These days, the line at Olmsted County Fairgrounds can stretch up to a dozen cars long. The drivers are often alone and they have come, not to experience the pleasures of the fair, but to learn whether they’ve contracted Covid-19. I feel for them. As an intake professional, who previously worked at the Olmsted Medical Clinic ER in Rochester, it’s my job to make a difficult experience as painless as possible. It’s a busy, all-hands-on-deck job, but I’m happy to contribute in a time of need.
I like to believe that when my fellow Minnesotans look at me—an immigrant from Vietnam—they don’t feel the Covid-19-related xenophobia that many Asian-Americans have experienced in recent months. Instead, I hope they see me as someone who is there to help. I do this work, because service to community is both a longstanding part of my heritage and an integral part of being American. It’s why I served six years in the U.S Army reserves before going to work at the Clinic. And it’s why so many immigrants I know are currently stepping up to help our neighbors. Despite the discrimination and stigma we often face, we are committed to strengthening and unifying the country we call home. No matter whether you’re black, white, or brown, we all bleed the same red blood.
Immigrants are especially vital to addressing worker shortages in the American healthcare industry. In 2015, there were ten open healthcare jobs for every unemployed healthcare worker, according to the bipartisan non-profit New American Economy (NAE). By 2018, that number had increased to 13. The pandemic has created even greater demand across the country. Asian American and Pacific Islander immigrants have been crucial to filling these gaps since the start of the pandemic. 8.5 percent of healthcare workers are immigrants of Asian American or Pacific Islander heritage, compared to just 6.8 percent of the total U.S. population. Across America, one out of every seven physicians and surgeons is an Asian American or Pacific Islander immigrant.
My own work in the healthcare sector isn’t medical, but it’s no less important. As an intake specialist, I help vulnerable patients who may lack insurance or need help with their coverage, As the youngest board member of the AFL-CIO Minnesota’s Board of Labor, I’m committed to securing rights and protections for working Minnesotans, no matter their background.
That’s one thing I love about Minnesota: people stand up for each other and band together, especially in difficult times. When the hospital was short on masks and PPE, people started donating homemade ones left and right. They came out in force to the donation drive-throughs we set up. Not only did the hospital’s needs get met, we had a surplus for our patients. Restaurants and local businesses also came through, delivering lunch and dinner to the test site and the hospital. Many of these businesses gave to us, even though they were forced to close their doors.
This community spirit stands in opposition to the stigma, discrimination, and xenophobia that so many immigrants experience today—especially Asian Americans who have been unfairly blamed for the pandemic. My own family members and loved ones have heard rude and racist comments at the grocery store, sentiments stoked by divisive and hateful political rhetoric. But that’s not who Americans really are, which is why we continue to walk forward in unity. All of us who live in the United States—whether you have a green card, are undocumented, are first-generation or have roots that reach back a century– can come together as we did here in Minnesota to work for the common good.
Sometimes the political messages to fear and distrust each other feel more frightening than the virus. Then I look at the anxious people in the testing line, and I know that at our core, we are all just human. We’re all in this together, native and foreign-born. Together we can fill the growing gaps in healthcare. Together, we’ll recover from the pandemic. Together, we’ll work our way out of this recession. There’s never been a better time for unity.
Danh Vo works in the emergency room at Olmsted Medical Center, and serves on the board of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota.