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Chinese-American community in Portland impacted by coronavirus fears, misconceptions

Members of Portland's Chinese-American community are combating discrimination they've faced since the coronavirus outbreak.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus spiked, reaching almost 65,000.

The death toll rose to more than 1,500 and there are now 15 confirmed cases in the united states. As it spreads and those numbers grow, so does fear and panic. In some cases that fear creates misconceptions, impacting Chinese-Americans and their businesses.

We spoke with people in Portland’s Chinese community to find out what their experiences have been like.

Unfounded fear and panic around coronavirus are leading to discrimination against Chinese people in America. That fear is also within the Chinese community.

Helen Ying is board director of the Portland chapter of Chinese American Citizens Alliance.



“Even before coronavirus, we have often reacted in this way," said Ying. "Oftentimes it's because of ignorance, that we don't know the whole story and take a piece and exaggerate.”

She and her husband Stephen are active in the Chinese community here in Oregon.

Business at Chinese restaurants in Portland and other major cities is down. They're often visited by Chinese tourists who are now not allowed to travel.

“You got less tourists, less business,” Stephen Ying said. “It is very sad and really bad for Chinese business.”

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Amid the outbreak, some Chinese-Americans are fearful of being around big crowds or being around people who visited family in China in the last several months.

The Yings said one Chinese restaurant in Portland suffered a drop in business because of misinformation spread on the WeChat social media network about coronavirus.

“And that restaurant [was] completely empty for a few days. So we have a Chinese newspaper to clear that rumor, to help the restaurant owner to get business back,” Stephen said.

“Some people have visited China recently, and returning, some of the folks may not have been informed as well,” Helen said, “And so they hear all these rumors, there’s WeChat and information going around. They then create their own reality. It's about helping people who may be misinformed.”

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Ultimately, discrimination is founded in ignorance, Helen says. It comes down to educating yourself about the virus, how it spreads and how you can protect yourself.

“The racism piece is definitely something we want to make sure is not part of what’s going on," Helen said. "Understand this is a health crisis, and understand we are all connected and all part of the solution."

On behalf of Chinese American Citizens Alliance, Helen’s message is: do your research, stay up to date on the Centers for Disease Control coronavirus website, and protect yourself by washing your hands. For those who have returned from visiting China, make sure you self-quarantine.