This Is the Racism Asians Are Facing in Wisconsin in the Age of COVID
Mai Xiong purchases vegetables from vendors at the Eau Claire farmers market on recent weekend in July. “Asian Americans are encountering all kinds of negative behavior. Many are afraid of being physically attacked," she said. (Photo by Jeff Thompson)

More than 1,700 negative acts against Asian Americans have been reported nationally between March and June, according to a state advocacy group.

One Hmong family seeking to spend a picturesque June evening in their boat on Eau Claire’s Half Moon Lake said they endured racist taunts and were told to “take the virus with you” before being threatened with physical violence if they didn’t leave the site.

Other Hmong residents in this city of 70,000 in west-central Wisconsin, 90 miles east of Minneapolis, said their homes were vandalized after they were told they are not welcome in the community because they were responsible for the coronavirus pandemic. 

Still others report being called derogatory names in public, told they are to blame for the virus, and to “go back to China.” Some said they have been told such public locations as city parks are not open to them. Hmong business owners said some customers have boycotted their establishments because they supposedly are connected to the coronavirus. 

In the four months since the coronavirus appeared in Wisconsin, Mai Xiong, a 30-year-old Hmong woman who is an Eau Claire native and City Council member, has heard those stories and more.

Hmong and other Asian Americans are experiencing racism, she said, as President Donald Trump continues to refer to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” during news conferences and interviews. 

“There are these kinds of incidents happening out there since COVID-19 started, and they’re not going away,” Xiong said. “(Asian Americans) are encountering all kinds of negative behavior. Many are afraid of being physically attacked. There is that fear out there.” 

In addition to Eau Claire, Asian Americans in Madison, Milwaukee, Appleton, La Crosse, Wausau, Green Bay and other locations across the state told UpNorthNews they continue to face disparaging comments about having caused COVID-19, the contagious virus that prompted the shutdown of schools and many businesses last spring and continues to cause illnesses and deaths around the world. 

Such threats to Asians are occurring across the U.S. From March until late June more than 1,700 negative acts against Asians, ranging from racial slurs to graffiti to physical violence, have been reported in the U.S., according to the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Coalition of Wisconsin. A far greater number of similar acts are not reported, organization officials said. 

The existence of AAPI is a sign of the rise in anti-Asian sentiments related to the coronavirus pandemic. The organization was formed in May to help Asians combat racist acts against them related to COVID-19. On June 24 AAPI issued a statement condemning racist actions against Asians and calling on policymakers to take these actions seriously and to dismantle systemic racism.

Mai Xiong is a 30-year-old Hmong woman and member of the Eau Claire City Council. She said Hmong and other Asian Americans are the targets of racism as President Donald Trump continues to refer to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” during news conferences and interviews. (Photo by Jeff Thompson)

The World Health Organization and other top public health officials said Trump has no basis for calling COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus.” They said naming viruses after geographic locations or groups of people is inappropriate. The virus was first detected in China, and the Trump administration has criticized that nation for failing to reveal more about the virus there. 

Additionally, they said, the President’s repeated references to the virus in that manner have resulted in negative, harmful actions toward Asian Americans. 

Asian Americans said they blame Trump for actions against Asians related to COVID-19. The amount of racist name-calling and acts directed at people of Asian descent since March has increased significantly, they said.

“When you’ve got the President using that term (Chinese virus), and you have people in fear and looking for someone to blame, it creates this validation for them to say ‘Oh, you’re the reason for COVID-19,’ ” Xiong said.

‘Afraid for my safety’

Racially-inspired acts against Hmong residents related to the coronavirus have increased in Wausau as well, said Yee Leng Xiong, executive director of the Hmong American Center there. Hmong residents have been the targets of name calling and property damage related to their being blamed for COVID-19, he said. 

In addition, he said, Hmong people have been coughed on, spit on, and called racist slurs. In a couple of instances, he said, people have been charged with hate crimes after disparaging Hmong people. Recently Yee Leng Xiong said he received a phone call from a person urging him and other Hmong residents not to speak to the media about racist acts against them. 

Mai Xiong talks with vendors during a recent trip to the Eau Claire farmers market. (Photo by Jeff Thompson)

“Hmong individuals here are being blamed for the coronavirus being in the U.S.,” he said. “The same thing is happening across the state.”

Lee Lor said he and other Asians in Milwaukee have been frequent targets of negative comments related to COVID-19. In some cases Asians have faced physical attacks by people telling them to “leave the city and take the virus with us,” he said. 

One day earlier this month Lor said he was with an Asian friend when a group of four white men chased them, threatening to beat them up unless they left the area. 

“It was scary,” he said. “I was afraid for my safety.”