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Shelter Projects: Tairan Qiu, “The New Year’s Outbreak” and “When?”

The Willson Center for Humanities and Arts, in partnership with the UGA Graduate School, UGA Arts Council, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and Flagpole, has awarded 34 micro-fellowships in its Shelter Projects program. The $500 fellowships support graduate students and community-based artists and practitioners in the creation of shareable reflections on their experience of the current pandemic through the arts and humanities.

Statement by Tairan Qiu: I’m a doctoral student in the Language and Literacy Education Department at UGA. I was born and raised in Kunming, China and enjoy living in Georgia because the landscape and weather here are similar to that of my hometown. For my research, I work with young immigrants from China and explore their literacies and transnational lives. In my spare time, I enjoy cooking, hiking and spending time with my husband and dog. The current project includes two bilingual poems that I wrote at different stages of the pandemic. In January, during Lunar New Year, I wrote “The New Year’s Outbreak” to express my longing for celebrations and time with family, and my worries and guilt for my country due to early outbreaks of the novel coronavirus. The second poem “When?” is a sequel to the first poem. It’s about my experiences of outbreaks in the U.S., at a later time.

Read “The New Year’s Outbreak” and “When?” below.

Flagpole: Tell us about your work and research in the Language and Literacy Education Department at UGA!

Tairan Qiu: In the Language and Literacy Education Department, I am an instructor for two undergraduate courses for pre-service teachers—Content Area Literacies and Language and Literacies. In my work with my students, I constantly challenge them to (re)consider the purpose of schooling and what it really means to be literate. I engage these future teachers in hands-on activities to think about how they could use culturally and linguistically responsive and sustaining teaching to engage their diverse future students in pursuing criticality, intellect and their students’ myriad identities.
Of course, as a doctoral student, I am also a researcher! My research interests are oriented around exploring the literacy practices of transnational youth, centering their stories and advocating for more opportunities in their schools, communities and homes to sustain their entire cultural, linguistic and literacies repertoires. Specifically, I work with young Chinese immigrants and their families. I explore their transnational language and literacy practices and how their border-crossing migration experiences shape these practices. My stance and mission in my research projects are to illuminate the realities, voices, joy and humanities of young people (and their families) who have migration experiences. 

Flagpole: What was your initial reaction to finding out about the novel coronavirus outbreak in China? How did your reaction change when you discovered the outbreak had spread to the U.S.?

TQ: When I first heard about the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan in January 2020, I was extremely worried. I was concerned about the medical system and its ability to take in the rapidly rising number of sick people; I was also worried about my parents, grandma and other family members who live in Yunnan Province (about 970 miles southwest of Wuhan). I called my parents twice a day, every single day for five months during the strict national lockdown, to hear about their quarantine life and to keep them company. I was guilty that I couldn’t do anything to help keep the people and places that I love safe.
However, I never expected the epidemic to turn into a pandemic. I was worried about how the U.S. would handle the outbreak—from institutions of power to individuals and communities in the local. All I could do was caution those around me, make sure they have masks and hope the outbreak in the U.S. gets controlled. I felt very helpless.

Flagpole: “When?” touches on many of the xenophobic and racist comments made against the Asian and American Asian populations following the onset of the pandemic. Did you experience any of these comments here in Athens?

TQ: Yes, in addition to the fear of getting sick from the coronavirus, I was also in fear of my life. When violent verbal and physical attacks against Asians started taking place in the U.S. and all over the world in March, I was scared to go to the grocery store by myself. Whenever I stepped foot out of my home, I was on high alert, constantly looking over my shoulder.
Fortunately, I did not experience any racist and xenophobic comments personally. However, this does not make it easier for me when navigating my Asian-ness during these precarious times. From March to May, I saw reports of attacks against the Asian community on social media and the news daily. Recently, I read that individuals were holding up “China Virus” signs on the UGA campus. These actions are deeply hurtful, and they should be condemned. As a Chinese person and educator, I feel deeply concerned about the longitudinal impact of these racist and xenophobic sentiments for the future Asian generations to come.

Flagpole: China and the U.S. have taken very different approaches to controlling the pandemic—and with very different results. Have you been in touch recently with any family members or friends living in China, and if so, how are they doing?

TQ: Now that the U.S. still does not have the COVID-19 outbreak under control, it’s my parents’ turn to be worried. They call or message me multiple times daily and continue to caution me to wear my mask, sanitize my groceries and stay in quarantine. My parents and other friends and family are doing well now. It is such a blessing that no one we know contracted the coronavirus (but this does not take away from the grief of so many deaths and families torn apart by the spread of the coronavirus). The first week of October was a national holiday and they went traveling and gathering with friends with family for a whole week. I hope one day, we can go travel and hug our families and friends with no fear as well in the U.S.

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