Neighbors

To be Asian and Atlantan right now

By Simi Shah

Randy Park and I are the same age, 23. If my neighborhood were 2 miles to the left, we would’ve gone to the same high school. We’ve probably strolled the same parks; frequented the same shops. This little metro Atlanta suburb is our home.

Two days ago, Randy Park discovered that his mother, Hyung Jung Kim “the strongest pillar in my life” as he described her would never return home. A domestic terrorist killed her at the massage parlor where she worked, in an attack that left eight people, six of them Asian Americans, dead. 

When I open up Randy’s GoFundMe page, a campaign that has raised over $1.5 million in the last few days, my eyes fixate on a singular phrase: 

 “This fundraiser is located near you.” 

At first blush, it’s incredibly mundane, but it signifies something unbearably heavy. This hits home because this is home.

Randy and his brother belong to communities we’ve known our whole lives we as in Asian Americans, we as in Atlantans. I spent my formative years in Duluth, Georgia, the very suburb where Randy lives, a suburb not 30 minutes from Acworth. On trips into the city, I’ve probably driven past that Gold Spa a hundred times. 

Over the past decade, I’ve seen the Asian American community in Atlanta not just burgeon, but blossom. Nearly 8 percent of Fulton County, the district that houses the city of Atlanta, is Asian. In the city of Duluth, that number rockets to nearly 25 percent. My hometown, Gwinnett County, has been dubbed the “Seoul of the South.”

Elton Lossner is a 23-year-old Gwinnett native, a Harvard graduate and half Chinese American. He told me, “It’s painful to see this happen to people from our communities. We live in such a multicultural place. And frankly, it’s a model example of what America can be and should be.”

On railroads and in restaurants, in our cities and our suburbs, Asian Americans have made an imprint on the country’s cultural and physical landscape. We’ve bought up storefronts and pharmacies. We’ve worked laundromats and hair salons. We’ve run for city council and helped turn Georgia blue. We’ve built churches and temples and schools. I’ve spent Friday nights chomping away on snacks from Patel Brothers and driven 2 miles down the road to the local Korean karaoke spot.

“We’ve seen these Asian Americans work very very hard, diligently. They’ve trusted American systems and believed in the order set forth for them to succeed. And then, you see their lives cut short,” Lossner said.

This is not an isolated attack.

In this moment, hate crimes against Asians are up 150%, a product of the vitriol contained in phrases like “China virus.” We must recognize this for what it is: a symptom of an epidemic. 

I will never pretend to understand the lives of the six Asian Americans we lost this week. In this moment, I know that even as an Asian American, as an Indian American, I have privileges that others don’t.

But this is not unfamiliar. Not here in Atlanta, as multicultural as we are. Not here in the United States. I’ve seen a version of this before.

I see it when my parents reflect on a post-9/11 world. I see it when my dad tells me about his days working a hotel front desk confronting customers who would drive off at the sight of his skin.

Sometimes, it’s as though our gears are in reverse. Clara Wang, a childhood friend of mine and Chinese American student at the Medical College of Georgia and a metro Atlanta native, agrees. “Since the pandemic began, I’ve grown more fearful of what could happen. I’ve felt stares on my way to the hospital,” she said. “My mother and I were talking about how this process is cyclical and why it feels so familiar. We know South Asians are watching us endure this and thinking back to 9/11. And it’s just a reminder that white supremacy operates against whichever marginal minority group is most convenient to target based off of the present circumstances.”

Ethnically, we are not all the same. It’s the worst-kept secret in the universe. ‘AAPI’ encompasses communities, not community, though that has rarely mattered to those who find ease in employing the Asian monolith. But in our attempts to deconstruct it, we have found a unique solidarity in being lumped together, othered together. Whether it’s on a U.S. census survey or in headlines that question whether a shooting is racially motivated, that solidarity stands. And in this moment, there is no greater solidarity than the kind you’ll find right here in Atlanta.

“The collective sentiment in mourning these deaths just reflects how tight-knit the AAPI community here in Atlanta is,” Wang said. “When the identities of the victims had not yet been confirmed and speculation over their ethnicities grew in the media, it was really refreshing to see that people didn’t care whether the women were East Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian, or from any other part of Asia. Our community rallied and supported each other.”

That solidarity extends beyond Asians to other people of color. Jennifer Fero, an assistant principal at a school in Suwanee, Georgia, shared a Facebook post with a sign placed at a memorial for the shooting: “Black and Asian Solidarity.” She wrote, “I can’t count the number of my Black friends who have reached out in personal and authentic ways to see if I’m okay and share that they understand. I am so moved by this.”

As for a national response from our fellow Americans, Lossner and Wang suggest they’ve been underwhelmed. They join many Asians disappointed by the characterization of the suspect’s “bad day,” at the lack of action, and at the media’s emphasis on potentially illicit activities of these spas rather over humanizing those murdered.

We are screaming but it’s as if into an abyss.

It is unacceptable that it took us 48 hours to learn four names. It is unacceptable that we will pour more resources into adjudicating intent than preventing an outcome. It is unacceptable that Asian Americans are dying and it takes a mass murder for this country to say anything, do anything.

Today, multiple nations of mine grieve. It’s a nation that I share in with Randy and Eric Park, with the families of those who survive the victims of this heinous attack, with Asian Americans across Atlanta and this country. It is a nation that will fight to be heard. 

This is a fight located near me and hopefully you.

 

This was originally published on ScrollStack, a part of the URL Media Network. 

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1 Comment

  1. […] this week’s killing spree in Atlanta, we wanted to connect the dots and shine a light, with hopes to uplift our Asian neighbors and […]

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