A Year into Lockdown, South Asian New Yorkers Share their Stories

Six South Asians — the Asian subgroup with the highest number of positive cases and hospitalizations — lay bare their pandemic experiences.

Samira Sadeque

April 7, 2021

A Year into Lockdown, South Asian New Yorkers Share their Stories
Photos by Samira Sadeque, illustration by Imaan Sheikh

A domestic violence survivor who was turned away from shelters because of her home-aide work. A restaurateur whose target to earn a profit was interrupted. A traveling nurse who was in New York for a visit but had to stay.

At the beginning of the pandemic, these stories, along with the overall South Asian population in New York, did not have faces. The city did not know how to count them when collecting data on COVID-19 patients and deaths. All the data provided by the government clumped South Asians under the umbrella term Asian American, one of the most diverse groups of ethnicities, which obfuscates the varied realities of the community's subgroups.

Since then, more research has come to light. A November report, which examined 85,000 patients in the Asian community, claims South Asians are the Asian subgroup with the highest number of positive cases and hospitalization, second only to Hispanics in testing positive and Blacks in hospitalizations.

Amid these numbers, the stories of these faces are finally starting to emerge. Not all of them are coming out of the pandemic with a happy ending. Some have hope, some are ready to return home, and some are looking for safety.