“My parents told me it was to keep myself and others safe,” she told HuffPost. “I would see others wear masks as well, especially during the winter seasons.”
The masks weren’t just a medical accessory, she said. For many, they served an aesthetic purpose: something a woman might put on to cover a makeup-less face while running errands or a K-Pop star might slip on to avoid being spotted by fans in an airport.
Cho distinctly remembers that when her family moved to New York, her mom told her that she had to stop wearing masks in public because people would think she was ill or would look at her funny.
“She was scared of me seeming more foreign than I already was at the time as a young immigrant,” the college student said. “Because of that, I’ve never worn a mask in a Western country prior to COVID.”
Masking up is second nature to East Asian immigrants like Cho. But others haven’t taken so easily to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation to wear a facial covering. The guidelines have incited a nationwide feud about public health and civil liberties. Some Americans refuse to wear masks, claiming its contrary to their personal freedom. The most strident in the anti-mask movement have called them “unconstitutional,” “autocratic” and “muzzles.”
Meanwhile, in East Asian countries, the majority of the public adapted quickly to mask-wearing (or were already wearing them to begin with) ― something experts believe has contributed to lower COVID-19 death rates.
Naturally, there’s more to the story than masks: Compared to the West, East Asian countries tend to have much lower rates of obesity, a leading risk factor for serious COVID-19 cases. Preliminary studies have also suggested that East Asians may have built up an immunity to the virus, given the history of...