The Media and Xenophobia: COVID-19 Edition

On March 1st, a tweet by the New York Post stated, “First case of coronavirus confirmed in Manhattan”, followed by a link to the article. The attached picture, however, was a photo of an Asian man in Flushing, Queens. While the caption was referring to the case of a middle-aged woman who had contracted the virus while traveling in Iran, the misleading thumbnail was an example of bias in the media and the perpetuation of racist stereotypes.

In the past few weeks, social media has been flooded with myths, memes, and warnings about COVID-19. Among these antics are tweets relaying incidents of racism, narratives by victims of xenophobia, and plenty of “reputable” sources exacerbating the creation of racial or ethnic connotations. There’s not only an outbreak of the virus, but of racism.

Fear, unsurprisingly, can make people do strange things. Across the U.S., stores are selling out of items such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Besides shortages and a spike in delivery services, anxiety about the virus is also bringing out racist underpinnings, and the result is not pretty. Text, images, and videos on various social media outlets portray discriminatory rhetoric and behavior against certain Asian identities, specifically those of Chinese descent. Reports include “No Chinese” signs outside of businesses in other countries, incidents of harassment in public areas such as subways, and tremendous losses by local Chinese restaurants due to lack of patronage. Luckily, there’s been an insurgence of people and online comments calling out the discriminatory behavior, but the problem still stands, especially when news outlets pander to rumors and xenophobic stereotypes.

During times of crisis like the current COVID-19 epidemic, it’s easy for fear to play into “legitimizing” discrimination against “outsiders” perceived as potential threats. While looking out for one’s own families, communities, and nation can be a good thing, what’s not a good thing is the exclusion or detriment of others. Relying on a sense of white nationalism won’t fix a global crisis, nor the spread of COVID-19 in our own country. By referring to the epidemic as a disease brought by dangerous foreigners, we create a metaphor for invasion; yet, however much we label the virus as an external menace, the truth is that it’s now within our own borders.

As the outbreaks continue to spread, so do panic, politics, and tension. While examining the details regarding the first COVID-19 diagnoses in Wuhan, China, it’s important to separate the facts from personal biases. This isn’t an argument on the origin of the virus, but rather an acceptance of the danger that comes with attaching certain identities to the virus. Racial undertones both demonize and detract the biological facts of the virus. By being sensationalist, the media is perpetuating a false image of the virus, thus causing people to be misinformed and antagonistic towards each other.

As someone who is immunocompromised and struggles to battle even simple colds or infections, I understand your fear of the virus and the unknown; however, as an Asian-American—or simply someone with a sense of humanity—I urge you to be aware and refrain from channeling fear into racism. The enemy is a virus, not the Asians that are being used as scapegoats. Rather than letting your fears and other emotions get the best of you, try your best to gather evolving information about the virus from a credible source. And, as always, wash your hands.

The Grand Rapids Art Museum

Besides midterms, this past week has been full of discussing spring break plans. I’m planning on spending half of my time in Michigan and the other half visiting my sister in Cleveland (I know, Ohio, gross). Anyways, while it might not be Europe (*ahem* to the girl who sits next to me in Sociology), Michigan is full of awesome things to do. As such, this post reflects on my adventures in Michigan during winter break, since the beloved mitten state has decided that winter needed a comeback.

Right before second semester started, I soaked up the last few days of freedom by taking a trip to Grand Rapids. Grand Rapids wasn’t any warmer or less snowy than my hometown, but a different setting was certainly nice. There, I enthusiastically attempted to ice skate, ate a colossal loaf of french toast at Anna’s House, and visited the expansive Frederik Meijer Gardens (which I definitely recommend). One last adventure was a trip to the Grand Rapids Art Museum, or the GRAM.

Now, maybe I’m just a huge nerd, but I LOVE visiting museums. In downtown Grand Rapids, the GRAM is a beautiful building right by Rosa Parks Circle. According to the website, it is “internationally known for its distinguished design.” Inside the building, the works of art were equally impressive during my visit. Art on display ranged from Renaissance to modern art; I also really enjoyed the  contemporary art on display, though the impressionist paintings were also nice. I’d say the way the museum was set up overall was tastefully done.

I may not not always understand art, but I appreciate its creation and the opportunity to see it. With over 5,000 works of art in its collection, the museum allowed me to do just that. In addition to permanent pieces, it also featured temporary exhibitions such as Billy Mayer: The Shape of Things and Worth a Thousand Words: Storytelling with GRAM’s Collection. Worth a Thousand Words consisted of permanent works in GRAM’s collection which were organized to create an imaginative, emotion-evoking display. As a creative writer, I enjoyed the hands-on activities the museum had for guests, in which they could start from scratch or use provided prompts to craft their own narratives regarding the art on display. Billy Mayer: The Shape of Things, on the other hand, featured large and small-scale sculptures by Michigan’s late Billy Mayer. Besides the collection of 440 skulls, my favorite piece in this exhibition was a 1987 piece entitled “Writer’s Block,” which, like the name, captures a mundane element of everyday life that can be monumental to those it impacts. The personal connection I had with the piece of course inspired a picture.

Another exhibition was David Wiesner & The Art of Wordless Storytelling. The exhibition featured 70 original watercolors from some of Wiesner’s most famous books. His books, like Tuesday and Mr. Wuffles, communicate stories through rich imagery rather than text. It was very cool to see his original paintings and sketchbooks, which allowed me to gain a deeper appreciation for the meticulous process required for creating works like his.

Overall, I had a wonderful time at the GRAM and hope to return to it one day. If you plan to make a trip to Grand Rapids and its art museum anytime soon, be sure to note “Meijer Free Days.” On Tuesdays, there is free general admission from 10 am – 5 pm, and on Thursdays, there is free general admission from 5 pm – 9 pm.

For more information about the Grand Rapids Art Museum, please click this link.

Paint Night, Date Night

About two weeks before Valentine’s Day, my boyfriend and I realized that it was already February. This, of course, meant that Valentine’s Day would be right around the corner. As many couples do, we planned on celebrating by going out for dinner. It didn’t take long for us to realize that many of the restaurants were already booked for Valentine’s Day weekend.

We could’ve just waited until the night of and tried our luck with walk-ins at a random restaurant. Instead, we—and by we, mostly I—decided to switch things up. Thinking that we could go to a restaurant or see a movie some other time, I turned to Google for new date night ideas. Now, as previously noted in other blog posts, I love any art-related events or activities. I’m not much of a painter, but when I stumbled upon the concept of painting as a date, I knew I had found a winner. 

After classes on Friday, there was no need to get dolled up for a fancy restaurant (though dressing up once in a while can be fun). Instead, we would soon be donning aprons. Like myself, my boyfriend is not incredibly well-rehearsed in terms of visual arts; however, we were both very excited for our session at Painting with a Twist. We had signed up for a “couples” event, which entailed creating a complementary set of paintings. By this, I mean the canvases could be put together to form one image. They could, however, also work individually, as there were individuals in the workshop that painted one half of the set as a stand-alone work of art. 

Once we arrived at the studio, we were escorted into a smaller room for the session. Our painting supplies and canvases were already set out for us, so all we had to do was put on the provided aprons and wait for the session to start. For the next two hours, we followed step-by-step instructions with leeway given to make the paintings our own. Painting something such as this was new for the both of us; luckily, no painting experience is needed for these types of workshops, so the paintings were not too difficult to do. We painted our halves individually but occasionally set them side by side to ensure that they lined up correctly. Though we worried about getting the background, colors, etc. to match up, we learned to appreciate the originality exhibited in each other’s work. With a fun, encouraging atmosphere, the paint date night was an exciting and relaxing way to put aside the stresses of college life, spend quality time with a loved one, and connect with one another (and our art).

After getting pictures taken, the couples trickled out the door until only my boyfriend and I were left. We looked up at all the paintings around the room, admiring the variety of sceneries and painted objects. As we were whisked back to our dorm via Uber, we shared smiles over the night and the paintings we created.

Overall, I had a wonderful time. The activity was more expensive than we would normally spend on a date, especially as college students; however, for a unique, fun activity to do every once in a while, it was worth it. Along with fond memories, I now have some awesome art, with both halves currently on display in my dorm room. In the future, we might try a DIY painting date night at home!

FYI: In Ann Arbor, places such as Painting With a Twist and Paint and Pour offer the type of art instruction sessions noted in this blog post.

RC Players and Evening of Scenes: Playing a Diva

Residing in East Quad, RC Players is the Residential College’s own theatre group (though you don’t have to be in the RC to be involved). The organization is student-run, with new shows chosen at weekly meetings led by the executive board. Through RC Players, students get to direct, act, write, produce, and handle tech for various productions throughout the school year. These shows include full-length productions, Evening of Scenes, and Red-Eye, where a show is written from scratch and performed within 24 hours.

Evening of Scenes, or EOS, is a series of original short comedy skits. Like other RC Player shows, the pieces are written, directed, and presented by students. The sketch comedy show is performed at the beginning of each fall and winter semester. This semester’s EOS occurred last weekend, January 31st and February 1st. According to the performance’s facebook event description, the show included a variety of eccentric scenes, from “frat guys running the constitutional convention to the Adpocalypse.”

This semester, I decided to try out for EOS at the last minute, and I’m glad I did. Cast in “Open Call Auditions”, a parody on the Bachelor and its audition process, I played Giselle Evans. The character was a diva “straight off Broadway” who eventually lost her temper and caused drama onstage. Add sassiness, sexual tension, and a verse of “Memory” from Cats to make her character even more memorable. Giselle’s loud, confident demeanor was quite the opposite of my own; yet, that’s what made playing her character so fun. Another thing that I liked about my scene was the awesome ad-libbing that came from my cast mates. Thanks to the liberty granted by our director (you rock, Alexa!), some of the biggest laughs we received were due to witty one-liners not in the script. Whether for transitions or humorous reactions, the improvisation made for a different show each night, as per live theatre in general.


One thing I love about EOS in general is the flexibility. I’m currently not an active member in RC Players, but the show is one of many open to all for involvement. College is a busy time, and amidst classes, jobs, and other extracurriculars, it can be difficult to find the time to dedicate yourself to a full-length show. For someone who loves theatre but doesn’t have enough room in their schedule to take a ton of drama classes or frequently do said full-lengths, EOS is a good compromise. After auditions, there are only two weeks or so of rehearsal before the performances. The people in RC Players are hard-working yet fun and accommodating, so rehearsal times vary depending on the availability of the group. For any RC freshmen or sophomores, living in East Quad makes heading to rehearsal convenient, as you can just walk downstairs (as a reminder, RC Players is set in East Quad).

Prior to last weekend’s EOS, I have been an assistant director for one EOS show and an audience member for the others during my time at college. Whether behind-the-scenes, on-stage, or in the audience, EOS is a blast. I highly recommend to keep your eyes open to opportunities for getting involved or watching EOS and other shows by RC Players.

Want to get involved or learn more about the RC Players? Click this link for their Facebook page!

Photo Credit: Mitchell Salley and RC Players

Big Man

I don’t consider myself a poet. I’m more of a prose person, you see. I don’t know very much about the correct form of a poem, or about metrics and stanzas. I’ve never taken a class on poetry, though I hope to someday. I don’t even know what constitutes a poem as “good” or not.

What I do know, however, is that throughout my time at U of M, I’ve begun to enjoy reading and writing poetry. They’re more for myself, if anything, but I’ve started to fall into the habit of writing when stressed. Prose, poems, you name it. My lack of experience with the art form has caused me to be hesitant in sharing it. Without doing so, however, I’ll never receive the constructive feedback needed to grow; as such, I’ve started to share some of my poetry with my loved ones. With their encouragement, I finally have the courage to share something poem-like. As such, here I am, risking possible embarrassment and an inundation of angry comments.

Now, a little background information: I love my university, but coming here was a real shock. It’s not a secret that the University of Michigan has a wealthy student body; however, sometimes I wonder where the economic diversity and my fellow middle class (I guess lower middle class, by U of M standards) people are. Please note the VAST majority of people here, regardless of background, are very nice, polite people. But once in awhile, being at this university makes me wonder what causes students to treat others differently simply because of economic differences. You’re wealthy? I’m happy for you! Do you have airpods? Great! Live your life how you would like! These topics, while somewhat mentioned within the text below, are not the point; please know I’m not judging them, nor the people who those apply to.  Written during a frenzied two-hour span after work one day, this poem focuses on entitlement. Without further ado, I present the rant-like poem called “Big Man”.


Big Man

You donned air pods and a Canada Goose jacket

I guess you were ready to start up a racquet

Your wealth and goods were not the problem, you see

But rather the way you treat people like me


Did it make you feel good, Mister Big Man?

When you whispered to the guys in your clan

You spoke softly enough to not draw attention

But loudly enough for me to hear the mention


Where is your dignity? you asked

Your arrogance and scorn unmasked

Why would anyone work in a fast food place?

Oh, if you saw the expression on my face


At the table you left a huge mess

We should really clean up, one guy stressed

That’s their job, you snarkily replied

Your words insulting and utterly snide


You looked at me with disgust and laughed with your friends

I wondered why you couldn’t have just made amends

I guess you believed that you were superior

But the working class is far from inferior


That was the first of many meets

Whether in class or on the streets

Did you ever stop and truly see me, Big Man?

Not for what I can’t do, but for who I am?


I sat behind you and your friends in class one day

Sometimes I still can’t believe the things that you say

You boasted about the answers you stole

Had paid for and copied by the whole


You talked about your experiences in school

Explained how your parents had raised no fool

For they provided you with the best tutors and classes

Connections and opportunities by the masses


When you bragged about all your A’s and test scores

Did you realize how your resources opened doors?

I’m not neglecting your accomplishments, Big Man

But some other students just can’t have the same plan


I saw you again at my second job

This time without your buddies or friend mob

You came to pick up a package or two

But your orders were far from just a few


In the following weeks you ordered countless things

Hundreds of luxuries fit for dozens of kings

So many goods you’d forget what you purchased

And yet your impatience still frequently surfaced


Your suit was more important than her book

You would groan at the line with just one look

You wanted your name written across banners

But Daddy’s money couldn’t buy you manners


You admonished your peers for working

While you would judge them ever lurking

Nights where you got too drunk and blacked out

Featured students at jobs out and about


College admittance is one battle in the war of a lifetime

Believe it or not Mister Big Man, some students live dime by dime

With lower graduation rates and financial strain

For some students, studying is not the only pain


There are barriers for your peers of low-income

But to you those students will always be scum

All I am asking is a simple plea

Listen to me, hear me, can you see me?


There are plenty of privileged people, Big Man

The problem is not just that, do you understand?

It’s the entitlement, the sense of supremacy

The contempt and ignorance that become your legacy


I’m glad your parents support your education, Big Man

But the reality is that not everyone’s parents can

It’s not a bad thing to be privileged or “the best”

But it can be when others are actively oppressed


As such, this is my last message for you

Fix your attitude, be aware, be true

Treat others with kindness and use your influence

To stop the poverty cycle’s continuance

Yuru-chara and the Tokyo 2020 Mascots

What in the world is ゆるキャラ, or yuru-chara?

Directly translated, yuru-chara (and the full terminology: yurui kyarakutaa) means “loose” or “laid back” characters. These characters are mascots that embody numerous Japanese regions, organizations, and more. The characters, often endearing and cutesy in nature, appeal to residents and foreigners alike.

Visually, yuru-chara have some sort of visual connection to the location or organization they represent. They also have a background story and specific traits that make them unique. For example, the official mascot for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Miraitowa, is named after the Japanese words mirai (future) and towa (eternity). According to the Olympic website, the name “was chosen to promote a future full of eternal hope in the hearts of people all over the world.” The mascot’s indigo blue checkered-like pattern represents the Tokyo 2020 emblems, while its personality is said to be based on an old Japanese proverb reflecting on new knowledge gained from old things. Miraitowa even has the super power of teleportation to compliment the mascot’s dedication to both tradition and innovation.

On the flip side, the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games mascot, Someity, has telepathic powers. Someity’s name comes from “Someiyoshino”, a type of Japanese cherry blossom, and the phrase “so mighty”. The mascot’s pink color was inspired by cherry blossoms, while the character’s gentle yet tough personality represents that of determined Paralympic athletes.

It’s evident that a great deal of thought is put into the design and story behind yuru-charas. From a business standpoint, the rising demand for yuru-charas is great for building a following. The beloved characters draw fans in at events, conferences, and more. As such, many characters even have their own social media profiles! With their cute designs and cultural motifs, it’s no surprise for their rising popularity in promoting tourism and economic development for the companies, local governments, and organizations they represent.

Has this article piqued your interest in yuru-charas? This year, U of M’s own Center for Japanese Studies (CJS) is actually hosting a contest for people to design their own yuru-charas! Anyone can enter, and the chosen design will be the next face of the Center for Japanese Studies. Click this link to enter and find out more.

For More Information:

Click here for articles about yuru-chara from The Japan Times, and click here for more information about the Tokyo 2020 Mascots.