This New Yorker Cover Brilliantly Captures How It Feels to Be Asian-American Right Now

“It symbolizes the fear of existing in a place where we no longer feel welcome,” a Vietnamese-American student said.
April 5 issue of The New Yorker
The April 5 issue of The New Yorker, with cover illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson.

The train hasn’t come. A mother holds her daughter’s hand and raises her wrist, as though to check the time. But the woman is not looking at her watch. Something else is on her mind. Her daughter looks behind her shoulder. Something may happen to them. Something bad.

The New Yorker’s latest cover, drawn by the artist R. Kikuo Johnson, captures the fear that permeates Asian-American communities across the United States amid a surge in racial violence targeting them.

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“It symbolizes the fear of existing in a place where we no longer feel welcome, waiting for a figurative train to take us away from this seemingly inescapable hole,” said Viet-Hai Huynh, a Vietnamese-American college student in Berkeley, California.

“We’re forced to constantly feel paranoid about our surroundings and can’t trust anyone anymore,” he said. 

The New Yorker cover has resonated with many Asian-Americans like Huynh, who have been forced to raise their guard against attacks that could come at them at any time: when they visit grocery stores, go to church, or otherwise live their lives in the world’s richest country.

“Seeing all of the recent attacks on Asian-Americans throughout the last week just fills me with so much anger, and I keep worrying about my parents and everyone around me,” he told VICE World News. 

He could be referring to a violent episode on Tuesday morning, when a man was filmed beating a 65-year-old Philippine-American woman while yelling, “You don’t belong here.” And when the woman was down, the assailant kicked and stomped on her as several other men looked on. One man, who worked for the building from which the film was captured, approached the woman only to shut the door in her face.

But he could be referring to any of the 3,800 instances of racial incidents that were reported committed against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders since March 2020, according to a tally by the organization Stop AAPI Hate. 

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More than a tenth of the incidents were physical attacks. But even among those, only a fraction was publicly known, let alone turning into a national conversation about the increased discrimination against people of Asian descent since the start of the pandemic last year.

Billy Nyugen, a recent college graduate from San Jose State University, said the drawing portrayed a “strong image for today’s time.”

The recent spade of anti-Asian attacks “makes me anxious thinking about it every day considering my mom goes out for groceries here and there and my dad also works,” he told VICE World News. 

In a New Yorker interview about the cover illustration, titled “Delayed,” the Asian-American artist said fear for his family’s safety inspired the drawing.

“As I absorbed one account after another, they became increasingly difficult to read. So many mothers and grandmothers have been targeted. I imagined my own mom in that situation. I thought about my grandma and my aunt, who have been among my greatest sources of support. The mother in the drawing is made up of all these women,” said Johnson, who was born on Maui, Hawaii.

Violence and discrimination against Asian-Americans has prompted the Biden administration to set up a new Justice Department initiative to address hate crimes.

The move came two weeks after shootings in the Atlanta-area killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent. As part of the administration’s efforts, the Department of Health and Human Services will spend $49.5 million to support AAPI—Asian-Americans and Pacific Islands—survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

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In California, the deadly attack on Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai man, in January has prompted Alameda County to create a special response unit to investigate crimes against Asian-Americans, especially the elderly.

Huynh, whose parents are Vietnamese refugees, said he feels anxious when thinking about his parents just being outside. 

“My mom is really bad at answering her phone which already worries me enough,” he told VICE World News. 

“The most powerful part of this image is definitely the young girl… It reminds me of how me and my siblings have to watch out for my parents now that we’re grown.”

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