What screams i'm asian

"Because of you, all of Switzerland has to wear a mask" - as Asians in Zurich are attacked because of the corona virus

Spit at, yelled at and verbally abused: Even after the lockdown, there is hostility against people with an Asian background. But those affected hardly report the incidents.

Denise collapses. She runs home, cries, trembles. For a month she doesn't dare to leave her apartment alone. "I was afraid that the next time someone would hit me." When she goes out of the house today, she always wears large glasses and a hat, “so that people don't see that I'm Asian”.

A few weeks earlier, the lockdown has just ended: The 42-year-old Taiwanese is on the way to a friend who lives near the Leutschenbach building. She walks past a teenager, around 15 years old. When he sees Denise, he takes a long drink of water and spits in her face. Then he starts laughing and drives off on his bike.

A few days later, Denise is on her way to see a friend, and a neighbor does not want to get on the same elevator. When she sees Denise, she wrinkles her nose and pulls her children off the elevator.

That's what Denise says on the phone. She has lived in Switzerland for nine years. Her voice sounds happy, her English is broken. She shows understanding and says: "You were afraid because my face looks Chinese - and I'm Taiwanese." Taiwan is just 130 kilometers from China's coast. Based on its experience with the Sars virus, Taiwan had the lowest infection rate in the world.

Denise continues to tell that something like this has never happened to her before. But since the outbreak of the pandemic, she has felt that people are different to her. And she is not alone in that. Independently of each other, the NZZ has received ten further cases of racist hostility against people with an Asian background. They all report similar things: evil looks, comments, insults.

It cannot be verified whether the story actually happened that way. But the high number of similar experiences shows that racism against Asian-looking people is real. And it also happens here, in Zurich. But none of the victims turned to official bodies. Why not?

No complaints

Since the lockdown in Switzerland was lifted, inquiries have been increasing on the table of Judith Jordáky, a consultant at the Zurich Contact Point for Racism (Züras). But one population group is missing from the statistics. "This year I haven't had a complaint from an Asian person," says Jordáky.

In general, the counselor can only remember one complaint from a Japanese woman for the past two years. «My experiences cannot be generalized. Each case is an individual case and must be treated as such. "

Last year, according to the canton police, there were just 30 complaints due to racial discrimination in the canton of Zurich, not a single one came from a person with an Asian background.

Sonia Chan * is Chinese, has been in Switzerland for seven years, and has been in Zurich for a few years. In the first three weeks of the lockdown, she felt uncomfortable in Switzerland, she said on the phone. More uncomfortable than ever. Several times she was verbally abused and called after her to return to where she came from. A customer in the supermarket yelled at her that she was not allowed to touch all the bottles.

The 28-year-old remembers five such incidents. "At first I was really upset by these reactions, but now I've got used to them."

Again and again Chan tried to address the mob, she wanted to know why they are behaving this way. “But everyone ran away immediately. They weren't aggressive, they were just really scared of me. " Why didn't she report these incidents? "I didn't know there were such places."

This is not surprising to Hong Zhang, President of the Chinese Community in Switzerland based in Zurich. "The greatest difficulty for the Chinese in Switzerland is obtaining information." German is a difficult language, which is why most of them are still largely informed through the Chinese media. "If a Chinese woman has a racist experience, she simply accepts it because she simply doesn't know that there is somewhere to report."

Around 18,000 Chinese live in Switzerland, and Zhang reaches around 10,000 of them with her community. She is familiar with the problem of "Corona racism". But most of them would only experience subliminal discrimination, for example if they wore a mask.

"Shitty Chinese"

As every morning, Chun Ng * waits in Schlieren for the 2-seater tram that will take his son to kindergarten and him to work. Ng wears a mask, as has always been the case since the outbreak of the pandemic. But on that day he is not alone, on that day all passengers wear a mask for the first time, because it is the first day of the mask requirement.

Suddenly a man in a suit with a tie heads for Ng and starts yelling at him. They are “shitty Chinese”. They should go back to where they came from. "Because of you, all of Switzerland has to wear a mask." Ng hears bravo shouts from a group of young women across the street.

On the same day, Ng's wife goes shopping with their four-year-old son. When the child tries on a pair of sandals in a shoe store, a little girl points to him and says, "You are coronavirus."

Why didn't the native Taiwanese contact any job? "I have no evidence." There was no surveillance camera at the tram station, and he did not film the incident himself.

Instead, he writes down his story in a closed Facebook group of Taiwanese people in Switzerland. Immediately, Ng received tons of feedback. About fifteen people tell of similar, but not quite as bad, hostility.

Racism against Asians is an international phenomenon

“It's hard to walk into a police station and say: 'The man there yelled at me, arrest him,'” says Andrea Riemenschnitter, professor of modern Chinese language and literature at the University of Zurich.

According to the professor, the silence has nothing to do with the reserved manner of the Chinese. It is clear that nobody in China would turn to a complaints office about a violation of personal rights. If you look to Hong Kong, it looks very different. In the USA, Australia, Canada and Europe, Asian scientific associations are currently writing open letters to the public, drawing attention to the problem of "corona racism" and promoting a rational, objective approach to the crisis.

"Racism against Asians is an internationally widespread phenomenon that has increased dramatically with the outbreak of the corona pandemic," says Riemenschnitter. It is difficult to take action against such crimes. Because in a racist incident there is usually one testimony against testimony. "The probability that a report will bring anything to an official body is relatively low."

According to Riemenschnitter, the extent to which racist hostility is widespread in a society also depends largely on the economic situation and the level of education. That is why there is a tendency for socially disadvantaged people to fall into a racist pattern. "The boundary between those who belong to a social class and those who don't is volatile." Socially disadvantaged people would defend their borders more quickly if they threatened to slide. Often these are also people who are receptive to populist narratives because they could provide a scapegoat.

Chun Ng, the man who was yelled at at the tram stop, understands that the Swiss have a different culture. "Anyone who wears a mask here is considered sick." But now the wind has turned, masks are considered useful. That caused a lot of confusion among the population and led to tensions. “I would like the government to appeal more to the population. We are all human. We all have the same problem: the coronavirus. "

* Name known to the editor.