Wyoming teen addresses anti-Asian racism in speech, debate
Written by Associated Press on March 24, 2021
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — For one high school student in Wyoming, speech and debate has given her an outlet to speak out against anti-Asian rhetoric and racism, especially as the coronavirus pandemic has brought an increase in violence against Asian Americans in the last year.
YuYu Yuan, an award-winning orator who helped East High School’s speech and debate team in Cheyenne clench its fourth state championship in as many years last weekend, has been delivering a speech titled “Are you sick of me yet?”
She wrote the speech, which has already won five awards, about disease stigma to raise awareness about the consequences of racist tropes and violence against Asians such as the March 16 shooting at three Atlanta massage businesses.
The speech runs through the long history of scapegoating ethnic and minority groups for the spread of diseases and explores how that rhetoric has led to widespread xenophobic reactions to COVID-19.
On of the lines reads: “Diseases can kills us, but fear is what will end us.”
Yuan referenced conspiracy theories about the pandemic and derogatory terms such as “Kung Flu” and “China plague” used by former President Donald Trump and other Republicans, Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported.
“Yes, this has fueled anti-Asian sentiment, but this isn’t new. People have used diseases before as a way to target minority groups,” Yuan told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. “What I wanted to translate to people is that this is a real thing that affects people everywhere, even though there might not be a lot of blatant anti-Asian sentiment in Cheyenne.”
Yuan, who moved from southeast China to the U.S. at age 4 with her family, said she didn’t experience bullying during the pandemic but that she was one of the “lucky” ones.
Davin Ro, a second-generation Korean-American student at the high school, told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle last week, that he heard several students last fall speaking about their hate for Asians because of COVID-19 and targeted him on his walks to class.
“They looked at me and tried to point the blame at me,” he said. “They told me to go back to my country and take my virus with me. (They said) I’m not wanted here because I killed and infected so many people.”
Laramie County School District 1 has had isolated incidents and has been publicizing its efforts to correct the disturbing school culture. The district uses Safe2Tell Wyoming, a program designed to help students, parents and other concerned parties confidentially report any threatening behavior. According to the district’s website the program intends to prevent and intervene where possible.
Superintendent Boyd Brown did not immediately respond to a messaged left by The Associated Press requesting comment on the allegations and anti-racism policies in place in the district.
Yuan has participated in speech and debate all four years of high school and said there is an outlet on the team to discuss topics that are not required as part of standard history in the classroom.
“One of the most important aspects of speech and debate is that it stretches our imaginations so that we can see that the way things are is not the way things have to be,” speech and debate head coach Marcus Viney said. “The hope is to encourage a more thoughtful and compassionate world.”
Yuan is scheduled to deliver her speech at the national speech and debate tournament later this year. Until then, she said she hopes to forge a path to change.