Stories from our #HuskyNurses

According to a March 2021 study by SurveyMonkey and AAPI Data, 10 percent of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander adults have experienced hate crimes and hate incidents. Survey findings suggest that millions of AAPIs have experienced hate incidents since the onset of COVID-19.

We asked some of our #huskynurses if they’ve experienced any microaggressions or hate incidents since the start of the pandemic. A few shared their stories:

China Virus Survivor

Growing up as an Asian American, we are taught to internalize our feelings and stay quiet. We are taught that there are much bigger problems going on in the world than what we face, so you do your best to not make a fuss, you work hard, and try to blend in so that you can achieve your goals. I believe this contributes to the model minority myth. It’s this very myth that wrongs AAPI. It’s why our women are fetishized and killed. It’s why our elderly are targeted. And unfortunately, why people, even in other BIPOC communities, don’t see or acknowledge the existence of racism against AAPIs.

Being in Seattle is no different. Actually, it’s the not-so-subtle racism and hate in a supposed ‘progressive’ city that is so toxic. Especially as an AAPI nurse, it’s so hard to navigate the politics of race when micro-aggressions come your way every day at work, yet the aggressors are yet to be accountable when it happens. It is even more difficult when your supervisors and leaders can’t guide you through it and you have to find a way to take matters into your own hands.

I recall a situation that sits heavily in my mind. On shift, another AAPI nurse called for my attention. As I peeked at the room the other nurse mentioned to me, I saw a parent of a patient wearing a sweater with bold letters stating, ‘China Virus Survivor’. I was in shock. So were other AAPI providers in the department, as news of the parent’s apparel spread like wildfire. All of a sudden, our department felt uncomfortable and questionably, unsafe.

To have the blissful ignorance and privilege to wear something like that in public infuriates me. Those very words, ‘China Virus’, are fueled by xenophobia from a man I am thankful to no longer call our president. Phrases like that have only contributed to the anti-Asian hate crimes that have dramatically increased since the start of the pandemic. Of course all AAPIs are already stereotyped to be ‘Chinese’, so of course it doesn’t really matter ‘where you’re from’.

It was already traumatic to see something like that in person. ‘Could there have been AAPI patients and families that have already seen that sweater? How about all those in public that have seen it?’ Thoughts like this raced in my mind. I could only imagine the internal resentment going on in that woman’s head, possibly even her whole family. Even more so, the discomfort of other AAPIs in seeing things like this in a progressive city.

Though I’m involved in anti-racism work in my hospital, this situation was new to me. After all, how can you approach a family member of a patient you’re supposed to provide care for? I did what I thought was best: approach the charge nurses and seek guidance. Unfortunately, both nurses at the station were white. When I told them about the situation, I got the answer I already expected: There was nothing that could be done about the situation. The patient was here for treatment, and we couldn’t risk jeopardizing the relationship we have with the family, which could compromise care. To add fuel to the fire, one of the charge nurses likened the situation to if a family member would wear a ‘Biden 2020’ mask, as nothing could be done about that either.

That response didn’t sit right with me. I talked with our security department about how we could approach the situation. There wasn’t a hospital policy about how to deal with this. So the best thing to do was to have a conversation with the parent and ask about why she decided to wear it in the first place. Of course, this was done once the patient was treated. After a drawn out conversation, the parent stated that it was an ‘inside joke within the family’, as several family members had contracted COVID, and they wanted to purchase these sweaters as a sign of making it through the pandemic and getting sick. She apologized for the discomfort it caused many of our providers, as she stated she didn’t mean anything harmful by it. Unfortunately, another white nurse had commented how she thought it was a funny, cute way of coping with the current situation we’re in.

That shift ended up feeling extremely long. I continued to check in with my fellow AAPI coworkers about how they were doing and making sure they were okay. That shift had me pained and questioning, ‘Is anti-Asian/AAPI sentiment viewed as a joke?’ Honestly, it felt that many non-AAPI people just don’t grasp how serious the situation is.

Soon after, our department, led by several members of the interdisciplinary team, drafted up a policy for how to deal with words, actions, and apparel involving racism and hate. We’re now at a point where our hospital is trying to write up similar policies. Unfortunately, this isn’t good enough. Despite what our hospital, and many hospitals in the area, says about being proactive in making our hospitals a safer place for all people, regardless of background, it isn’t happening. All these new policies I see just seem to be rolled out in a reactive manner to events that happen. And until it is proven that the work the organization is doing is proactive and continually improving, there is so much to catch up on. The work will never finish, but there is a long way to go.”  -BSN

Mimicking a patient

“I was working in a primary care clinic shadowing a nurse. Our task at the moment was to call patients back who had left a message asking for support from their primary care team. I had a Filipino patient that was concerned about her recent lab results. The day before, she had a phone visit with her doctor who said that she probably had a viral infection based on her labs. The patient called today and asked for someone to explain her lab results to her again because she’s confused and anxious because she’s going to the Philippines soon. We call her and my preceptor was the one on the call, I was just listening. I was really uncomfortable because the whole time, it felt like my preceptor talked at the patient and talked down to her and really made it feel like she was talking to someone stupid and didn’t respect. The patient was concerned about COVID, since she heard ‘viral infection’, and asked if there is some kind of medicine she could take for her infection. I felt like my preceptor escalated and said a few things to the patient along the lines of ‘if we had a medicine for COVID, we wouldn’t be in a global pandemic.’

When they get off the phone, she turned to me and in (what I assume was) a Filipino accent, mimics the patient, and then starts venting to me about how some people are so stupid, they don’t even know they’re stupid (she explained to me the Dunning Kruger effect) and if you don’t understand something your doctor tells you, you should at least trust them when they say not to worry because they went to medical school.

As a Filipino woman, I just felt speechless honestly. I felt so disrespected and upset because I was thinking about if this was my mother or grandmother she was talking to. I was also upset about how she felt that the patient should just listen to the doctor and trust them when immigrant populations have a history of being traumatized, harmed, disrespected, undervalued, and undeserved in healthcare systems.” – BSN

Thanks for Covid

“Last summer, during the height of Black Lives Matter, the death of George Floyd, four months into the pandemic and transitioning to working from home, my brother was walking downtown Seattle. The city was more abandoned than usual, some white guy walked by him and said, ‘Thanks for COVID.’ I can’t remember what my brother said, probably a snarky remark, but when he told me that story, I just kept thinking that even though there was a lot happening with the Black Lives Matter movement, there was still this underlying racism towards Asians because of COVID and we shouldn’t forget that there is racism is happening all over. It also opened up memories when I was in elementary school and kids calling me Chinese when I am a Filipino-American. They didn’t even know where the Philippines was. On another note, when I shared it with a large group during the height of Black Lives Matter, I had some colleagues mention (after the big meeting) that there wasn’t much response from the group from what I said, it was as if Asian racism was sort of pushed to the side and wasn’t acknowledged. Sometimes there is silence I feel being Asian-American. Going forward, I do feel grateful that there is awareness of racism for many groups. Recently, there has been more media presence of Anti Asian Hate and support groups with recent events in the last couple months. I appreciate my workplace having an Asian American Pacific Islander group where we can come together and share our experiences and stories.” – Staff

Where are you from?

“As far as racist incidents against AAPI people that I have experienced it is pretty broad while working as a nurse. There have been small off handed comments such as being called colored or oriental all the way to straight up being demeaned and having people yell racial slurs at me or being spit at. I had one lady yell at me that I had to listen to her and get out of her room because ‘I am a white woman older than 21 so you have to do as I say.’ I have noticed that most of my patients will ask me where I am from. They want to know my ethnicity and not where I am actually from. People seem surprised that I was born in Seattle, I am a second generation American with no accent. They would also want to know where I went to school and how long I have been a nurse. This normally would not bother me but when I began to notice that this is not something my Caucasian counterparts are hardly ever asked. When people ask for a supervisor and they get me as a charge nurse they seem surprised and want to talk to someone higher up. To be honest, I have it much easier than my other hard working immigrant coworkers. Just by having an accent people assume that they are somehow less intelligent. Some of the best nurses I know are older AAPI nurses with whom the hospitals would not be able to run. There are many times patients will not outright be racist but are quite rude and demanding to AAPI and other minority nurses/staff. We (people of color) talk and we tend to see how our White counterparts are not treated the same way by these patients and it is not hard to figure out the reason why there is extra hostility. As nurses we are professional and there to help but the extra burden of having to work through these barriers makes the weight of the job heavier.” -DNP

Mocking and slant eye

“An old man and his grandson (I assume, he was no older than 6 years old) walked by my friend and said in a mocking tone, “annyeonghaseyo”, which means hello in Korean. Neither my friend nor I are Korean. Then he proceeded to pull out his eyes outward, creating that slant-eye effect, clearly making fun of our physical attributes. His grandson proceeded to copy him and they both pointed at us laughing, walking away. This is a perfect example that no one is born with hatred in their hearts for others, it is taught.” -BSN

Go Back to China

“I remember at the beginning of COVID last year, my cousin and I were walking my dog at the park when a man shouted at us, yelling at us to “Go Back to China!!!” His child proceeded to join in and laugh at us. It was not until later that his wife came to apologize to us. It’s hard to believe, but it can happen to any of us even when we weren’t Chinese, and it makes me worried even more for our elders.” -BSN

These are just some of the stories from our #huskynurse community. Unfortunately, there are more untold stories and also many more from around the country.

Learn more about about racism and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and to report any incidents of bias or hate click here.

Read more stories and resources surrounding Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage month here.