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Asians in NM face increased racism during coronavirus pandemic

Robert Blanquera Nelson, co-president of the Asian American Association of New Mexico.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Since the novel coronavirus pandemic spread around the world, there’s been a new level of discrimination toward Asian Americans.

A few incidents have been reported in New Mexico, but Robert Blanquera Nelson, co-president of Asian American Association of New Mexico, says the community is being brought together by the pandemic.

On March 17, Mimy Singviley’s restaurant, Asian Noodle Bar in Downtown Albuquerque, was the target of racist vandalism.

On the back of her restaurant were words “Trucha with the coronavirus,” or loosely translated, “watch out for the coronavirus.”

The family has since met with community leaders to discuss the vandalism.

“When it comes to Chinese Americans, our president is continuing to say it’s from Wuhan and calls it an intentional virus,” Nelson said. “It stokes that historical ‘yellow peril.’ We still see it happening today. We saw this before with SARS. All of this is a symptom of the larger racism problem in the United States. It’s easiest to blame foreigners.”

Nelson said over the past seven weeks, he’s heard stories from community members.

“Some are scared to go to grocery stores because they’ve been spit at,” he said. “We have to meet this moment and look at racial justice.”

Asian Americans have a long history in New Mexico – with some bright spots and some very low ones.

Nelson said Asians make up 2% of the population in New Mexico, and their story isn’t covered much within history books.

“We’ve always been treated as an outsider in a lot of ways,” Nelson said. “Whether it was immigration bans or laws that prohibited Asian Americans to own land. There’s always been a level of determination. It was difficult for people to settle here. But there was a loophole in the immigration law where if you didn’t have a visa, you could still own a business. A lot of them started businesses, and that’s where the community started to come to New Mexico.”

New Mexico is featured in the upcoming five-part series “Asian Americans” on PBS. It begins airing at 7 p.m. Monday, May 11, and Tuesday, May 12, on New Mexico PBS.

Nelson said in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Mexican communities are experiencing rapidly plummeting sales and losses in wages, especially those in the service industry.

The situation is compounded by racist harassment toward Asians; issues around citizenship status; and difficulties navigating the system to seek and apply for assistance with minimal to no cultural and language access.

This is why the Asian American Association of New Mexico and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum-ABQ joined forces to offer aid to the community throughout New Mexico in the form of grocery cards to help supplement their groceries.

Nelson said the cards are purchased from Walmart and Smith’s.

“This pandemic is shedding a lot of light on the social inequality in society,” Nelson said. “Health care has been a challenge – and it’s shedding light on how families come together. We have to make sure our families get by and our community has been stepping up.”

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