Signs made by Alina Li for 1000 Paper Cranes Project: Asian Visibility rally and vigil
Of course, guns can kill me. A White man just proved it in Atlanta, GA on March 16. Ever since I heard about the shooting, I avoided the news. Sorrow welled up inside me, and hearing another word would break the dam beyond my control. I calmly replied to messages that my family and friends sent my way.
I’ve been thinking of you. Are you okay?
I’m okay. Thanks for checking on me.
It did not hit me until I went online to check out a local event, 1000 Paper Cranes Project: Asian Visibility rally and vigil. There, I saw the names of the victims. The first one was Soon Chung Park. That is my last name. She was the oldest, 74. The youngest was Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33. Six years younger than me. If you combine the syllables of the Asian victims’ names, you could have easily formed the birth names of me and my mother: Seo Jung Park and Ae Sun Hwang. If we were standing among them, we would have blended in so well that we could have been them, shot, and killed. 10 victims instead of 8.
What keeps showing up in my head is the nail salon where my mother used to work. She spent over 15 years there. I knew her coworkers, all of them Asian and Latina, and they knew me. I frequently visited and have a vivid memory of that space: long from front to back, white-painted walls, black and white furniture, potted plants alongside the street-facing glass. When I stood in front of the restroom in the back, I could see the whole space down to the customer standing at the entrance. And now in my brief moments of imagination, there stands a White man with a gun. I might be able to make a quick step and go inside the small storage/lunch room next to me. But there is no coverage for anyone else. Tiny manicure desks and the one-person counter will not protect them from bullets. This plays over and over without my demand.
One video I willingly watched was a five-minute clip by Trevor Noah. It brought me some comfort because he said the 2021 Atlanta Spa Shooting was not a surprise. I was not surprised. We saw it coming, and we didn't stop it. Ever since I immigrated to the United States in 1998, I have experienced and witnessed racism against Asians. The biggest challenge I face in my job of teaching English to immigrant students is witnessing their experiences of structural racism and classism. Often, they are extra vulnerable to mistreatment by employers and harassment from customers because they don't have other viable job opportunities, due to their status and/or language skills. How this country is designed to treat immigrants of color or immigrants from non-English speaking countries is a much bigger problem than one mass shooting. How Asian and other immigrants of color are commodified and valued only as hardworking cheap labor is a much bigger problem than one mass shooting.
Here I share the poem I read at the Asian visibility rally (edited since the event). It was first inspired by Patricia Smith’s What It's Like To Be A Black Girl (for those of you that aren't). #StopAsianHate #StopAAPIHate is the minimum. Unless we dismantle the last boss—White supremacy, the hashtag will repeat itself with rotating answers for filling in the blank: #Stop______Hate.
Content warning: sexualized racism
Asian Beauty and The Beasts
Water running through my fingers,
Staring at a mirror,
a moment of realization:
shit, my face looks so Asian.
Covering my face with a big hat under the beautiful sun
lest it darkens my skin and marks my cheeks with dots.
Skin not fair enough
Eyebrows not dark enough
Eyelashes not long enough
Eyes not round enough
Nose not high enough
Teeth not straight enough
Hair not curly enough
Boobs not big enough
Belly not flat enough
Butt not tight enough
Proportions don’t look right
All wrong, off-balance
Made a man on the bus question:
Is your vagina slit sideways?
I’m just being friendly
Do you say that to everyone
or just young Asian women?
Where are you from?
New York City
Where are you REALLY from?
Do you ask that question to White people, too?
Is it too much to ask?
I want to be Asian
without you seeing me
just as an Asian.
Why can’t you open YOUR eyes
and see beyond my skin?
Is it so difficult to
treat me like an individual?
Jumping rope, heaving through my wet mouth.
Jogging around the block with my dance teacher
who urges me to run run run
until the fat drops off of my butt, thighs, belly, chest, face.
Aerobic classes, middle-aged housewives
Plastic wrap, tight around their bodies to squeeze out more sweat.
Vanilla-flavored powder that’s supposed to help me lose weight.
Mom, why did we go through all those troubles
if we still can’t get respect from others and ourselves?
Last few weeks, I felt like I was put on the spot. How do you feel about your people being killed? Tell us about your experience of living in the US as an Asian American. All of sudden, I was at a podium in front of a microphone. It should be a good thing. Definitely better than nothing. But then, I didn’t want to be seen or heard at the cost of other Asian women’s lives. No, not like this.
P.S. Here is a list of online contents on related topics that I can personally recommend:
I bawled out reading Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. It’s a masterpiece of historical fiction about Korean immigrants in Japan between 1910 and 1989.
I’m about to read Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, a memoir by Cathy Park Hong.
Courn Ahn (she/her) promoted social justice messages through her beautiful graphic design.
Scene on Radio - Seeing White, a series of 14 episodes on the Whiteness of the United States of America
Nancy - Taiwan! (36 min): Traveling to Taiwan with her mom, Kathy imagines the life she might have lived had her family hadn’t immigrated to the US.
Cheap Lazy Vegan: a YouTube channel run by Korean Canadian Rose shows how to live a cheap lazy vegan lifestyle.
Kim's Convenience: a Netflix series about the life of the Korean Canadian Kim family who runs a convenience store in Toronto. It was empowering to see diverse Asian characters taking the center stage of an entire TV series.