The 47-year-old actor, who was born in South Korea but raised in the U.S., penned a powerful essay for the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday about how he believes COVID-19 reminds Asian Americans that their belonging is conditional.
“I called my parents a few nights ago to tell them to be cautious when stepping out of the house, because they might be targets of verbal or even physical abuse. It felt so strange. Our roles had flipped,” Cho begins.
“The fact that the coronavirus seems to have originated in China has spawned a slew of anti-Asian hate crimes. Across the country, Asian American parents and children are making versions of the call I made,” he explains. “Friends are sharing first-hand accounts of abuse on text chains and circulating articles on Facebook, always ending with the suddenly ominous ‘stay safe.'”
Cho, who came to the U.S. at age 6 and was naturalized in 1990, says his parents always told him to assimilate and “act like the natives” in hopes that “race would not disadvantage us.”
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He continues by adding that upon becoming an actor, he would experience moments where his race would be of topic. Cho recalls when promoting Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, he saw firsthand how his co-star, Kal Penn, was unfairly treated at airports following 9/11. The current pandemic has brought race to the forefront in new ways.
“Asian Americans are experiencing such a moment right now. The pandemic is reminding us that our belonging is conditional. One moment we are Americans, the next we are all foreigners, who ‘brought’ the virus here,” writes Cho.
Cho explains how most Asian stereotypes tend to be complimentary, he pens that “it makes people — including us — think that anti-Asian sentiment is somehow less serious, that it’s racism lite.” However, “that allows us to dismiss the current wave of Asian hate crimes as trivial, isolated and unimportant. Consider the comedians who mock Asians, but restrain themselves when it comes to other groups.”
“If the coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that the solution to a widespread problem cannot be patchwork. Never has our interconnectedness and our reliance on each other been plainer,” he states. “You can’t stand up for some and not for others. And like the virus, unchecked aggression has the potential to spread wildly.”
“Please don’t minimize the hate or assume it’s somewhere far away. It’s happening close to you,” he continues, stressing, “If you see it on the street, say something. If you hear it at work, say something. If you sense it in your family, say something. Stand up for your fellow Americans.”
Cho isn’t the only celebrity who has spoken out about Asian discrimination amid the pandemic.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before star Lana Condor, as well as Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. star Chloe Bennet, also spoke out against President Donald Trump and his repeated labeling of the coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus.”
Condor criticized his response to the pandemic and accused him of endangering Asian Americans with “racist words and actions.”
“You have no idea the ramifications your racist words & actions have on the Asian American community. You simply cannot even fathom the danger you are putting our community in. How dare you. You should be ashamed of yourself,” Condor wrote in part. “You call yourself a leader? You know what leaders do? They LEAD by setting good examples and ACTION. Something we’ve yet to see you do.”
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