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There is no vaccine for racism

| Thursday, May 6, 2021

Vicha Ratanapakdee, Noel Quintana, Haruka Sakaguchi. These are just a few of the names of thousands of Asian Americans who have been the targets of hate crimes in the United States. These crimes have ranged from verbal harassment to murder. When I look at these vicious attacks on the Asian American community, I see my future. While the isolation of Notre Dame’s campus has protected me from outside aggression, my time here is limited. In five years I will be gone, off pursuing a life of my own, armed with the tools that this school has provided me. By then, the pandemic will be a distant memory, an upsetting first year overshadowed by the next consecutive four years of my undergraduate experience. The vaccine will be distributed, public spaces and venues will reopen, families will reunite. But for a large portion of Americans, life will never go back to the way it was before COVID-19. Vicha Ratanapakdee will never get his life back. Noel Quintana sees the scars his attacker left every day when he looks in the mirror, stitches etched across his face. There is no vaccine for racism, no scientific cure that will erase a history of hate, fear and violence. The only solution to racism is building an anti-racist society, one that starts with us Notre Dame students.

I am an interracial adoptee, one of many young girls given up during the rise of the One Child Policy in China. My parents are white, but they did their best to immerse me in my own culture: I attended camps, Mandarin lessons, after-school clubs. One major thing that helped me feel less alone was the large Asian American population in my town. Growing up, I had the privilege of being regularly surrounded by people that looked like me. That being said, I had reservations about applying to Notre Dame when I was in high school. It’s by no means a bad school, and while I was sure that it would be a tremendous opportunity if I got in, I was unsure if I belonged there. South Bend was so far from Massachusetts, and so different from the bustling suburbia I grew up in. I wondered if it would be possible for me to call Notre Dame “home” for the next five years. Since experiencing my first fall semester here, most of my fears have been assuaged. I’ve found comfort in my fellow peers, especially my fellow Arkies. Band has also introduced me to many amazing upperclassmen. Still, I struggle sometimes in my new learning environment. There are times where I will walk into a room or be in a Zoom meeting, and I am the only person of color or the only Asian American. It’s jarring and isolating. But one of the greatest combatants to this feeling of isolation is the knowledge that I’m not alone. That while I may not be in the presence of other Asian Americans, they still exist on this campus. That is all thanks to the Asian American Association and the Chinese Cultural Society.

The Asian American Association of Notre Dame was founded in 1992 by four students who hoped to improve the lives of fellow Asian Americans on campus. Underneath its umbrella exist a multitude of clubs dedicated to Asian culture. These clubs are a solace for young adults who have grown up without a sense of belonging. They exist because of our desire to be seen, to be recognized. Nobody wants to be alone. Humans are naturally social creatures, which is why such a big aspect of these cultural clubs is outreach to the general public. These clubs aren’t exclusive settings, they’re areas to foster community. These clubs offer opportunities to the entire student body to learn and engage with each other’s cultures. It’s here at Notre Dame that I can watch a movie about the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival with the Chinese Culture Society, all while enjoying the taste of mooncakes. It’s at this school that I’ll be invited to a luau being put on by the Hawaii Club, my friend asking if I want to dance in it. This is how we create an anti-racist society, it’s more than just reading about racism, it requires compassion as well. If students can come to see their Asian American peers as real, multi-dimensional human beings, and not some virus-carrying aliens that should “go back to their country”, then we have already jumped that first hurdle. Notre Dame fosters students that go on to change the world, and that begins the moment they step on campus. There may not be a vaccine for racism, but we can still fight this pandemic of racism together.

Nora Lavins


May 5

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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