Inspired by R.O. Kwon’s “A Letter to My Fellow Asian Women Whose Hearts Are Still Breaking,” which made me feel seen, heard, and loved. Content Warnings: sexual violence, violence and death
The last few days, my heart has been heavy, beating faster every time I click into news updates, heartbeat loud in my ears after reading about yet another case of anti-Asian racism. Most recently, I read about the Atlanta spa shootings that caused eight deaths, six of which were Asian women. I didn’t even realize I was crying until my pillow was wet and I had to remind myself to breathe. While I realized how urgent the situation was, it took a few days to process the shock and trauma before writing about it.
I wish I could say this was a new feeling. The reality is that anti-Asian racism has always been around, and has only been on the rise in the last year with the COVID-19 pandemic. This was amplified by former President Trump calling the virus the ‘Chinese Virus,’ completely against the World Health Organization’s guidelines, along with other problematic slurs like ‘Kung Flu.’
Anti-Asian sentiments are not new, and Canada is not an exception: Canadian history includes the Chinese Head Tax, the loss of voting rights, hiring exclusions, hospital and school segregation, the Chinese Immigration Act, Japanese Internment, and more. In the last year, hate crimes against Asians in Vancouver rose by 717% and Statistics Canada found an increase in the frequency of harassment or attacks based on race, where the difference was “most pronounced among Chinese (30%), Korean (27%), and Southeast Asian (19%) participants.”
A hate crime, according to Oxford Languages, is “a crime, typically one involving violence, that is motivated by prejudice on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, or other grounds.” Based on history and my own lived experiences, I, unfortunately, can’t say I’m surprised at the uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes. That doesn’t make the surge any less terrifying. First, racists targeted our beloved elderly. Over 20 attacks were reported in Oakland in February, including the death of 84-year old Vicha Ratanapakdee. More recently, 75-year old Xiao Zhen Xie was punched at a traffic light in broad daylight by a man named Steven Jenkins. Although she was able to defend herself, she was left with a bleeding eye, fear, and trauma. That same attacker, Jenkins, attacked 83-year old Ngoc Pham, who was shopping for groceries. Pham sustained injuries, including cuts and bruises on his head. These are only the reported, physical attacks; that means these statistics and news reports barely scratch the surface, while decades of verbal harassment and more physical attacks lie underneath.
Stop AAPI Hate reported nearly 3800 incidents in the last year during the pandemic. 68% of these reports are from women. Asian women lie at the vulnerable intersection between their race and gender. I’ve often caught myself fearing for my life when walking home: “If I’m attacked, is it because I’m a woman? Or is it because I’m Asian? What if it’s both?” The horrific reality is that I’m not alone in these thoughts. The Atlanta shootings are surely a testament to the validity of these fears. 21-year old Robert Aaron Long targeted Asian spas and massage parlours, killed eight people, six of which were women of Asian descent, and was caught on his way to more. Yet, Cherokee County Sheriff spokesperson, Captain Jay Baker, remarked that he had a “really bad day.” He added that Long has a “sex addiction” and “sees these locations as a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.” Not only were his actions not condemned, but they were framed in a forgiving light, diminishing his crimes and the lives of the victims, their families and their communities. Furthermore, this string of murders exposes the problematic perception of Asian women, particularly in the Western world. The murderer viewed these innocent women as sexual temptation, likely a result of his, and many others’, sexualized fantasies of Asian women. Diet Prada compiled a few examples of the media’s harmful depiction of Asian women, including pop culture staples, like Austin Powers and Mean Girls, that perpetuate and normalize stereotypes of Asian women as “exotic beings who are either hyper-sexualized temptresses or submissive and lack any agency.” Comedians like Amy Schumer and Tina Fey use Asian women as their punchlines, once against popularizing detrimental stereotypes of Asian women.
Before I sign off, I want to tell you a bit more about the victims of the Atlanta shootings. While they play a larger role in drawing attention to anti-Asian racism as a whole, we should remember the individual, innocent victims. Remember their names: Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Yong Ae Yue, Hyun Jung Grant, Soon Chung Park, Suncha Kim. I cannot speak enough in their memory, but remember that they all had their own lives, hopes, and dreams too.
I implore you to learn, raise awareness, and talk to your loved ones about anti-Asian racism. To my fellow Asian women whose hearts may still be breaking, I want to remind you that you matter. Your fears are valid, but don’t forget that your hopes and dreams are so worthy too. Despite all the gaslighting, hypersexualization, and disrespect, you are strong, intelligent, and beautiful. Take up space. You belong.