now because this is happening, it’s becomes this huge branded coronavirus fear. Anyone wearing a mask is apparently scary, but it’s always happened for Asian communities.
It’s just been a thing that they always do.
Jordan: Yeah. It’s interesting because over the last few days in Toronto, a couple of people have talked to me about like, Oh, you know, I’ve seen the masks coming out again, and maybe they are, but I actually haven’t seen any more than I normally would because I, I, you noticed two or three, anytime you’re on the subway, people just wear them.
Evelyn: Yeah. It’s very normal thing and yeah. A lot of international students that I spoke with, they’re actually, um, at U of T they have family back home in Wu Han too. And I was just talking to them cause I like to write the column. I wanted to know what they were thinking for them. Truly. It’s like their friends or family are dying like, and we’re here making like not we’re here, but a lot of like.
People here and in the Western countries, they’re just saying, Oh, this must be the cause, and people wearing masks, we must, we must avoid them. And it’s because they eat this. It’s like trying to find that something to blame, but really it’s kind of really sad when you talk to the person that it’s really impacting.
So I’m, one of the people was speaking with, their father is actually a doctor and move on. So he’s on the front lines doing all that stuff. And it kind of like snapped me out of my Canadian perspective and I was like, I’m Chinese. I feel, I know. What about. You know this, these racist trolls, but truly you are really scared for your dad.
So that’s like, it took me out of that space and they’re actually doing fundraisers at U of T to give mass out to other international students, and it’s just to protect themselves, but they have a supply because they’ve always worn them. It’s not like a weird thing right. At all.
Jordan: So what kind of leadership would you, um, and I’m not asking you to speak for the Chinese community in Toronto, but just as, as somebody who, who knows what it’s like to experience this, what kind of leadership would you like to see from public figures, from politicians?
There’s a famous, a couple of famous newspaper covers from back during the SARS crisis when Jean Chretien and others went to Chinatown and sat down to eat. And does that help? Do we need more of that? Do we need somebody speaking out? Like what would.
Evelyn: Make a difference. So those things are obviously going to be covered because they’re huge figures and I think it’s already happening here.
I think I saw Kathleen Wynne tweet, Oh, I ate at a Chinese restaurant. I don’t know where it was, but it was just a tweeted out. Like usually when you would go to these restaurants and you would never tell anybody anyways. Right. So those things always help. I guess. Like if you are an influential person on Twitter or you have a following.
Maybe in like the slightest way saying that you ate somewhere and you were fine could help them. For sure. I just think that it takes like, yes, it’s good for leaders to try to push that message and talk about the racism that actually goes on. But I think the everyday. People need to just go in and investigate it themselves because just because they do it, and let’s just say you don’t particularly like this politician, you might just be like perpetuating it even more saying like, she’s a liar.
Don’t go there. So I think your everyday people just need to go maybe into Chinatown, Oregon. Speak to somebody who’s experiencing that to really understand it fully as a human and not just like on social media.
Jordan: What should people do on social media ?
Evelyn: If they can, and if they, if they really feel like it’s something they could do, maybe just support the community.
You know, we have a lot of Asian people speaking up about our own experiences and supporting each other. But most recently I went on a Muslim TV show to speak about this, uh, let the Quran speak. And it was, we were just comparing how, um. After nine 11, they were really, you know, just being framed as terrorists.
Everywhere you go, you could be Muslim and just a hundred percent get that comment. And I recognize that that still happens in their community, and I think that we should, we don’t share the same problems, obviously, it’s not the same stereotype or fearmongering situation, but it’s just having that ally, you know, and working together.
And, um, even if it depends, does it matter what. Background you’re from, and there are a lot of white people, a lot of white influencers from Canada, like who have that voice. You can speak out and they have used it. And it really, for our community means a lot because a lot of our community who are facing this in the worst way are those that don’t speak English.
They don’t, yeah, read the, like they don’t even have a grasp of what Twitter is at this moment. Right. So they have no idea that all this stuff is being said, but they feel it in the real lives because it impacts them when people think of them that way.
Jordan: Thanks for sharing this, Evelyn.
Evelyn: Of course. Thank you for having me.
Jordan: Evelyn Kwong is a digital producer with the Toronto Star. You can read her column every week. That was The Big Story, for more from us head to thebigstorypodcast.ca. You can find our other episode on why you shouldn’t be afraid of the Coronavirus and an episode about how to stop hate crimes before they start on our website. You can also check us out on Twitter at @thebigstoryfpn. Follow us, reply to us, tell us what we should cover and find our podcast in all of your podcast feeds, Apple, Google, Stitcher, Spotify. Doesn’t matter. We’re there and we need a rating and a review from you. So leave one. Thanks for listening.
I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, we’ll talk tomorrow.
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