Sydney Pon

Yellow Peril to “Kung Flu”: How Disease has Racialized and is Racializing Asian Americans

The rise of the COVID-19 pandemic marked a unique epidemic among Asian Americans: the upsurge of racism and xenophobia against Chinese Americans. Anti-Asian sentiment, however, is not a new phenomenon as the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Yellow Peril movement of the early 1900s aimed to demarcate boundaries of citizenship and render foreigners as diseased “others.” Today, racial categorization of Asian Americans is complicated; while some scholars consider Chinese Americans as “perpetual foreigners” incapable of assimilation, others argue in favor of the “model minority,” citing high socioeconomic status as an indicator of overcoming racism. On the other hand, public health literature largely misses the histories of Asian Americans’ medicalization which can be traced to health screenings at immigration stations. Through the lens of critical race theory, I examine the case of anti-Chinese American exclusion to analyze how disease and health discourses racialize Asian American communities. This study employs an archival analysis of President Trump’s tweets and speeches from 2020 to investigate how Presidential discourse influences the public’s racial opinions. Using interviews from Asian American and Pacific Islander community-based organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area, I also explore how Asian Americans navigate xenophobia and experience exclusion during the coronavirus pandemic.