Photo: Lam Thuy Vo for Epicenter and Documented NY

For the last few weeks, Epicenter has been helping New Yorkers get vaccine appointments. We have a team devoted to Chinese speakers, and one of our volunteers, Vivian Tam, started noticing patterns and obstacles facing this community.

After this week’s killing spree in Atlanta, we wanted to connect the dots and shine a light, with hopes to uplift our Asian neighbors and #StopAsianHate.

Epicenter’s Chinese-language form is available here.

You can also email or call us at 917-818-2690. Over to Vivian:

Epicenter: Can you tell me your Asian-American story? (i.e. How do you answer the question: Where are you from?)

Vivian Tam: I was raised by and am surrounded by badass Asian American women. I’m very lucky to have grown up in NYC’s Chinatowns in Manhattan and Brooklyn with Asian American friends all my life – but of course that doesn’t shelter you from this country’s long legacy of anti-Asian racism.

It wasn’t until college after several Asian American studies courses that I learned more about being Asian American as a political and racial identity beyond affiliation with food or culture. Asian Americans have been made so invisible but also hypervisible in other ways with the “model minority” and “foreign virus” narratives serving a dangerous purpose here and globally, and it’s easy to internalize those images. But I also see a new generation articulating a vision for the future and refusing to accept things the way they are.

Photo: Vivian Tam

E: What languages do you speak?

VT: I speak Cantonese, can understand Toisanese and still only have an extremely basic grasp of Mandarin even after several years of language classes.

E: Tell us a little about your volunteer work with Epicenter, and how it relates to the Asian community.

VT: I started booking vaccine appointments for my parents and grandparents, eventually helping many of their friends too. At some point, I ran out of people and discovered Epicenter but noticed the intake form only had English/Spanish directions. My sister and I reached out to help with a Chinese translation and we’ve been booking people ever since. Asian Americans have suffered through immense loss from COVID from the actual disease to economic impact, racist rhetoric and policies so volunteering with Epicenter is a commitment to my community and neighbors despite being physically apart.

E: What are some trends you are observing?

VT: The most vulnerable Asian folks in our communities need access. I’ve seen numerous restaurant workers sign up but they’re only able to go before 10 am or after 11 pm. Many live in the city but have to commute to a restaurant in New Jersey for work. There are still so many essential workers not yet eligible (spa/salon and laundromat workers, construction, retail) despite living in areas with the highest positivity rates. Asian seniors need vaccine sites that are close to home and accessible via public transport. It’s easier and safer to go with their friends and family members so we take extra care to book several same day/location appointments. I consider only booking elders in the daytime and close to home in fear of even putting them in danger while traveling. I map out distance and public transport before I book and will even follow up after to check that they’re okay.

There’s also a dire need for language accessibility during the booking process and at vaccine sites. It’s one of the first questions I’m asked, “Will there be people speaking Chinese there?” I wish I could promise them but I say “there should be” and offer to help fill in forms ahead of time because the New York State form is only in English.

Lastly, there’s a need for disaggregated vaccination data. We can’t understand the need if all Asians are being lumped together into one group. The dire need to get vaccines to taxi drivers, restaurant workers, elders and homecare attendants in the hardest hit areas shouldn’t be overshadowed just because it was also true that healthcare workers had access earlier in the year.

E: How has the last week been for you? What do you wish people knew?

VT: It’s enraging, extremely saddening and worst of all, it wasn’t surprising knowing how deep anti-Asian violence runs in this country. I’ve read a few articles featuring the children of the women who were killed and I can’t shake off the fact that they’re my age – they should still have their mothers.

If this pandemic has demonstrated anything, it’s that we’re not well-prepared to hold each other’s grief and that goes for trauma and loss associated with racism. The platitudes don’t matter if we’re not accountable to our neighbors through our actions, especially those targeted by white supremacist violence. Are you actively denouncing anti-Asian rhetoric in your circles? Advocating for housing security and worker rights? Are you asking those at your local restaurant/supermarket/salon if they need help getting a vaccine appointment? This isn’t the work of a few “hero” volunteers; it’s something we should all do for our community.

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