Speaking Out on Bigotry & the Coronavirus

"The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty of the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people." — Martin Luther King

During the spring of 2020, Land Stewardship Project members began noting an uptick in examples of "pandemic-inspired" racism in their communities. In particular, these were (and are) troubling incidents of racist comments and actions directed at people of Asian decent. Determined to speak out, these members mobilized to write letters to the editors of their local newspapers. Here are a few of those letters:

We Are in This Together

While it seems like it is human nature to blame someone when we are experiencing uncertainty, fear, and pain, it really doesn’t serve us very well to find solutions or to build community responses to problems. I am concerned about the reports filed by the Asian American community with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. Apparently, Asian Americans have been the target for people wanting to blame China for the origin or spread of COVID-19. This is really not our best so-called “Minnesota Nice” by any means. I have seen so many positive things that people are doing to help each other as well as our city officials making decisions that help the most vulnerable of our community. I am personally grateful to the Hmong farmers I hope to see again at our farmers market, the many immigrants working in our fields, dairies, and meat packing plants that put food on our tables as well as all of the workers in our community who continue to work to keep us safe and healthy: ie health care workers, social workers, grocery store workers, garbage collectors, mail personnel, factory workers, truck drivers, bus drivers, teachers figuring out a new way to teach; everyone who is out there helping to keep our country moving along as we all deal with the grief and uncertainty of this virus. We are all one community and we will be stronger together.

Debi Niebuhr, Winona, Minn.

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We Will Emerge Together, Stronger

As a farmer and community organizer in rural Minnesota (Fillmore County), I am worried about reports I have read about anti-Asian racism playing out in our small towns. We know racism exists for all of us in the US, and the work of confronting it can seem overwhelming. But now is not the time to let our weaknesses rule. In this crisis, we have a unique opportunity.

Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing us all to the brink. This unknown is terrifying, but it's also, oddly, a kind of gift. Confined to our homes, we are tending our nests, clearing dust and cobwebs, taking inventory of the things that matter. We have time for this as never before. And we are discovering both joy in the simplicity of life within our little domains and nostalgia for the tenderness, the awkwardness, the messiness of relating with people! We don't know when we'll be fortunate enough to come within six feet of strangers again. But, we do know that if there was ever a time to work on our compassion and understanding for when that time returns, that time could be now.

Now we have the time to choose what sort of behavior will get us all though this crisis not only together, but together stronger. How can we use this fear of an unknown disease to help us conquer the unknown territory between ourselves and our neighbors? Even at a distance, relationships can be built.

Eva Barr, Wykoff, Minn.

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On scapegoats, my friend Phil says . . . .

“Immigrants provide labor when we need labor and scapegoats when we need scapegoats." So says my friend, Rochester Phil.

The Corona virus is certainly unprecedented in our lifetimes, at least in its ability to afflict public health and our economy. What is not new, however, is who we choose to blame for our pain — the foreigner and the immigrant. The immigrant-blaming comments I am already hearing, and the reports filed by the Asian-American community with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights are certainly disturbing.

I know we’re better than that. I say thanks to the Hmong farmers at the market, the Mexican neighbor that serves up the best quesadillas, the members of the Shared Ground Latino farming cooperative beginning their own farming enterprises, and so many more wonderful stories of entrepreneurship and contributions to our food and farming culture in rural Minnesota.

Can Corona make us see that we really are all in this together, no matter where we come from? It’s a choice we face: Do we pour hot fuel on what divides us, or do we build a bridge of humanity? Let’s choose the latter.

Doug Nopar, Winona, Minn.

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Don't Let Fear, Anxiety Lead to Hatred, Racism

No matter who we are or where we come from, during this time of a pandemic crisis we are all in this together. But, unfortunately, in recent days there have been reports that Minnesotans have turned their fear and anxiety of an illness into hatred and racism toward people -- in this case, Asian Americans in our communities. As a local farmer and a member of this community, I know this is not who we are! People in Meeker County have risen to the huge challenge facing our community by coming together and helping one another in so many ways. From food deliveries, financial donations to extra smiles and waves to friends and strangers, people in this community are stepping up. It shows that at our core, we understand that in order to thrive we must look after one another. Everyone in our community has value and times like these allow us to reflect on the importance of our relationships and the importance of our interconnectedness. We have also seen that the systems put in place to govern our lives can be quickly changed for our collective wellbeing. We can deliver new hospital beds, we can provide extra child care for health workers, we can stop evictions, we can adjust loans and interest rates. It’s only when a system breaks that we can truly see its flaws, and now is an opportunity for us to fix the systems that have been negatively affecting so many of us for so long. Like we have seen during the past few weeks here in Meeker County, let’s pull together and make changes that will benefit all Minnesotans for generations to come.

Nick Olson, Litchfield, Minn

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Coronavirus Doesn't Discriminate

Amid important news coverage of the coronavirus there are troubling reports of senseless and shameful attacks on people of Asian descent in our communities. A number of incidents have been reported in Minnesota and hundreds more throughout the country. These attacks have ranged from verbal abuse and threats to acts of physical assault. As Americans, we should all condemn these xenophobic acts.

While we must look back and learn from our lack of preparedness for this pandemic, no blame for the virus itself can be assigned to any one group of people. This virus is a phenomenon of nature and does not discriminate. Save for the lucky few who experienced the virus and recovered, every human being on this planet is vulnerable. The world has been made one by this microscopic foe, and scientists from around the world are collaborating on ways to beat it. Let’s use this extraordinary time to rally around our common humanity and hopefully come out the other side a more compassionate and united society.

Bea Hoffmann, Winona, Minn.

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Stand Together

How unfortunate that, in a time when we are all working so hard just to keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy and our communities functioning, many in our communities are facing the added burdens of hostility and violence because of their Asian or Asian American identity (or perceived identity)!

These men and women and children are our neighbors and friends; our students, our teachers and our students. Many of them are also on the front lines of this global pandemic, doing the vital work of caring for the sick and the elderly, cooking and delivering meals, and checking out our groceries. They are also keeping buildings where essential services are being provided clean and disinfected, so that when we need to be in those spaces, we are less at risk of getting sick ourselves.

Hostility and violence toward those who don’t look like “us” or who aren’t “from here” have become fashionable again for many in the past few years. Let’s say NO to this trend. Let’s vow to keep our community united in the face of the extraordinarily dangerous threat of COVID-19.

Colette Hyman, Winona, Minn.

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Choose Gratitude Over Racism

As Asian Americans and immigrants face increasing racism and discrimination in the midst of the Corona virus, I offer two stories of gratitude.

While assembling dinner at the Catholic Worker House last week, I answered the front door to find a dear friend who came to this country as a child.

When she first arrived, her family received support from local churches and housing from the Catholic Worker. She now stood on our stoop with a bag of groceries to donate to those in need. We are grateful.

Secondly, we in Winona have been lucky to have access to affordable, professional acupuncture for many years, thanks entirely to Jade and her compassionate commitment to this community. We are so grateful.

May this moment provide us with the grace and courage to love one another more deeply, forgive one another more readily and recognize our common humanity.

Diane Leutgeb Munson, Winona

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Welcome to Trump’s Grand Wet Market

Chinese Americans and Asian Americans, in general, are being scapegoated for the COVID-19 pandemic. We all know where this could go and I want it to stop.

Those “wet markets” — the open air meat markets where raw meat and fish are sold alongside live, wild animals, including bats and snakes. We like to call that type of meat exotic to stress the “eew” factor and to separate our supposedly civilized selves from the rest of the world.

You’ll find “wet markets” wherever people don’t have supermarkets and refrigeration. What do we expect them to do?

I don’t know if bats are considered a delicacy. I doubt it. Maybe bats and other “bush meats” are simply what’s left after globalization destroyed traditional farming practices and replaced it with industrialized factory farming. Or after capitalists, foreign or domestic, tore down the forests and polluted the rivers and the soil and the air. Maybe bats are what’s left for poor people to hunt, sell at market and to eat.

There are over a billion Hindus who think eating cows is worse than exotic. Jewish people and Muslims think eating pork is disgusting. And many vegetarians think eating any animal is wrong. I’m leaning more that vegetarian way myself when I think of the utter cruelty with which we treat animals. Layer chickens so crammed in together they can’t turn around. Pigs and cattle so crowded together we have to feed them antibiotics to keep them alive.

Do we think our overuse of antibiotics in this country isn’t rendering antibiotics useless? We will pay for that.

The United States is a main contributor of climate change. That will kill a lot of people, our children and grandchildren, the very people we profess to love so much. All of them “pain-sensitive” too.

If wet markets are disease-spreaders, our game show host president is running a grand wet market. His stupidity, his lies, his procrastination, his delusions, even his press conferences all promote the spread of virus. His sycophants, his “yes” men. They who hollowed out the very parts of government meant to keep us safe. Republicans whose mantra is “government is the problem” make sure that nightmare comes true whenever they gain power.

I see that Murdoch Empire and Fox News is lawyering up. They deserve to be sued and they will be sued for lying about this pandemic.

Their lies are getting people killed. And our game show host in the Oval Office? Just a few weeks ago he spewed, “The Democrat Hoax! The Media Hoax!”

And we want to blame Asians? Let’s take a long look in the mirror.

Donna Buckbee, Rushford, Minn.

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In Many Ways, Pandemic Has Brought Us Together

As a Preston resident, I have noticed several things that the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked in our small community. I have noticed more people walking around town than ever before, utilizing the wonderful bike trail. Talking more with my neighbors, at a distance, and for longer periods of time has been a joy. Kids are outside, walking or riding bikes with parents, playing basketball or drawing with chalk. These are wonderful moments to see when everything else feels strange and a bit scary.

There are some real issues that our rural community faces as well, farms that were already struggling are hit with another obstacle. People who have lost jobs are facing hard choices of paying rent or buying food. Questions about healthcare coverage amidst a pandemic is creating even more stress in a stressful time. We are facing hard times and, unfortunately, I hear blame being pointed at Asian-Americans. This is not the fault of regular people. If anything, this is a time to recognize how closely tied we are to one another across the globe, and if someone is hurt or sick, it can affect us all. If we care for one another, we care for ourselves. Take care, all.

Shona Snater, Preston, Minn.