California councilwoman criticized for calling COVID ‘China Virus’ in email to mayor

·3 min read

A California councilwoman is being criticized after referring to COVID-19 as the “China Virus” in an email to the city’s mayor.

Temecula councilman Matt Rahn called for better standards for his colleagues during a May 11 meeting and highlighted an email sent by councilwoman Jessica Alexander, saying that her “China Virus” reference was “exceptionally insensitive.”

Rahn read from Alexander’s email sent on May 4 to Temecula Mayor Maryann Edwards and City Manager Aaron Adams, which said: “Mayor Edwards, during our last meeting, you stated that we are not opening chambers due to the possibility that we may not receive the $14 million dollars from the China Virus Relief fund.”

The email was referring to aid included in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11.

Rahn also pointed out that the council issued a proclamation for the first time honoring May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

“Ms. Alexander, the language used is insensitive,” Rahn continued. “You have to know this, and you shouldn’t have to ask me to explain why, in my own background and experiences, that this statement is exceptionally offensive, but if you want to give me a call and I’ll explain why … you should know this surprisingly thoughtless comment is now recorded in an official city communication.”

Alexander defended herself, saying that she isn’t racist and bringing up her background serving in the military and living in five countries.

“I don’t know how many people truly know me on this council, or in Temecula, but the people who do know me, first of all, know my background,” Alexander said. “Nobody can sit here and tell me that I’m a racist person, because of what I do. I love working with the community, with all people. And it breaks my heart to sit here and have people tell me that I’m racist because of what’s in my heart.”

Alexander didn’t address the “China Virus” comment or a previous remark she made comparing having to abide by mask rules during the coronavirus pandemic to Rosa Parks’ struggle against racial segregation.

Alexander also told Rahn that she wished he came to her directly “if you had a problem, instead of announcing it, but that’s OK. I thought we were colleagues — if there’s a problem, we come to each other first.”

The rest of Alexander’s email, provided to The Press-Enterprise by Rahn, discussed Edwards’ previous comments about withholding federal money from the city:

“You said that if we do not have masks on during a live meeting in chambers, with our residents, we can miss out on that payment,” the email states. “I have had several residents including myself questioning the breakdown of that money and how it gets disbursed. Aaron, can you please print out and put on my desk the breakdown of the $14 million dollars in order for me to present that to the residents of Temecula.”

Alexander’s comment coincides with a surge in attacks on Asian Americans that has been reported across the country during the pandemic.

From March 19, 2020, to Feb. 28, there were 3,800 reports of anti-Asian attacks or racism nationwide, with Asian women making up 68% of those targeted, according to Stop AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islanders) Hate.

A March study from UC San Francisco examining around 700,000 tweets found that after former President Donald Trump tweeted about “the Chinese virus” on March 16, 2020, there was a rise in anti-Asian hashtags on Twitter related to coronavirus.

“These results may be a proxy of growth in anti-Asian sentiment that was not as prevalent as before,” said Yulin Hswen, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF. “Using racial terms associated with a disease can result in the perpetuation of further stigmatization of racial groups.”

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