Opinion by Amara Walker
Updated: Mon, 28 Feb 2022 13:03:00 GMT
Editor's Note: Amara Walker is a correspondent and fill-in anchor for CNN. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. The views expressed in this commentary belong to the author. View more opinion at CNN.
It could have been me. It could have been any of us.
This is the sickening feeling I've been trying to process alongside my Asian American female friends and colleagues as we grapple with the horror of yet another Asian American woman brutally killed in an unprovoked attack.
It's the same feeling that overcame me when a man went on a shooting spree in three Atlanta-area spas last year, murdering eight people in two counties, six of them Asian women. The convicted murderer, Robert Aaron Long, pleaded guilty to four of the killings in Cherokee County and was sentenced to life in prison. And he is still facing additional murder and hate crime charges (and the death penalty) in Fulton County, where he has pleaded not guilty.
Christina Yuna Lee, 35, entered her apartment building in the early morning hours on February 13 and, according to a complaint filed by the Manhattan District Attorney's office, a man pushed the door open as it closed behind her, following her inside. Prosecutors say 25-year-old Assamad Nash allegedly followed Lee up to her apartment and stabbed her dozens of times. He has been charged with murder.
Although I never had the pleasure of meeting or knowing Lee, I still find myself grieving for her, a woman who was savagely killed in her own home. I keep turning to the photo of her flashing that bright smile.
Her eyes seem to fit the "bubbly, curious, creative and confident" description posted in a tribute on Instagram from Dani DiCiaccio, who described herself as Lee's manager at Splice. She wrote that Lee was known to have "lunches with people on completely opposite and random teams," and Slack "people while on a zoom call telling them, 'Your lipstick is absolutely perfect today.'"
I can't stop thinking about Lee's parents and the depth of anguish they've been involuntarily plunged into. I am haunted by how Lee reportedly took an Uber home despite living right next to a subway stop. It breaks my heart knowing she could have made a decision like this, thinking in vain that it would be the safer option.
Lee's suspected killer is reportedly homeless and questions have been raised about his mental health. Even though her murder is not currently considered to be a hate crime, I can't stop thinking that, whether or not it was a hate crime, it won't change this fact: Asian Americans are under siege.
In particular, Asian American women are terrified of being added to the tally of anti-Asian incidents that have steeply risen since the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020. Recent NYPD data shows a 361% rise in anti-Asian hate crimes from 2020 to 2021 and San Francisco's chief of police is reporting a 567% spike during the same time period.
What's alarming, but not shocking, to me is that 65% of hate incidents are reported by Asian American women, according to Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition that tracks anti-Asian attacks. And these are just the cases that have been reported.
Many Asian American women (myself included) are changing their daily routines, walking down the street in groups, frequently looking behind their backs, or avoiding public transportation.
We are afraid because we have been viewed as easy targets thanks, in part, to the demeaning stereotypes that have been perpetuated since the 1800s, when Asians began immigrating to the US. Many of us wonder if we are more vulnerable now as the wave of anti-Asian incidents across the country continues.
It's difficult to separate ourselves from the personal stories and lives of the Asian women who've been brutally attacked and killed, starting with the Atlanta Spa massacre in March 2020, to the January subway killing of Michelle Go, and the February murder of Christina Yuna Lee. We see ourselves reflected in these precious lives because Asian American women are bonded by a unique vulnerability to racism, sexism and misogyny that can manifest in violence.
I, along with countless Asian American girls and women, have become accustomed at an early age to being on the receiving end of racially charged catcalls like, "Me love you long time," or, "Me so horny;" phrases that were popularized by the portrayal of a Vietnamese sex worker in Stanley Kubrick's 1987 Vietnam War film, "Full Metal Jacket."
These degrading tropes fetishizing and sexually objectifying Asian women have become so ingrained in American culture, they're flippantly used in mainstream music by 2 Live Crew and Fergie, and even in TV shows and movies such as "South Park" and the "40 Year Old Virgin," without much afterthought to the harm they cause.
These ubiquitous tropes are regularly weaponized against us -- and still elicit an angry visceral reaction from me when I hear them today. Yes, I still hear them today.
In fact, I was recently propositioned by a group of men, as I walked by at an indoor golf range facility, who were hurling racist and vulgar comments at me. One man made noises that sounded like he was imitating an Asian language, while his friend tried to ask me out, mockingly using broken English.
I can't tell you how often I've heard these ignorant and bigoted phrases from complete strangers or even acquaintances: "I've never had an Asian girl before," "You Chinese girls are naughty, aren't you?" (I'm not of Chinese descent for the record, and I point this out because oftentimes people don't care to make any distinction among a racial group that traces its roots to dozens of different ethnicities. We are not interchangeable).
Perception might as well be reality. The perceptions that Asian American women are subhuman sex objects or exotic fantasies who are subservient and meek reduce us to easy prey. As a teenager, I was constantly reminded that being an Asian female meant some people would view or treat me differently.
I've always had my guard up. Today, the hateful environment necessitates that more than ever. It's no coincidence that Asian hate incidents are disproportionally impacting Asian females. And the hate isn't happening in a vacuum. There is an urgent need to address gender and race based violence, simultaneously with mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness.
The massacre of eight people, six of them Asian women, at three different spas in Atlanta last year was a wakeup call to a glaring historical reality for Asian American women; that our gender and race are inextricably connected, making us especially vulnerable to violence. The killings were also a reminder that the denigrating stereotypes of Asian women can impact the way these crimes are potentially handled, allowing law enforcement officials to downplay the killer's depravity to having a bad day, or the killer himself diminishing the lives he took to a sexual addiction.
On January 15, 40-year-old Michelle Alyssa Go, who worked on mergers and acquisitions for Deloitte Services LP, was pushed directly in front of an oncoming train at the Times Square station. Like Lee, Go's alleged murderer is homeless. Go's attack is not being investigated as a hate crime. But these latest killings have jolted an Asian American community that was already on edge.
How tragic that I have to write this reminder: We are real people. We are daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers. We are your neighbor, your boss, your employee, your physician, your patient, your driver and your passenger.
Sadly, there is no reason to believe the wave of attacks will decrease in tandem with the number of Covid-19 cases.
We must tackle these dangerous stereotypes.
We must tell more Asian American stories, beyond the statistics and victims' photos. Our ancestors' plight and contributions to America should be incorporated in history books.
We need significantly more representation in the media, beyond the Hollywood portrayals that have perpetuated these denigrating stereotypes for decades. Asian Americans have a shamefully low visibility in the media, even as it is has been improving, albeit sluggishly.
We need allies in this fight who will not only help change the narrative about Asian Americans but also show up for us and speak out for us.
Like Christina Yuna Lee, like Michelle Alyssa Go, like the victims of the Atlanta Spa shootings -- Delaina Ashley Yaun, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Soon Chung Park, Hyun J. Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong A. Yue -- we are valuable members of our community.
We are hurting. Hear us. See us. Take our concerns seriously. We too are worthy of feeling safe in our country.