Smithsonian Accepts “Fight the Virus, NOT the People” COVID-19 Banner

San Francisco Donation Ceremony May 10 Heralds Banner Being Added to National Collections
May 5, 2022
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Group of people stand outside with a protest banner

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will officially accept a 20-by-4-foot red vinyl banner with the words, “Fight the Virus, NOT the People” from the San Francisco Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA) in a May 10 ceremony in that city. It is the most recent artifact added to the nation’s collections related to the effects, experiences and enormity of the COVID-19 pandemic. The museum has also collected a digital image by photographer Lucy Xie capturing the banner’s prominent display at the front of the community’s march against racism. 

Carried by representatives of the CCBA and members of the Chinese American community in an anti-Asian hate march Feb. 29, 2020, the banner was used in one of the first U.S. rallies to protest COVID-19-related hate crimes against Asian Americans. It also called for support of the Chinatown small business community, which continues to struggle. 

“This one artifact shows how members of the oldest Chinatown in North America challenged scapegoating during a public health crisis, a story that traces the ongoing discrimination and violence faced by people of Asian American descent and illuminates their resiliency,” said Anthea M. Hartig, the museum’s Elizabeth MacMillan Director. “It is a humbling honor to accept this banner on behalf of the nation’s flagship history museum.”

“The CCBA is grateful that the Smithsonian acknowledges what happened to Chinese and Asian Americans during the 2020–2022 pandemic,” said Walter Wong, CCBA president. “Through this banner, we hope our community’s struggle for justice and freedom from racism and discrimination will be made known to Americans and museum visitors. We hope this is just the beginning of our community’s continuing relationship with the Smithsonian.” 

In Cantonese, the banner spells out: “Together we support the businesses, [we are] against discrimination,” and “[We] support fighting the global pandemic, with courage and determination.”

It was carried at the front of a 1,000-person procession with representatives from family associations, businesses, community agencies, pastors, local politicians and youth groups. The banner was signed and dated by then CCBA president Dan Ding Bong Lee. A second banner was also used in the march.

The ceremony is the museum’s signature event to mark Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. While there are no immediate plans for display, the museum is working on a digital program to include interviews with community leaders and organizers. The banner is relevant to the museum’s research on public health emergencies, the work of benevolent societies and non-violent protests. Featured in a digital program presented with AARP last May, the banner was also in the museum’s “Pandemic Perspectives” series. Resources and additional information are available on the museum’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month website.

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History seeks to empower people to create a more just and compassionate future by examining, preserving and sharing the complexity of our past. Located on Constitution Avenue N.W., between 12th and 14th streets, the museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. The doors of the museum are always open online. For more information, go to https://americanhistory.si.edu

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Melinda Machado

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Lucas Fierro-Hayden
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