By Trinity Nguyen || Contributing Writer
Photo courtesy of Gyana Guity.
Christina Yuna Lee was stabbed forty times in her own apartment with her own kitchen knife. She didn’t walk home alone. She had taken a cab. She was thirty-five.
Michelle Alyssa Go was murdered in broad daylight, pushed into the path of an oncoming subway train. She was forty.
I’d scroll through Tiktok past midnight, sometimes passing by videos of Asian women with their backs against the wall while waiting for their train. My brain tried to make sense of all these senseless murders—not even a year after the Atlanta nail salon shooting—and the layers of violence women of color experience. I imagined myself as Christina, senselessly murdered in a space that was supposed to be her haven. I wondered about her last minutes, how it must have felt for Michelle when she saw the train. How scared was she? Would I be different? Would I have survived? Who’s next?
The TikTok algorithm brought me back to the NYC-Asian-Women-Experience again and again. While spiraling down the rabbit hole, I learned countless tips about how to get home safe, things to carry at all times, fake wallets to trip thieves, and the safest times to take the subway. There’s a sense of morbidity in the passing of survival knowledge after a tragedy—in this case, countless tragedies. Communities, not only grieving, are forced to reckon with the ongoing cycle of violence and the Scarlet Letter branded in their physicality.
Media outlets called the surging wave of anti-Asian hate ‘unprecedented,’ revealing that crimes increased by 339% last year compared to 2020. In 2020, it was 124% compared to 2019 (via Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism). For most Asian diaspora members, the hate can’t be defined as ‘unprecedented.’ The violence is first and foremost a product of American xenophobia and anti-China narratives. From mockery of Asians eating vile things to podcasts claiming COVID-19 was created in a lab, it’s not a shock that the crimes committed are only a reflection of how American society alienates the Asian identity. At the same time, by labeling something as anti-Asian, there is a sense of selection. The ‘anti-Asian’ category chooses what makes these crimes targeted along with the arbitrary variables of what counts as anti-Asian violence. How do we know what counts as a coincidence and what doesn’t? When do we start believing that Asian women are targeted because they’re Asian?
Most of the protests and the #StopAsianHate movement tried reframing the narrative to talking points about inclusion, belonging, and how Asians have always been here. But American citizenship—for people of color—has always been conditional. Asian Americans are confronted with the reality that belonging doesn’t equal safety, and safety is no guarantee under a country that commodifies their labor and identity. It’s so easy to list all the multifaceted identities that encompass Asian America, so easy to humanize a victim and beg the nation to mourn a life that was lost. But whether these victims were good or bad people, they still deserve safety.
As I’m writing this, I’m struggling to grasp where I’m going. Do I want to sound angry? Somehow be inspiring? But the more I write, the more exhaustion I feel. Worn—that’s the word. I feel worn, tired, and for lack of a better word, fucking pissed.
When people write these statements, they’re often accompanied by a call to action. I have none. I didn’t write this with the intention of doing so. I think it’s ridiculous a college student is supposed to redesign an entire system, and while I want to advocate for safer communities, I don’t even know where to start myself. I don’t want to create an illusion that the world will be a better place once everyone tells me how sorry they are, how they wish they could do something.
I ran into the word hypervisibility in a class recently, and that term encapsulates—in my opinion—the complexities of being a woman of color. We navigate the world from girlhood to grown women already knowing how different we are and, internalized self-hate or not, we’re all grappling with varying degrees of safety because of the body we inhabit. Most women I know have all expressed unease when walking alone and some recalled stories of being harassed/catcalled/followed. But for Asian women, our intersectional identity is both a beautiful thing and something that could cost us our lives. The Atlanta nail salon shooter claimed that he wanted to rid Asian women of ‘sexual addictions,’ a perverse narrative that’s constructed by years of the American ideal of the hypersexual Asian woman.
Anti-Asian hate and the rising violence are not an American-soil-only phenomenon. The alienation has been constructed through decades of American history and the violence reproduced as instruments of war and the American identity. When I read the news about the deaths of our elders, I am reminded of the American War in Vietnam. When I read the news about the death of a woman I share an identity with, I am reminded of Asian sex workers enlisted/forced for American pleasure. These crimes aren’t bubbles in NYC, LA, or SF. They’re imitated, and only a glimpse into the conditional citizenship America guarantees its diverse residents.
Senior Trinity Nguyen is a contributing writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.