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While many around the globe are coming together to fight against the COVID-19 that had recently emerged in the West, this pandemic has also caused a divide among the human race as one particular ethnic group is becoming more and more isolated.

Xenophobia can be defined as an extreme dislike, mistrust or fear of foreigners, their politics and their cultures. The decision to write another COVID-19 blog on this topic didn’t come easy to me. As an Asian American myself, this one truly hits home.

It is not unfamiliar to many around the world that COVID-19 emerged late last year in the City of Wuhan, China. In a synopsis  published by Public Health Ontario in February 26, 2020, it noted the emergency of COVID-19 is associated with the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, China where many exotic wild animals not seen in the West are being sold. Wildlife animals such as snakes, civets, pangolins were amongst the many made available to the public. But why exotic animals? How is it even humane? How can they butcher these wildlife animals and how do they even prepare it? Aren’t they afraid these wild animals will carry viruses and make them sick? These are some questions I’m certain many of you are pondering. To be completely honest, I myself also question about them. However, to truly understand one’s culture, I believe it is important to explore the cultural practices and their values at a deeper level. Doing some research on my own on this very topic and incorporating my limited knowledge from my ethnical background, here is what I learned so far which I am hoping to share with all of you:

Superstition and Belief System

The Asian culture has a history for superstitious beliefs. For example, many are aware that in the Chinese culture, the number “4” is bad luck, as it resembles death. Meanwhile, numbers such as “3” or “8” are considered lucky as the sounding of the numbers literally translate to alive and wealth. The same superstition holds true for eating exotic animals amongst some in the Asian culture as they resemble health and status. As out of the norm as it is for us in the West, exotic animals are seen as expensive delicacies in China. Accordingly, if one is to treat a guest with a wildlife dish, it represents paying an utmost respect to their importance. After all, Asians place a lot of emphasis on saving face.

Medicinal Value

The use of exotic animals in Traditional Chinese Medicine is highly promoted and valued in China. For some, the belief that medicine and food are identical still holds true today. As an example, bird’s nest soup costs a fortune yet many are willing to spend an excessive amount as they believe eating it will help prolong their youth and longevity due to the “nutri-collagen” inherent within.  Shark fin is another highly valued yet controversial delicacy as many misconstrue it as embodying an all-cure medicinal property, such as possessing the ability to prevent cancer.

Lucrative Business

Although many second or third generation Asian Americans are questioning the value behind the superstitions and beliefs behind consuming wildlife animals, one of the greatest challenges to date remain such markets like the one in Wuhan are generating a significant amount of income in a micro and macro level in China. In an article written by Westcott & Deng on March 05, 2020 with CNN, they reported that in 2017, the Chinese Academy of Engineering found the business created job opportunities for more than one million people and was worth more than 73 billion dollars.

Xenophobia, Racism and Discrimination Explored

What Behaviours to Look for Someone in Crisis  

People who are considering suicide are not always depressed or look sad.  Some people may even seem happier than normal or even seem like they are experiencing a manic episode. It is important to know what behaviours can be an indicator of someone considering suicide. Some non-verbal suicidal behaviours of suicide are; withdrawal from social activities, a drop or change in mood, an increase in reckless behaviour, impulsive decisions, or giving away sentimental or expensive possessions. 

Some verbal indicators that someone is thinking about suicide are expressing feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, failure to see a future or talk about a future, expressing that they feel like a burden, expressing loneliness, and talking about death or wanting to die. 

There is no doubt COVID-19 exacerbated xenophobic responses towards Asian Americans. Racism exists as it rationalizes the superiority of one racial group towards other ethnic groups while also maintaining the social, psychological and material advantages for the dominant group.

Why Xenophobia?

    • One is unfamiliar with an ethnic group’s culture and societal beliefs

    • One or few negative experiences with those belonging in the particular ethnic group and therefore, generalize those negative encounters to the rest of the individuals belonging in that group

    • Beliefs in stereotypes

    • Lack of information or inexperience with diversity

    • Fear of the unknown

    • Intolerance to religions or beliefs outside of their own

Examples of Xenophobia:

  • Making prejudiced assumptions about a person or collective group of individuals based on their nationality – generalizing the behavior to all.

  • Saying that someone is not welcome because they are from a different country

  • Actively excluding someone from events or conversations because of their nationality

  • Saying hurtful statements about a person’s culture

  • Physically attacking or harming someone because of their nationality

  • Expressing hurtful comments online about someone based on their nationality

  • Hating on an entire country or ethnicity because of something a handful of individuals from that country or cultural group has done in the past

  • Spreading hateful messages about a culture or nationality on social media

  • Using derogatory names or nicknames to refer to a person from a different country.

Ways to Reduce Xenophobia – We can all help

Below are methods published by The American Psychological Association we may all take part in to help combat the stigma and discrimination. I truly hope the strategies below will have a longer lasting impact to help conquer stigma and discrimination beyond those affected by COVID-19

  • Understand and spread the facts

  • Educate to correct myths, stigma and stereotypes as well as challenging biased perceptions

  • Learning to celebrate other cultures – such as watching films from other countries, trying cuisines or recipes from various culture and traditions

  • Teaching children on how to talk about differences and treating others with kindness

Check more of Hatty Wong’s blogs here!

PsyMood is a digital tool designed to help you find the support you need in the language that you are most comfortable with. PsyMood considers cultural background, geographical location, interests, and personal needs, amongst other factors, to pair you with service providers for either online or in-person therapy sessions.

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