By Mahlon Meyer
Northwest Asian Weekly
Cleaning out a relative’s house recently, Imei Hsu found a portrait of her grandfather. A Nationalist general, he is bedecked with medals.
But it was in defeat that he showed the most resilience. After the communist armies took over China in 1949, he escaped to safety by crossing the 100-mile Taiwan Strait in a small boat.
As a registered nurse and licensed mental health counselor, Hsu found in his story a resilience she shares with her patients as they face the uncertainties of the pandemic, particularly around getting the vaccine.
“If you can find your ancestors’ story, you can pull resilience from that story and your own, and resilience is gold during a pandemic,” said Hsu. “In my case, I know I have family members who could get onto a tiny boat and go into the ocean.”
As the pandemic is poised to enter its second year, lingering uncertainty surrounding the vaccines will make the need for resilience even greater, she said. One major poll showed that fear surrounding the vaccines was highly prevalent among marginalized communities.
The poll, by the Associated Press, showed a majority of Blacks and Latinos were either unsure about whether they would get a vaccine or had already made up their mind not to. Thirty-seven percent of Blacks said they were unsure and 40% said they would not be vaccinated. Forty-one percent of Latinos said they were unsure and 26% said they would not be inoculated.
But the poll also reflected a tendency to overlook Asian Americans that has led to a spike in their mortality rates. Asian Americans were not included.
Being neglected is not uncommon for Asian Americans in data gathering. One of the reasons death rates among Asian Americans are so high, according to separate reports in New York and San Francisco, is abandonment by government agencies.
The ongoing myth about Asian Americans as the “model minority” has led to being overlooked for social services for health, education, and employment, according to a report in USA Today in October. As a result, 38% of those that have died from the pandemic in San Francisco are Asian Americans, the highest of any marginalized group, according to a study cited in the report.
In New York, Chinese Americans had the highest mortality rate among any group, 35.7%, according to another recent study that has not yet been peer-reviewed, “Disaggregating Asian Race Reveals COVID-19 Disparities among Asian Americans at New York City’s Public Hospital System.”
Meanwhile, an atmosphere of racism sparking increased hate crimes has discouraged some Asian Americans from even getting tested for fear of testing positive, which could lead to further ostracism or violence.
Over half of Asian American parents and their children have been subject to harassment over COVID-19, according to a recent survey, published in the October issue of Pediatrics. Discrimination has taken a toll on the mental health of both parents and their children, the study showed.
Hsu is not only urging her patients, of whom 65% are Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), but “everyone she encounters” to get vaccinated. Once the usual questions are asked to eliminate any concern over contraindications, which are routine for any shot, she strongly urges people not to hesitate.
“I am encouraging everyone to get it when it’s their time to get it,” she said.
But fears about getting vaccinated are not the only problem. Even as an older generation of Asian Americans may be willing to get vaccinated, she said, they may be unable to talk about widespread depression arising from the pandemic.
“Asian elders, depending on their education opportunities and misunderstandings about mental health, may have a tendency to somatize mental health signs, such as referencing depressed mood as a sensation of chest pressure or difficulty swallowing,” she said.
Such difficulties could compound any challenges they already face related to the pandemic.
Hsu has had first-hand experience with the pandemic and its impact on different generations. In January, when she first heard about the coronavirus in China, she knew it was only a matter of time before it spread rampantly.
“We are not ready for a pandemic,” she said at the time.
She joined a government registry to provide health services on her days off. She ended up joining the gamut of measures employed to try to control the spread of the pandemic. Alongside other nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals in the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), she first worked in isolation quarantine centers for people who had been exposed to the virus.
Later, she worked at testing sites where there was a need for medical personnel to insert swabs up peoples’ noses. Working full-day shifts, she was moved around the state. In Snohomish County, she and her colleagues tested over 400 people a day.
Hsu also worked in long-term care facilities testing workers in pop-up tents. Besides undergoing training for delivering the vaccine, she continues her work as a mental health counselor. These days, she is counseling other therapists and medical professionals, who are coping with long-term stress.
In her own life, she has found resilience to compete in Ironman competitions. Originally, she was planning to compete in the Penticton Ironman competition in British Columbia, Canada in 2020, but when it was canceled, she used her time to volunteer in the MRC.
As a college student, she competed in the Miss Chinatown pageant, where she became a Seafair Princess, and used the prize money to help put herself through college. A portrait shows her wearing a winning ribbon.
In her grandfather’s portrait, he is bedecked with ribbons of a different kind.
As part of what one scholar calls “the great exodus from China,” he was one of a million people who survived by fording an ocean in boats that in some cases were so rickety they simply melted into the sea.
“Everyone can find in an ancestor’s story what it took to survive a hard time,” she said.
Mahlon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.