Let’s Remember: We Are ALL in This Together.

Mar 27, 2020 by

As we attempt to prepare for the worst and hope for the best with COVID-19, it might be wise to recall what the French political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville said in the 17th century in his book, Democracy in America.

French political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville

Tocqueville thought that the United States offered the most advanced example of equality in actionand admired American individualism but “warned that a society of individuals can easily become atomized and paradoxically uniform when “every citizen, being assimilated to all the rest, is lost in the crowd.” He noted that “Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite. Not only do they have commercial and industrial associations in which all take part, but they also have a thousand other kinds: religious, moral, grave, futile, very general and very particular, immense and very small …”. He believed this to be an important foundation for the egalitarian and democratic society that he was studying in the young America. 

Indeed, it was then and is still being practiced by Americans today.

There has been so many across the country who have risen to the challenges posed by this virus in our country and around the world.

Day by day, our leaders at every level are striving to meet the needs of our people. Americans, ordinary citizens, are putting forth great efforts to add value and make a difference in their communities.

There are many unsung heroes in our nation’s hospital emergency rooms, workers keeping grocery shelves stocked, and first responders running towards danger as many of us heed the warnings to quarantine or shelter in place.

We are seeing Americans coming together for each other. 

Most Americans arrived on these shores as immigrants from other lands. Some came voluntarily, some by force as slaves. There remain in America native peoples – the tribes that were here centuries before Europeans “discovered” America. 

The majority of immigrants came seeking a better life but regardless of our ancestors’ origins, they came seeking a place for free and joyfulliving in which to work, play, and raise a family. 

Vincent Chin

History of Xenophobia 

Yet, when we look at our history as a nation, especially in times of uncertainty we have often singled out individuals for derision, hatred, and scorn. 

Many Chinese came to America to find their fortunes at Gold Mountain during the California Gold Rush. Coming from the coastal provinces of Guangdong and Fujian in China, they fled war, poverty and misery in China. The Taiping War – raging at the time in China – consumed an estimated 20 and 30 million people and evaporated the economy of that entire region. 

Landing on Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay, they came to find work and make a new life for themselves and the families they left behind. The very areas they left behind centuries ago in China are today booming. 

One-hundred and fifty years ago – post Civil War – America saw another great push for industrial American might. With the work of Chinese laborers, the Transcontinental Railway was completed – a greatly anticipated railway connecting the continent from coast to coast. In May of 1869, with the final golden spike hammered at Promontory Point, Utah, the country was connected rail-to-rail – a mighty American feat, uniting a nation torn apart by war. It was only made possible with Chinese labor in California and the West who helped combine the Central Pacific Railway in the west to the Union Pacific railway in the east. Yet, not unlike other minorities (women, African Americans), their contributions have been virtually erased from American history.

SEE History of Angel Island Immigration Station | Angel Island Immigration Station – San Francisco for more information: https://www.aiisf.org/history

As economic uncertainty across the nation heated up in the early 1800s, Chinese laborers and their families paid a price. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act that codified exactly how much the Chinese were not welcome. People whose labor was used to literally build and connect this country were not wanted. This first anti-immigrant law targeted the Chinese and https://radiichina.com/chinese-exclusion-usa-transcontinental-railway/

Watch for xenophobia—- and treat it like a wack a mole. We have ugly history: Watch The Chinese Exclusion Act | American Experience.


Xenophobia makes a Comeback

Once again, with a nation under stress xenophobia has reared it’s ugly head.

The Trump administration has ushered in a steady drumbeat of anti-Chinese rhetoric, heating up anti-China perceptions across America and the world. – historical rhetoric, a poison that can hurt and kill.

Most recently at a virtual meeting of the G-7 nations the U.S. wanted a statement referring to the coronavirus as the ‘Wuhan virus.’ Other nations disagreed. 

The Trump administration has also drawn criticism for its description of the novel coronavirus, which some critics said has stoked hostility toward Asian Americans.


At the COVID-19 White House daily press conference, Trump continues to call the COVID -19 Virus, the “China Virus.”

Leaders’ words have consequences. Now these consequences have sped up with the introduction of social media — Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. Like a virus these virulent words spread across the world in a matter of hours.

Who remembers Detroiter Vincent Chin? Beaten to death with a baseball bat in Hamtramck, Michigan in 1982 by a middle-aged man and his son-in-law, both unemployed auto workers with a grudge. They mistakenly identified Chin, a Chinese American, as Japanese, blaming him for being responsible for “stealing” their jobs at a time when Toyota and Honda vehicle sales were soaring in the U.S., wreaking havoc on the domestic auto industry.

In my home state of Michigan today, we have an active and engaged Chinese American community that is feeling the ugliness of xenophobia once more. 

Our fellow citizens of Chinese ancestry are being attacked at a time when they are stepping up to what makes America great – volunteering to raise funds to help their fellow citizens.

These selfless volunteers are giving back at a time that some of them have been shunned, disrespected, and had xenophobic slurs spit at them or someone they love. This is simply wrong.


At a time when China’s rise as a global economic and military power has unsettled many in the West, the coronavirus some politicians’ attempts to exploit the pandemic for political gain has fed latent bigotry once more against people of Asian descent. We cannot allow rhetorical poison, as lethal as carbon monoxide gas, to seep into the public consciousness. We have enough – as it is – to manage the virus.


Over 2,000 years ago, Greek philosopher Aristotle told the world that the essence of life, “Is to serve others and to do good.”

Many citizens of all origins and races are stepping up. Isn’t it time to remember that we are ALL in this fight against the coronavirus together?

Tom Watkins is a former Michigan State Superintendent of Schools who has spent nearly four decades working to build cultural, educational, and economic ties between the US and China. He is a regular contributor to US/ChinaFocus : https://www.chinausfocus.com/author/84/tom-watkins.html

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1 Comment

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    Karole Fedrick

    Did it come from Nigeria? Brazil? North Korea? Italy? No. It came from China which makes it the China virus. Trump has been very vocal about supporting Chinese Americans. Expound on that and quit the Trump bashing.

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