Chronicling the Days – Andi Stewart

Welcome to QWF series ‘Chronicling the Days’, specifically for this strange uneasy time of coronavirus and pandemic, of social distancing and self isolation, of lockdown and quarantine.

In April 2020, we invited writers in Quebec to submit a story – of a single day at this time, because while we’re all living through this time, we know that we’re not all living through it in the same way. To stay connected – to know how we’re getting on. Every story valid.

Submissions have now closed for the series but we’ll be continuing to publish the pieces throughout May. Keep an eye for them here, or join us on the QWF FB Community page, and let the authors know if their words resonated.

This piece is by Andi Stewart, writing in April 2020.

Image: CBC

The Pandemic of an Outsider.

“Korean man stabbed near NDG.” The headline said. It continued, “Attack believed to be racially motivated. Suspect under investigation.” The article spilled through my screen as I read. Stories of similar situations had been appearing with greater frequency. They contributed to the construction of the new reality that began just two weeks ago. A world where new terms like “viral load”, “quarantine”, and “social distancing” entered the layman’s lexicon.

I finished the article and tossed my phone aside. I shook my head; “… that can’t happen here.”

I took comfort in the idea of multicultural Canada. This wasn’t the United States. We don’t have their problems with race. I reflected on my own experience as a visibile minority. I’d never had to suffer the trauma of aggressive and active bigotry; though, there had always been uncomfortable moments. Situations where I had been made to feel different. I’ve always attributed these instances to ignorance; the cycle of mimicked prejudice that runs in families and culture. Offensive jokes, yes. Head taxes, no. However, there is a very thin line between the passive and the active. Could this pandemic be pushing some to cross it? I shook my head again and rose from bed. I needed to go buy groceries.

Looking out the window I saw an overcast day. Spring and fall are mythical seasons in Montréal. I never know how to dress for these times. On temperature, will this outfit be too warm, or not enough? On the pandemic, will this outfit hold up to repeated washes? On safety, will this outfit invite conflict? I recalled videos of ethnically Asian Canadians being confronted about their role in “bringing the ‘China Flu.’”

I take a deep breath. I settle on a bulky black sweater and jeans. “That couldn’t happen to me.” I thought.

Now having finished getting ready, I went to check the mirror. I saw myself and stood still for a few moments. “Was I really ready?” I utter a quiet expletive in response. I took my eyeglasses off to put in my contact lenses. I slid into my sunglasses despite the weather. I tied a scarf around my nose and mouth. I tucked my hair in a toque. My face now covered, I find the tallest boots I possessed. Actions born from the recognition of my reflection. I became distinctly aware of how different I truly looked.

Closing my front door and walking down the steps, I wondered if I’ve covered up enough of my ethnicity to be safe. As an immigrant child and as a visible minority, I learned that I was more easily accepted when I hid or abandoned characteristics of my ethnic self.

In this new normal, the stakes feel higher. It isn’t about acceptance anymore, but safety. There’s danger out there for me, either by catching the virus, or by standing out.

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