Coronavirus: West Island mom speaks out about anti-Asian stigmatization

La Santé publique du Québec a tenu un point de presse, jeudi matin, pour rassurer la population concernant l'épidémie de coronavirus. Les autorités rappellent qu'aucun cas n'a été confirmé en sols québécois. Quatre personnes ont subi des tests qui se sont révélés négatifs. Le risque qu'un voyageur importe le virus ici est jugé faible, tout comme le risque de transmission de la maladie advenant un éventuel cas positif, selon le directeur national de la Santé publique, Horacio Arruda.

A West Island mom is speaking out after her 10-year-old daughter became a victim of stigmatization over the coronavirus.

Jen Auger took to social media on Wednesday — and spoke with CJAD 800's Andrew Carter on Friday — to recount what happened when the girl, who's part Cambodian, took the school bus, and abruptly got snubbed by one of her best friends.

"She normally sits with one of her closest friends on the bus," she said, "and the friend said, 'oh, wait, you're Chinese, are you?'

The girl is one-eighth Chinese, and is very proud of her mixed background.

"So she said, 'yes, I am Chinese!' And then her friend said, 'no, I'm not going to sit with you, because you have the coronavirus,'" Auger said.

Auger says the girl was upset, especially at the fact that one of her closest friends turned on her out of the blue.

In the Facebook post to the West Island Community page, she urged parents to take a couple of minutes to talk to their kids about avoiding this kind of incident.

"Kids these days are not dumb and talk about the things that are going around in the world," she wrote. "Oh community of west islanders....please take 2 minutes and explain to your kids that there's no reason to discriminate against their Asian peers about the coronavirus. I don't claim to know all all facts, but I'm pretty positive that being Asian doesn't mean you're a carrier."

She also emailed her daughter's school, urging staff to take up the issue with students. On Friday morning, she told Andrew that she's seen no evidence that it has.

'These aren't jokes. People are dying.'

Incidents like this have been all too common with this coronavirus outbreak, as it was nearly two decades ago with the SARS outbreak, a similar virus which also originated in China.

Evelyn Kwong, a Toronto Star reporter who often writes about social media trends, wrote a column this week about her experiences as a third grader as the SARS outbreak was hitting its stride in 2003. 

Speaking to CJAD 800's Natasha Hall on Thursday, the kinds of things she experienced in the school lunchroom were very similar to what Auger's daughter had to deal with on the school bus.

"It was being in school, and me feeling like I had to throw out my lunch, because people would over over and say, 'oh my God, what are you eating?' They asked me if I ate dog, and other crazy animals," Kwong said. "Being Chinese, you get that all the time, because it's the stereotype, but this was on another level."

And after the stereotypes, came the social isolation, which basically lasted throughout the SARS crisis.

This was in 2003, before the rise of social media. What Kwong worries about now is that misinformation about the coronavirus, and the racist memes, are making the rounds a lot faster than they would have 17 years ago.

"These jokes, these things that people think is going to be lighthearted because they want the followers or the likes...for people who are seriously being impacted by this, these aren't jokes. People are dying," she said.

Kwong says if there is a positive with this story, it's that social media can spread proper information and the words of people speaking out against racism to counter the misinformation and offensive memes, which spread every bit as quickly.