On April 15, Wellesley’s Advisor for Students of Asian Descent, Karen Shih, hosted a panel called “Building Resilience: Addressing Anti-Asian Racism During COVID-19.” The goals of the event were to empower people of Asian descent with strategies for navigating racism, violence, harassment, and discrimination in the midst of COVID-19; offer advice to allies who want to better support Asians and Asian Americans; and share historical context & raise awareness about the dynamics of anti-Asian racism. Our Wellesley sib, Huiying B. Chan ‘16, was one of the panelists, and was gracious enough to spend an afternoon with us to discuss what that event meant to them. Learn more about Huiying and their work here.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I’d describe myself as a poet, creative writer, and researcher. I organize in New York’s Chinatown through arts and culture, and my work centers creative writing, healing, and community, always towards liberation. When I was at Wellesley, I did a lot of student organizing for Ethnic Studies and multicultural spaces, among other issues, and was the first student to successfully petition the college to major in Ethnic Studies.
What was it like to participate in the panel? What was the highlight for you?
I was happy to return to Wellesley the way that I did. One of my favorite parts was knowing who was in the audience— that it included mentors from Wellesley and friends, even those I hadn’t talked to in a really long time. Receiving their greetings and support was really nice.
I liked that we ended up focusing on ancestors and resilience. It was grounding to remember the fact that our ancestors have survived so much— a reminder that we can too. I appreciated the solidarity that Valarie [Kaur] shared from Sikh Americans to East Asian folks who have been experiencing the brunt of backlash from the pandemic. A lot of Muslim, Sikh, and Arab Americans hold so much knowledge of how their communities dealt with the backlash and Islamophobia after 9/11 and to have that shared with us was really cool.
Most of the attendees were students, alum, and staff or faculty--what do you hope they took away from that discussion?
I wanted people to be able to situate the “Yellow Peril,” or scapegoating of Asian Americans, we’re currently seeing in its historical context. I wanted folks to know that this has happened before. In 1957, there was another pandemic that was labeled the "Asian flu" because it apparently originated in China. Over 100,000 people in the U.S. died. When I learned about it, I didn’t find a lot on Google. I began to question why I haven’t seen this raised in the news coverage of COVID-19.
That’s why it’s important for us to strategize together about what resistance looks like now. Oftentimes, we’re not taught our own history as Asian Americans, so it’s really up to us to educate ourselves and have conversations within our own community, and other communities of color. It’s important for us to know our history and to think about how we document and narrate this moment for the future. We need to be able to hold multiple truths during this time.
If you were able to share one piece of advice to students or other alums right now, what would that be?
It would be twofold—let yourself rest. By the time I graduated, I was really proud to have accomplished and learned so much, but I was really exhausted by the student activism I felt I had to do. When I graduated, I really needed to allow myself to take things slow, breathe, and heal. I would also say: know your truths. Know what truths are true for you no matter what anyone says to you. That’s something I worked really hard to develop at Wellesley and still carry with me. The more we know ourselves, our lineages, and why we’re in the work we do, the more resilience we build to address issues like racism.
And finally, what’s your favorite memory of Wellesley?
Hanging out by the astrology lab at night and looking at the stars with one of my best friends (still, to this day). Biking through campus on the Wellesley bikes, which I think were a new thing at the time. And gathering in the Bates common room to hang out with my friends after WAAM-SLAM 2 organizing, just listening to music, making art, and enjoying each other’s company.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Resources shared by other panelists from "Building Resilience" include:
- Hollaback! Bystander Intervention to Stop Anti-Asian/American Harassment and Xenophobia Training
- See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love by Valarie Kaur