ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President Trump has been widely criticized for his use of a certain phrase.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We continue our relentless effort to defeat the Chinese virus.
SHAPIRO: Then earlier this week, he began his daily coronavirus press briefing with a very different tone.
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TRUMP: It's very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States and all around the world. They're amazing people, and the spreading of the virus is not their fault in any way, shape or form.
SHAPIRO: Around the U.S., there are growing reports of targeted harassment against Asian Americans. LA Times columnist Frank Shyong wrote about what this looks like in Southern California, and he's with us now.
FRANK SHYONG: Thanks for having me, Ari.
SHAPIRO: There's a sense of exhaustion and almost deja vu in your piece that this has happened before and people shouldn't be surprised that it's happening again. Will you put it into historical context for us?
SHYONG: Yeah. I think the most recent example is probably the way the Muslim community was demonized after 9/11. Going even back to the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese internment, you know, when the country faces an existential threat, the fear that forms looks for a target. And that target is often a minority.
SHAPIRO: So in Southern California, where you live, the Asian American population is big and diverse. There's Koreatown, Filipinotown, Little Tokyo, many other concentrated specific neighborhoods. What's happening in these communities right now?
SHYONG: Well, they've been experiencing an economic slowdown that really kind of precedes the current economic slowdown. You know, I was seeing shots and hearing reports of plummeting business of Chinese businesses in the San Gabriel Valley since February, really. And so now what you're seeing in these communities is that the temporary closed signs are turning to for lease signs. And I think on the other side of this crisis, you may see our Asian American communities in Los Angeles look very different, and that's what I'm concerned about.
SHAPIRO: So you're saying people were staying away from these communities when news of the virus started to spread in Wuhan, China. So in your column, you offer lots of individual stories about kids, seniors, business owners being bullied or discriminated against. Tell us about one of them. There's a woman you describe who worked at the Hollywood Park Casino. She's in her 50s. She's an immigrant from Cambodia. Tell us her story.
SHYONG: Yeah. Khinn Muy Ung was really someone who has felt the pain of this crisis in a number of different ways. You know, first, the economic slowdowns and closures impacted her job at the casino, which she had for 15 years. And she lost her job. And on top of that, a couple of weeks ago, she mentioned that she was jogging in the park. And someone started to follow at her, scream at her that she was Chinese and that she was responsible in some way for bringing the virus to the U.S. Her sense of confusion and fear really spoke to me, and I wish that I could help her.
SHAPIRO: You do write about some of the steps these communities are taking to help each other, especially groups that may be isolated because of the languages that they speak. Tell us about how communities are coming together to try to hold one another up.
SHYONG: Yeah. I think something that people forget about urban ethnic enclaves is that they serve a lot of seniors and language-isolated people who simply have no place else to go. And they've always been taken care of, not necessarily by public officials or city officials but by this kind of human safety net made of a lot of non-profits and people who come to these communities to volunteer because they care about them. And so what they're currently doing is they're trying to sort of get the information out in all the dialects that their seniors speak, as well as kind of arrange shopping trips for seniors.
SHAPIRO: Given the forecasts that this may get much worse before it gets better, is there anything that's giving you hope right now?
SHYONG: (Laughter) You know, it is - when we do face an existential threat as a country, it throws our best and our worst into sharp contrast, you know? You see the inequalities of society magnified, but you also do see people rise to the occasion. You know, restaurants turn their dining rooms into food pantries and start feeding homeless people, you know? And that's been inspiring to see all of these people working around the clock on the behalf of each other.
SHAPIRO: Frank Shyong is a columnist for the LA Times.
Thank you for joining us.
SHYONG: Thanks for having me, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.