© 2023 WGLT
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

B-N Women Share Their Experiences Of Asian Hate, Hyper-Sexualization

Sharon Chung
McLean County Board member Sharon Chung.

As the number of COVID-related deaths increased, Asian Americans have felt negative attitudes increasing toward them as well.

False narratives and former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric still haunt the Asian American community, including those living in Bloomington-Normal. In the wake of the Atlanta killings, WGLT spoke to several Asian American women about their experiences during the pandemic, and the broader intersection of racism and sexism.

The coronavirus demands distance, but Illinois State University student Celina Aquino said she's been alienated because she’s Filipino. 

Celina Aquino
Credit Courtesy
Aquino was born in the Philippines and lived there until she was 9 years old when she moved to Chicago.

“It was definitely a big worry for me when the coronavirus started to get more serious, and we started to get more cases. I didn’t feel comfortable. As cases went up, the hate against the Asian community started to go up,” said Aquino. “I would hope nothing would happen, like what’s happening right now. You never know. I feel like I always have to be on edge.”

Aquino said she would have never expected this in 2021, adding she limits her time on public transportation and never walks anywhere alone.

“You can never be too sure. I know my friends and I share locations with each other. Traveling by myself I feel more nervous and I feel like I have to be aware of my surroundings. I always catch myself looking around,” said Aquino. 

Stop AAPI Hate collects reports of hate incidents against the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. The agency found nearly 3,800 incidents recorded in 2020 and 2021; more than two-thirds of the reports came from women. 

Aquino said men hypersexualize her. 

“Where I would get comments like, ‘Oh your Asian, that’s so hot, that’s so sexy,’ it would make me so uncomfortable, and I feel like that created a lot of trust issues,” said Aquino. “Where I felt like I would always have to find out what a guy’s motive is, if they’re trying to talk to me or if they express that they like me ... there’s always that thought in the back of my heading thinking, ‘What if they only like me because I am this Asian woman and it is a fantasy for them?’”

McLean County Board member Sharon Chung said she has two daughters she has to stay safe.

Chung also has had to endure sexual objectification and harassment -- and has become outspoken.

“I’m kind of thinking about all the other times in my life where I’ve had to sort of do that to protect myself from men and the objectification that they do. There’s countless times men have joked with me, with terrible racist Asian accents, could ‘I love them long time’ or give ‘sucky sucky’...I’ve heard it all,” said Chung. “I just ignored it and walked away. Current-day me if I heard that, I’d probably do something else.”

Chung said the gross fetishism of Asian women has to stop, and the violence against Asians has to stop. Chung said terms like “China Virus” and “Kung Flu” that were repeatedly used by Trump are a form of violence. 

Part of an emergency resolution drafted in March by the Mclean County Board said that COVID-19 was a novel coronavirus that originated in China. Chung didn’t speak out against the resolution, but waited for her colleagues to support her. Not all of them did.

“While it passed, saying that we could strike it from the resolution, I want to say there were four or five members who voted against it. I saw them, and it didn’t surprise me who they were; frankly they’re the most conservative members on the board. It hurt me, really it kind of did,” said Chung.

Zolzaya is pursuing a business marketing degree. She's pictured here with her grandmother on Illinois State's campus.

ISU student Nara Zolzaya said she is especially concerned for her grandmother. The older Asian population, specifically women, have been targeted. 

“It can happen to anybody, just like we learned what happened in Atlanta. I don’t feel safe at all,” said Zolzaya. “I really worry for my family, my grandma and my parents. I know there’s recent attacks on elderly Asian Americans and on a daily basis I'm starting to worry about them.” 

Zolzaya said she tends to be outspoken and if someone uses hateful language like China virus or Kung flu she said she’s the type of person to not bite her tongue.

“I won’t be attacking them or anything, I would tell them to educate themselves,” said Zolzaya. “Obviously everyone is getting it, it doesn’t discriminate against any type of race. And I’d try to tell them how offensive it is and how it makes Asian Americans feel.”

Zolzaya said it would be nice if someone would speak up for the Asian community, and the defense wouldn’t always land on her shoulders.

“I think they need to use their voices. Any type of discrimination regarding the virus, whatever it is, it is not acceptable. I feel like they need to speak up about it. The headlines are not really stating what happened,”said Zolzaya. “I think it could have been worded differently, which is a hate crime towards Asian Americans by a white male. Our leaders can do a better job of addressing what is actually happening.” 

Several politicians are speaking out, including Illinois U.S Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who is Asian American. Duckworth said the shootings in Atlanta have brought issues of xenophobia to forefront, though it existed long before. 

“They have been denied service, treated as less than and other than simply because they are members of the AAPI community,” said Duckworth. “We can fight back against this rise in extremism. Blaming the AAPI community for a public health crisis is racist and wrong. Targeting of AAPI women and eldery is wrong. Continuing to treat our fellow Americans as others only further divides our country.”

Duckworth pushed back against U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis’ alleged remarks that there is no difference between phrases such as "UK variant" and "kung flu" or "China virus" in reference to the coronavirus. A CNN reporter said Davis told her it is "all political correctness" to suggest rhetoric contributes to hate crimes against Asian Americans. Davis said his remarks were misinterpreted.

Aquino said education is the way to fight ignorance, and that she is tired of being viewed as the model minority.

“Everyone outside the Asian community needs to stand for us and fight for us and make sure that we are being heard and to amplify our voices,” said Aquino.

Chung said this is like a Black Lives Matter moment for the Asian community and people need to fight for Asian lives.

There's no subscription fee to listen or read our stories. Everyone can access this essential public service thanks to community support. Donate now, and help fund your public media.