God Sees AAPI Essential Workers: An Easter Reflection

For Faith in Action‘s Keeping Faith Series

April 5, 2021

God Sees AAPI essential workers – an Easter reflection

As we remember essential workers who have disproportionately experienced illnesses and deaths during the pandemic, I want to recognize the Asian American and Pacific Islanders who have also borne the risks and have yet to be fully acknowledged. Many are just beginning to learn about this nation’s long history of anti-Asian hatred and violence. During this pandemic, members of the AAPI community have been victims of a horrific rise in discrimination, violence, and hate crimes. More than 3,800 attacks on Asian Americans have been reported. Then there was the shootings in Atlanta.

But Asian American and Pacific Islander essential workers have also been disproportionately impacted by COVID:

— Filipino nurses make up 4% of all the nurses in the United States, yet they make up 31.5% of the deaths of nurses from COVID. And one of those nurses was Rosary Castro-Olega. Rosary came out of retirement at the start of the pandemic because she really wanted to help out, but she was one of the first Filipino nurses to die from COVID.1

— Last year, data about the COVID infection rate of South Asians essential workers in New York City was initially under-reported. These workers compose a large part of the essential workforce (with high concentrations in low-wage, service sector jobs such as taxi driving, restaurant work, and managing grocery stores). A deeper analysis showed that South Asians had the second-highest infection and hospitalization rates for COVID-19, second only to Hispanic Americans. And Chinese Americans had the highest COVID-19 mortality rates compared to all other racial and ethnic groups.2

— In addition, AAPI women who are essential workers have continued to face an alarming and unacceptable pay gap. The pay disparities are largest among elementary and middle school teachers, with AAPI women being paid just 79% of what non-Hispanic white men are paid. AAPI women registered nurses are paid 82% of what non-Hispanic white men are paid. Lastly, AAPI women cashiers and wait staff make 84% and 89%, respectively, as much as non-Hispanic white men in those occupations.3

AAPI essential workers are seen, yet not seen.4

But despite the history of exclusion and erasure, AAPI essential workers and others who have been rendered invisible can draw encouragement from the God of the Hebrew Scriptures.5 Not only was God the God of Abraham and Sarah, God was also the God of Hagar, the Egyptian. In Genesis 16, Hagar, whose name literally means “immigrant,” was abused in her adopted family. One might call Hagar an essential worker, for her pregnancy was key to the childless Abram and Sarai’s legacy. Instead, she was rewarded with spite. So she fled into the desert to nurse her indignity, and I believe, was sorely tempted to normalize her invisibility. But God would have none of that. An angel met Hagar at a desert wellspring and delivered a powerful message – God’s promise of a great progeny. And that is how God received the title, “El-roi,” the One who sees me, for this was the name Hagar gave to God (v. 13). God is “El-roi” for those who are rendered invisible in our society, too.

What is more, Christians believe that Jesus invites his followers to also open their eyes and see. In Luke’s accounts, two of Jesus’ disciples left their peers, who were still shocked by his crucifixion and death, and made their way towards Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). They had heard reports from some women disciples that Jesus’ tomb was empty. The women also reported that the angels at the tomb claimed that Jesus was alive. Yet, instead of staying to find out what happened, they chose to walk away. Perhaps they no longer wanted to be associated with Jesus. Perhaps they wanted to hide and make themselves invisible. But when Jesus joined them on their journey, the disciples did not recognize him. This is pretty strange, when one considers that they spent the last three years with Jesus. Despite clear signs of hope, including Jesus’ living presence, they saw only death. Faces downcast, they never recognized that it was the resurrected Jesus who had accompanied them all along. Not until dinner time, when they broke bread together, were their eyes finally opened.

Essential workers are not seen and recognized because doing would require opening our eyes to the injustices and inhumanity of our social systems – and our uncomfortable complicity. Similarly, the AAPI community is not seen and recognized because we would then have to acknowledge a more complex history of racialization in the U.S. than many of us are ready to embrace. But people of faith can trust that their God is One who sees; their God is One who invites others to see. May we draw strength from our faith traditions, knowing that God sees us. May we keep our eyes open to those rendered invisible among us. Let us hang on to hope and continue to work towards greater equality and dignity.


Notes

[1] “Why Are We Here?Codeswitch Podcast (March 31, 2021); “4 Percent of Nurses, 31.5 Percent of Deaths. Why Filipino nurses have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemicThe Atlantic Podcast (February 25, 2021).

[2]  Sojourner Ahébée, “‘Without data, there’s no equity’: Deficient Asian American COVID-19 data masked community-wide disparities.” WHYY (PBS) (March 14, 2021).

[3] Nick Kauzlarich and Daniel Perez, “AAPI Equal Pay Day: Essential AAPI women workers continue to be underpaid during the COVID-19 pandemicWorking Economics Blog (March 8, 2021).

[4] AAPI Frontline NBC News (an attempt to give visibility and to honor AAPI essential workers).

[5] Olivia B. Waxman, “A ‘History of Exclusion, of Erasure, of Invisibility.’ Why the Asian-American Story Is Missing From Many U.S. Classrooms Time Magazine (March 30, 2021).

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