I felt a kinship with the women killed in Atlanta. And the distance
I had a bikini wax last week – my first in several years. It’s not a regular indulgence for me, more like something I do maybe once a year when I know I’m going to be spending a lot of time in a bathing suit. On this occasion, I was planning a spring break trip to Los Angeles with my eldest daughter. It was to be our first plane trip since the start of the pandemic.
What I didn’t realize when I made the appointment was that I had scheduled it for the first anniversary of the shootings at three Atlanta spas, in which eight people were killed, including six Asian women. That night, I was on a trip with my eldest, who slept while I scanned the headlines. I couldn’t sleep as the wind blew from the pond just outside our Airbnb on Cape Cod. The next morning I texted some friends who I knew were waking up heavy as well. I was raw, fumbling to articulate my thoughts.
I took long walks on the beach, letting the late-winter Atlantic wind whip my hair into a frenzy.
As I lay under a small towel, staring at the blue ceiling waiting for the beautician, I thought of the deceased: Hyun Jung Grant, Xiaojie Tan, Suncha Kim, Soon Chung Park, Yong Ae Yue, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Ashley Yaun and Paul Andre Michels. Their last moments in rooms like this.
I felt estranged from these women — born into my middle-class American life from a Japanese immigrant mother and a white American father, my financial safety net growing with age and marriage. But there was also a feeling of kinship. I, too, have endured the expectation of being submissive, exoticized, hypersexualized, pursued because I fulfill a “fetish” as an East Asian woman. The tension between the two – distance and kinship – is never far from my mind.
I help organizations and businesses engage with issues of equity and inclusion. My workshops begin with identity and intersectionality. Invented by a jurist and critical race theorist Kimberle Crenshawand rooted in black feminismintersectionality is a lens through which to view overlapping inequalities and how they worsen for some people.
Intersectionality immediately came to mind when I read the lyrics of Jennifer Wua lawyer who represents the families of two Asian women who have been assaulted in New York since the 2021 shootings in Atlanta: Hoa Nguyen, punched in the face as of January 2022, survived; and GuiYing Man, attacked with a stone in November 2021, no. Wu said:
The way the law has dealt with hate crimes is to force people to choose a reason why the hate crime is committed. The law is not structured to recognize the reality that the reason we love and hate people is for a multitude of reasons and not just one exclusive reason.
the law is not written to see those who are marginalized in their entirety. The racism and misogyny that combine in acts of violence against Asian women are flattened when we fail to recognize their intersectional identities. This erasure, including legal systems that are not put in place with the necessary nuance that Crenshaw and others illuminate, is additional brutality. In the case of the Atlanta victims, the perception that spa workers are sex workers adds another layer. Their murders cannot simply be encompassed in a broader “anti-Asian hatred”.”
As the list of assaulted asians and murdered grows up, there is only a limited amount of grainy security camera footage I can save. There are days when I have to numb myself and if just to get out of bed. I wonder, especially with my KN95 mask, how people perceive my race. I worry about my mother, who takes the New York subway and crosses Manhattan. During a recent visit to my parents’ apartment, I noticed my father accompanying my mother on errands that she would once have done alone. I didn’t ask why.
When michelle go was murdered 10 months after the Atlanta shootings, I couldn’t sleep. She’d been pushed in front of a New York City subway train, and I couldn’t help but think of my teenage years and how, even then, I always made sure to stand by the steel beams scattered throughout many stations. I’ve never turned up the music on my Walkman too high, always on alert. Long before the mass shooting in Atlanta, I looked over my shoulder in parking lots, on sidewalks, in hallways. The stabbings of Christina Yuna Lee is a reminder that security, when felt, is temporary.
During a recent visit to my parents’ apartment, I noticed my father accompanying my mother on errands that she would once have done alone. I didn’t ask why.
And of course, I know that the fear I am experiencing now is a status quo that others have experienced for centuries. This is another reminder and indication of my privilege. President Trump and his administration normalized the anti-Asian rhetoric that has always existed, fanning its flames into wildfire. As the violence continues, the silence of so many – public figures and friends – is remarkable. No matter how many workshops I lead on anti-Asian racism and AAPI activism, I feel like I’m screaming into the void.
I re-read the text thread with my friends from the day after the Atlanta shooting. The messages detailed the physical manifestations – headaches, clenched teeth – of their reactions. We collectively shook our heads at the media coverage, which centered on the feelings of the shooter and wondered if his actions were racially motivated. I remember in the days that followed how we validated each other’s confusion, fear and anger. We turned to writers like RO Kwonwho knew how to write so quickly.
Today, I still struggle to find the words. I’m self-editing, feeling I’m not “Asian enough” to write this. The impostor syndrome that I’ve carried all my life, is another layer, complicating my anxiety and fear. Intellectually, I know this is a manifestation of internalized racism, which white supremacy takes advantage of when I shut myself up. Still, I can’t help feeling that I don’t have the powers to bear this pain. But wear it, I do: Every day as I cook my daughters lunch, ask my husband how his day is going and zoom in on the meetings where March 16 didn’t mark anything for others above. beyond the numbers on a calendar.
Back on the spa table, the hot wax smears did their job, pulling out every hair at the root. The beautician asked me about my daughters, then she told me about hers. As she worked with precision, I let myself be distracted by every moment of sharp pain. How the same hands that tore in one instant, soothed the next.