Inspire – Women of Dartmouth Stories

What I Saw on the Frontline

Dear Xenophobia:

You don’t know me,

But I carry the weight of you with each step I take,

and I have remained silent.

Because my Yéye* taught me 

“Silence is Gold”1: those who do well, say little.

Until you shoved him onto the ground.

My Nǎinai** believed 

“the greatest kindness is like water”2: it nurtures, and never contends.

But you slapped her, and set her clothes on fire

So today,

I speak for all those who can’t.


Tell me to go back to where I came from one more time,

I will root even more firmly into where we are both standing.

Spit on my face one more time, 

I will turn my back to your heart of hatred,

and know that the last drop of water has left the drought of your humanity. 

Vandalize my livelihood one more time,

I will show you the rebuilding power of my community, 

and erase the hurtful words you graffitied onto the walls of Our America. 

Point a gun at me one more time, 

the world will learn that I have already won, 

because while your weapons shoot lives down, 

mine build generations up. 

Oh dear Xenophobia,

You tried to rob me of my life,

but you cannot rob me of my pride.

The pride of being who I am,

And walking where I belong.  

I will go on playing the jazz of honor with my broken fingers

keep my head up high with my slashed-open face

hold my brothers and sisters with my acid-burned hands

and look for the light through my bleeding eyes

Because, Xenophobia,

I am not a virus. 

I am virtues.

The same virtues my ancestors passed onto me, 

I will pass onto the next generations of Americans, 

whatever their skin colors may be:  

Benevolence (rén 仁), possessing the ability to love one another; 

Righteousness (yì 义), taking on the responsibility to help one another;

Propriety (lǐ 礼), having the humility to respect one another;

Wisdom (zhì 智), knowing right and wrong, good and evil;

and Fidelity (xìn 信), being true to one’s words.

The words that separate me from you, 

Love from hate. 

Mengyi (“Zed”) Zha, Class of 2016, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth

Dartmouth changed my life, and continues to do so. Getting into medical schools while on visa was hard, and Geisel was one of the only schools that not only accepted international students, but also gave us equal scholarship and financial aid opportunities. After completing residency training at the La Crosse – Mayo Clinic Family Medicine Residency in 2019, I went on to work in a large Federally Qualified Health Center in eastern Washington.

In March, 2020, just a few months into my new first job in the “real world”, I was appointed the clinical lead of the COVID-19 Task Force of my organization, the largest medical clinic in Adams County. This position was given to me at a time when nearly nobody knew anything about the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and therefore a studious ability to dive into the primary scientific literature was needed. Having been introduced to my colleagues as the “Ivy league graduated, and Mayo trained” new addition, I was their first choice. This was going to make or break my young career. And I was just hoping it wasn’t the latter.

I worked alongside the CEO on anything COVID-19 related. To name a few tasks I took on: I advised on policies that protected staff and patients. I drafted both outpatient diagnosis/treatment protocols for our clinic, and the inpatient plans for the local community hospital. I made weekly educational videos for the public to help debunk myths, and navigate the ever changing recommendations. I directed mass testings, and worked closely with the Grant and Adams county Department of Health in monitoring and responding to community outbreaks. And of course, I always based what I advised on the newest and strongest research. And eventually, I went on to produce a pandemic related study of my own.

In short, I am a first generation Chinese immigrant, and a physician who works in the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic in America. My parents came to visit me from Beijing, China in January, 2020 for Chinese New Year. But due to international travel restrictions, their two-month visit turned into a one-and-half year stay. My parents don’t speak English, and their favorite pastimes were delivering homemade dumplings to my friends and colleagues, and taking walks around the neighborhood. But during the height of anti-Asian hate crimes, I became unsure if these were still safe for them to do. I was angry, scared, hurt, and confused. So I started writing.

Currently, I am writing a book in which I tell stories of the pandemic from the perspectives of my unique identities. It is both through practicing medicine and writing that I am learning the power of words, my words. Dear Xenophobia is a poem I wrote a few months ago, to help me cope with the hate and ignorant my Asian and Pacific Islander community face in America, and to declare that we not only belong here, but we aim to make it better.

Dr. Zha is active on Twitter at @DrZedZha. Follow to learn more.



4 thoughts on “What I Saw on the Frontline”

  1. Bernardine Wu '90

    Wow. This story struck home. Thank you, Dr. Zha for sharing so deeply. And what an amazing start to a career I hope to follow along.

  2. Hello! Thank you for your comment. Like a lot of us, I didn’t know how to turn my anger to something constructive. Maybe there isn’t such a way. <3

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