Almost a year after the Atlanta spa shootings, it’s hard to feel like much has changed in the way our culture talks and thinks about Asian hate crimes.
On Sunday evening, a 28-year-old man walked through Manhattan and struck seven Asian women out of the blue, two of whom ended up in the hospital, according to the New York Times. Surveillance video shows the alleged perpetrator, Steven Zajonc, strolling through the city after his rampage, seemingly unmoved. He was arrested and charged on Wednesday.
If you’re Asian American like me, news like this hardly elicits a reaction anymore. It’s just numbing. Almost one year after the Atlanta spa shootings, it’s hard to feel like much has changed in the way our culture talks and thinks about Asian hate crimes. Even when some outlets talk about our suffering, we remain abstractions: Asian woman is harassed. Asian man is slashed in the face.
Recently, ABC misidentified an activist, Grace Lee, as Michelle Go, the woman who was pushed to her death on a Times Square subway track, all during a segment about another murdered Asian woman, Christina Yuna Lee. It feels like to the wider culture, our death and suffering is interchangeable. At what point will it occur to people that our names are worth remembering?
Although Zajonc was arrested and charged with hate crimes on Wednesday, it’s hard to feel a larger sense of justice. According to Stop AAPI Hate, an independent California-based organization that tracks Asian hate crimes, there were more than 10,300 attacks against AAPI individuals between March of 2020 and September of 2021. One of those reports is mine.
Sometimes, I wonder how many of the other reports are from people I love. Few of us have come out of the past two years unscathed by racist incidents and many of us have decided to suffer through them in silence, unsure if our feelings are fully valid, perhaps afraid of our own victimhood. Although xenophobia is an American tradition as old as this country itself, these spikes in crime linked to COVID has made anti-Asian sentiment literally impossible for us to ignore. A lot of us are frustrated, sad and angry. Not enough people tell us that it’s okay to feel this way. So in case you’re reading this and no one has told you: It’s okay to feel this way.
What’s important now is that we find a way forward. Although it feels impossible to know where to start, there’s one thing I know for sure. We need action-oriented, meaningful solutions — for us and all marginalized groups who experience hate crimes. More cops and prisons are not the answer because one perpetrator of violence will simply be replaced by the next. When the perpetrators of that violence are mentally ill or houseless, we need to demand that our government take care of them so that we do not become scapegoats. And unless we demand a change in the way our culture sees and understands Asian Americans in general, violence against our community will absolutely continue.
Fortunately, there have been new community efforts that have sprung up in the past years that don’t involve more cops or prisons. Notably, there’s Safe Walks NYC, a non-profit where people can request a companion to walk them to wherever they need to go. Blasian March is creating dialogue between the Black Lives Matter movement and Stop Asian Hate. Red Canary Song gives Asian sex workers tools to protect themselves from trafficking. Send Chinatown Love is helping family-owned Asian businesses survive.
Whenever I get depressed about the ongoing violence against our community, I like to remind myself that change is slow, often painful, and never easy. The fact that someone like me gets to write about my feelings on Asian identity is itself a radical act — growing up, I never felt like these feelings were valid. It was as if the racism I experienced wasn’t important or worth talking discussing.
As we approach the grim anniversary of the Atlanta shootings, I remind myself that my frustration is warranted. But ultimately I am grounded in my body, this Asian vessel that is propelled forward by the momentum of our ancestors, determined to survive.