[OPINION] Supporting our AAPI community during COVID-19

Rep. Susie Lee delivers remarks at the Asian Chamber of Commerce Monthly Luncheon on Oct. 22, 2020 in Las Vegas. | Contributed photo
by U.S. Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV-03)

The date was March 6, 2020, one day after the first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 in Nevada. I sat around a long table with Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) small business owners, restauranteurs, and community leaders in YuXiang Korean Chinese Restaurant, an AAPI owned restaurant in southwest Las Vegas.

While, at the time, we were just learning how devastating this pandemic could become, my friends at the table saw certain consequences coming from a mile away.

We discussed the wave of hate, discrimination, and violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders that was unleashed after COVID-19 hit our shores. I heard from restaurant owners worried about losing business because misinformed people thought they could only catch COVID-19 at Chinese restaurants. I heard from community leaders fearing for their family, friends, and neighbors stuck on the receiving end of unprovoked hatred.

In the year 2020, serving as the congresswoman for one of the proudest, most diverse Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in the nation, I’m infuriated that it must be said: Terms like “Chinese virus,” “Wuhan virus,” and “Kung-flu,” which at times have been used by government officials, are racist. Plain and simple.

After our conversation, it was clear that ignorant, misguided ideas about COVID-19 are more than just empty words and have devastating consequences for Asian American and Pacific Islander families, children, small businesses, and communities.

As a Nevada congresswoman, I understand my words have consequences, and I will always choose them carefully and with conviction. But as the age-old cliché reminds us, actions speak louder than words.

On top of battling discrimination, I know that Asian American and Pacific Islander-owned small businesses need relief to get through this pandemic. Securing that relief has been my top priority in Congress.

In March, I helped bring together Democrats and Republicans to pass a COVID-19 relief package, the CARES Act, which secured vital aid for our small businesses. The facts and figures are clear: that relief has helped over 10,000 small businesses keep their doors open and over 100,000 workers stay employed in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District.

That was a crucial success for our community. However, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country, that CARES Act relief is now drying up at the worst possible moment.

Just like millions of Americans, I’m frustrated and disappointed that our leaders in government have failed to come together to pass more coronavirus relief. Congress and the White House have been stuck in negotiations for months while Nevadans count the days until their emergency safety net disintegrates. There’s no room left for excuses. We need to get a comprehensive relief package across the finish line now.

I am a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a coalition of 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans committed to bridging the divide between the two parties to actually get things done in Washington. In September, we said “enough is enough,” and came together to propose our own bipartisan plan for relief.

When it felt like all hope was lost in the waning days of September, our no nonsense relief plan helped restart negotiations. Now the White House and congressional leadership are back at the table, and we finally see some light at the end of the tunnel.

Rest assured, I will not stop working to pass additional relief that includes expanded unemployment benefits, help for schools and small businesses, housing assistance, and much more.

Pandemic or no pandemic, I will always fight for southern Nevada’s Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and stick up for my constituents when bigotry seeps into their lives. This pandemic is not a moment for hatred and division, but unity—as Nevadans, Americans, and human beings.

And if anyone says otherwise, remind them that the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19 is to wash your hands and wear a mask, not perpetuate racist stereotypes.

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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Congresswoman Susie Lee represents Nevada’s 3rd District, which includes the western and southern Las Vegas Valley, in the U.S. House of Representatives. In Congress, she is a member of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and is fighting to improve our education system, honor our promise to our veterans, and tackle rising health care costs. Rep. Lee believes in working across the aisle and bringing people together to tackle our toughest issues, which is why she joined the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.

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