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Joliet Junior College alumna experienced racism because of the coronavirus

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Last night night my daughter came home from grocery shopping and told me how other customers were leaving the aisle where a Chinese couple was placing items into their cart.

At another store, she saw another customer give an Asian woman "dirty looks" in the baking aisle.

In general, she's noticed people "sidestepping" people of Asian descent and blaming people from China for the pandemic.

What is seriously wrong with people?

Earlier in the day, my son's girlfriend, Cindy Phan, 28, of Chicago, shared with me the racism she and some of her friends are experiencing.

In 2018, I wrote a story about Phan, then a recent Joliet Junior College graduate and single mother who left her young son in the care of her parents in Chicago so she could work by cleaning a restaurant overnight and attend school by day.

Phan, who wants to become a nurse, did so in order to provide a better future for her and her son.

While at JJC, Phan helped start an on-campus thrift store (Phi Theta Phashion), worked on a suicide awareness project and organized various events,

At graduation, she also received two awards from Phi Theta Kappa: Leader of Distinction and Outstanding Officer.

And now, because she has since become my youngest son's girlfriend, Phan calls me “Mom” and is a frequent visitor to my home along with her son.

Phan, a certified nursing assistant and receptionist at a skilled living facility in Chicago, is also, as I recently learned, the target of racism due to COVID-19.

She said the constant snubs are wearing her down.

“It as actually little things at first,” Phan, 28, now of Chicago, said. “People keeping their distance. People giving you looks. But as there are more cases in Chicago, the more you see the racism come out.”

Phan feels restaurants, Asian restaurants especially, are hurting because of racism.

“I live right above a restaurant, not a Chinese restaurant, a Vietnamese restaurant,” Chan, who is Vietnamese, said. “All the regular customers have stopped coming. I was down there to eat the other day and saw one of the customers walking by.

“The owner said, ‘Why don’t you come in and eat?’ And the customer literally said, ‘Well, I’m not gong to support you people any longer.’ It’ was crazy. This happened right downstairs where I live.”

It's happened other places, too, she said.

“I was at Walgreens shopping and every time I turned an aisle, people were rushing out of the aisle when they saw me," Phan said.

Phan said people have approached her and some of her friends asking, “Are you Chinese?” And Phan said she’s answered, “Why does it matter?” But people come back with, “Because we want to stay away from people like you,” Phan said.

Before COVID-19, Phan had only experienced one incident of racism, which she shrugged off as an isolated incident.

“I was 21,” Phan said. “I was walking down the street with my friends and a man was right outside [a store] saying things like, ‘Go back to where you came from. We don’t need people like you here.’ That was like seven years ago.”

Although Phan is disheartened, she is, surprisingly, not surprised.

“I knew people would be wary of Asians,” Phan said.

Phan also has a little brother around the same age as her son and they have not experienced any racism, she said.

“I would not think people would discriminate against little kids in elementary school," she said).

Phan said her parents have not experienced any either.

She said that's because her father is retired and her mother works in a nail salon, where clientele has recently been sparse and limited mostly to those of Asian culture, Phan said,

In fact, the salon may shut down temporarily, she added.

Because Phan’s parents are over 50, Phan has run most of the family’s errands, including grocery shopping, as an extra method of precaution.

“Just because I’m out more, I’m seeing it [racism] more than my family is,” Phan said.

Does she have a message for the community?

Support local restaurants of all cultures once this passes and restaurants reopen, she said.

Be cautious, she said. But don’t be racist.

“Just because someone is Asian doesn’t mean they carry COVID,” Phan said. “If you see injustice, stand up to it. As a community, this is a time to come together. It’s not a time for the community to separate and point fingers.”

Phan recalled how people of Middle Eastern descent were victims of racist attacks after 9/11.

“You think we would have learned from that,” Phan said. “Obviously we haven’t. It’s 2020. You’d people would have more common sense.”

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