EDITOR’S NOTE: This guest essay is part of an op-ed project from the Mayborn School of Journalism in which students were asked to look back at the pandemic and describe what it was like from their point of view. These student-authored perspectives will be published through Friday.
I believe life is made up of small moments strung together to craft a larger one. It’s no secret that the pandemic affected everyone’s life in both large and small ways. While people may bask in the joy of not wearing real pants during meetings, others are mourning the loss of moments they were supposed to experience. Weddings, holiday celebrations and graduations are just another thing lost to COVID-19. As an aspiring public relations professional and college senior at the University of North Texas, I have missed out on a lot of small moments, but I’ve also had the chance to be a part of larger moments, too.
Throughout this pandemic, PR Weekly reported that the mental health of Gen Z is declining. Twenty-six percent of those surveyed had an increase in depression and anxiety. With the decline in mental health this generation faces, there is unique struggle that Gen Z Asian Americans are experiencing as well. As an Asian American, I feel it is necessary to include this unique challenge I have endured due to the rise in anti-Asian violence.
With the stresses of moving back home, classes converting to fully online and a severe lack of inspiration, I felt that world kept moving while I could only stand still. I lacked passion. I felt lazy, unproductive and overwhelmed with how much my life had changed in a matter of days.
On top of all of that, I saw my community hurting. To this day, I see anti-Asian violence and remember how the mounting stresses weighed me down throughout the pandemic. In the beginning, we caught a glimpse of the xenophobia we were about to face in America. We saw it through our phone screens, horrible videos of people being screamed at as if they were the virus. Even the president at the time was perpetuating this violent verbal abuse that has escalated into physical attacks. I didn’t realize how affected I was at first. Until recently, it felt that racism toward Asian Americans was often overlooked because we are the “model minority.” I even invalidated microaggressions that I myself encountered throughout my life. It took me being yelled at by a passing car that I was “a dirty Asian” to realize that these ideas were no longer just words to brush off. Through the hate and violence, I, along with the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American community, have chosen to use my voice.
As my mental health was failing, I found my second bolt of passion. During the height of the pandemic, I was elected as a public relations officer for my school’s Vietnamese Student Association. Using my public relations skills and having the opportunity to amplify the voices of Gen Z Asian Americans gave me my spark back. Gen Z overall has a unique advantage because we are the generation that has grown alongside social media. It’s a tool that we consistently use to speak out against injustices. I found my passion again and used social media to tell the stories that needed to be told. Despite the pandemic taking so many moments from us, it brought opportunities as well. If I weren’t stuck at home, I wouldn’t have had the time and energy that it took to realize how serious the situation was and start spreading awareness online.
Despite missing out on the small moments this year would have brought, I was able to partake in monumental ones as I found strength within my Asian community. I became resourceful and talked to other Asians across the world that I never would have reached out to if not for COVID. With the restraints of the pandemic, Gen Z found their voice and used it regardless. Maybe my resilience doesn’t come in the shape of putting on real pants during a Zoom meeting, but it’s enough to find power within and uplift my community.