The yellow peril revisited: the impact of SARS on Chinese and Southeast Asian Communities
News of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) first hit Canada in early March 2003. For the duration of the spring and into the summer, extensive media coverage with headlines like "U.N. warns of worldwide threat from killer ailment," and lack of access to accurate information contributed to a climate of fear, panic, and siege mentality in Toronto. During the months of March to June, Chinese and Southeast/East Asian communities were doubly burdened, fearing for their own health and well-being, and bearing the stigma of this disease on themselves and their communities. The "crisis" made particular groups and their transnational mobility hyper visible as news reports literally traced the origins and routes of the conflated virus/migrant. The regulation of mobility as revealed through the experiences of racialized bodies in this project show a mapping through race. The narratives in this report indicate that the city, and to a larger scale, the nation, are racialized spaces.
The following is an excerpt from the report "Yellow Peril Revisited: The Impact of SARS on Chinese and Southeast Asian Communities," coordinated by the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC), an advocacy group for Chinese Canadians, and Solutions Research, a research consulting company which lent its expertise. The report was written in 2004. During the crisis, CCNC National and Toronto chapters were the first groups to speak out against the racist backlash that followed the onset of the crisis, while all levels of government were reluctant to acknowledge or intervene in the social effects of SARS. Another initiative called the Community Coalition Concerned with SARS coordinated support lines, public education forums for Chinese-speaking people as well as challenged the Toronto Sun for running a racist SARS cartoon during the crisis.
The hysteria surrounding SARS evoked a number of racist backlashes against the Chinese and other Southeast Asian communities. CCNC, alarmed by the events and hoping to stop such occurrences from happening again, applied for project funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage to gather and document some of the social effects on communities. This report illustrates that Chinese and Filipina Canadians were racially profiled through media and state discourses of SARS. It attempts to tease out some of the complexities of how this disease became constructed as an issue of race, and how targeted communities experienced this crisis within an analysis of interlocking oppressions. The intent of the report is threefold. One objective is to document our communities' experiences so that we may better understand how racism operates during a moment of moral panic, with the understanding that these experiences are also gender- and class-based. The other objective is to give an opportunity for people within the defined community to voice their concerns. This was conducted through interviews and focus groups with volunteer participants and community organization representatives. The people interviewed were solicited through postings by community organizations, electronic forums, word-of-mouth and invitation. Throughout the barrage of media reporting on SARS, very few media outlets addressed the social alienation, discrimination, racist practices that Southeast/East Asian communities...
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