The local response to the killing of eight people in Atlanta last week included a virtual vigil on Tuesday night, held on the Zoom video conference platform.
The title of the vigil was “Justice for AAPI” (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders). The victims of the shooting were nearly all Asian American, and their killing has been analyzed as an anti-Asian crime.
Hiromi Yoshida, who teaches American literature for the Monroe County Public Library’s VITAL program, helped lead off the vigil.
To commemorate the lives of those who were killed in the Atlanta shootings, Yoshida offered a longer poem, but started with a haiku.
Sad Women’s History Month
Say her Asian name
The names of the victims had been recited just moments earlier by Pallavi Rao, a doctoral student at Indiana University’s media school. Rao read their names, with a brief description, and then asked for a minute of silence:
Soon Chang Park (74). She worked at the Gold Spa. She lived in New York before moving to Atlanta. She still had many close relatives in New York and New Jersey that she was close to.
Hyun Jung (Kim) Grant (51). She was an employee at Gold Spa, and a single mother who was raising two sons, helping them with their expenses in college. She loved watching Korean dramas and eating soondubu, a spicy tofu stew.
Suncha Kim (69). She was an employee at Gold Spa, a grandmother who enjoyed line dancing in her spare time. And she had been married for more than 50 years.
Yong Ae Yue (63). She worked at Aroma Therapy Spa. She has two sons and she moved to the United States from South Korea in the 1970s.
Xiaojie Tan (49). She was the owner of Young’s Asian Massage. She made her patrons feel at home and treated her friends like family according to one longtime customer. Miss Dan died two days ahead of her 50th birthday.
Daoyou Feng (44). She began working at Young’s Asian Massage with Xiaojie Tan only a few months ago. She is the victim the media was able to find the least information about.
Delaina Ashley Yaun (33). She was one of four siblings and worked as a server at a restaurant. She raised a 13-year-old son as a single mother and had an eight-month-old daughter
Paul Andre Michels (54). Michels was one of nine siblings, a businessman and a veteran of the US Army infantry. He was Catholic and his brother describes him as a very hard-working, loving man.
Among the women who bore witness during the vigil to their experiences was IU graduate student Abby Ang. Her work in connection with Monroe County Area Mutual Aid, among other efforts, was recently recognized by Bloomington’s commission on the status of women, when she was named the recipient of the commission’s Emerging Leader Award.
About her service to the community through the mutual aid group, Ang said during the vigil, “While it has been a rewarding experience, for the most part, I think people… need to be aware of the prevalence of anti-Asian racism, due to rhetoric around COVID, and the term ‘China virus’”
Ang continued, “While helping many people in this mutual aid group, through this pandemic, it’s been a frequent experience to click through to their Facebook profiles to talk to them and send them a message in response to questions that they may have—only to find anti-Asian rhetoric and conspiracy theories. Not to mention even jokes and slurs about Asian Americans.”
Ang said it points to the need to learn how to recognize anti-Asian hate, and anti-Asian rhetoric here in Bloomington and the ways it can lead to violence. She spoke of the need to respond rather than just look away or to be silent. Ang pointed to the 1999 murder of a Korean man in Bloomington: “After all, anti-Asian violence, it’s baked in the history of Bloomington right here, as we can recall from the murder of Won-Joon Yoon.”
Also sharing her experience on Tuesday night was April Hennessey, who last year was elected to the Monroe County Community School Corporation’s board.
Hennessey recalled a story from her youth, when a white police officer, who knew her, was watching a softball game. “And when I was up to bat, he looked at me and he pulled up his eyes into severe slants, and he said, ‘Come on, Ching Chong, show them what you’ve got!” In high school, a boy told Hennessey that his mom “didn’t want him to date oriental people,” so they couldn’t really date, but could “still mess around,” he said.
Now that she’s 40 years old, Hennessy said, she has started to reflect on the lessons that she’s learned: “I recognize that I was supposed to understand my hyper-visibility, that problematic sexualizing of bodies like mine, and like many of ours, as a gift. I should have felt lucky, in other words, that anyone wanted me or people like me, regardless of the form that that desire took.”
That lesson stood in contrast to a different one: “On the other hand, I was supposed to understand that the invisibility of my body, in other situations, was key to finding success. If you’re quiet enough or obedient enough or small enough, then maybe you’ll be lucky enough to make your way into rooms that are not really meant for people like us.”
Hennessy wrapped up the tension between those two perspectives this way: “I think this horrific shooting has really laid bare what many of us in the AAPI community have long known—that our belonging in this country has always been a fraught and tenuous pantomime.”
Ellen Wu, who is the director of the Asian American Studies program at Indiana University and associate professor in the department of history, said on Tuesday the Atlanta shootings had caused her “gut wrenching sorrow.” But mostly what she feels is rage, Wu said.
Wu said, “I wake up in a rage, and I go to sleep in a rage. And I think that rage is really about value, which is: What is the value of Asian women?” Wu said, “Our lives and our labors, and our bodies don’t seem to be worth very much.”
When people think about what Asian women might be good for, Wu said, “They might think of nurses, or people who do your nails at salons, maybe nannies or housekeepers, spa workers, sex workers, TV anchors, maybe just a good punch line.”
Wu continued, “We are undervalued, and we are under-recognized. Asian women encounter and shoulder burdens of disparities everywhere—disparities of pay, and respect, recognition, safety and dignity.”
Wu said a different basic question needs to be asked: “Instead of asking, what are we good for? I hope that society might ask: What is good for us?”
Wu wrapped up her remarks by saying, “I just want to remind everybody, Asian women are leaders. They’ve been leaders before this moment. They are leaders right now during this moment. And they are going to continue to be leaders after this moment. And I hope that others will see this value, and just recognize what we are worth.”
Beverly Calender-Anderson, who’s director of the city of Bloomington’s community and family resources department delivered remarks that included a statement from Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton.
Calender-Anderson said, “Mayor Hamilton and all the people in Bloomington stand in solidarity and in grief with the members of our Asian American and Pacific Islander community after the murders in the Atlanta area last week. We condemn these terrible acts of violence and racism and sexism that clearly have motivated them.”
Calender-Anderson continued, “With violence against Asian Americans up steeply across the nation last year, we stand with our local AAPI community, in support and in protection.”
Elected officials who weighed in through the Q&A Zoom text function included Bloomington city council president Jim Sims and Monroe County council vice president Kate Wiltz.
Sims said: “[J]ust want to offer my heartfelt condolences to the victims of this senseless act of violence against them and their families. I, too, pray for healing, comfort and strength for our AAPI communities and join the calls rejecting and denouncing white supremacy and those ideologies.”
Wiltz said, “My condolences and sincerest sympathy to the families of the beautiful AAPI women whose lives were cut short last week in the name of hate, misogyny and racism. My family holds you and yours in warmth, love, and light.”
During the spoken portion of the vigil, Lisa Kwong, a lecturer in the Asian American Studies Program at IU delivered a new work: ”Asian American Elegy for Atlanta.”
The piece concluded like this: “We are survivors. We are warriors. Though we are full of sorrow, we will continue to fight for a better world for all who are not fully free. In a world trying to kill us, we will be joyful. We will celebrate who we are and continue to be unapologetically Pacific Islander, unapologetically Asian American, unapologetically Asian.”
A “Gathering Against Asian Hate” is set for 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday (March 24) at the Sample Gates of Indiana University, where Kirkwood Avenue meets Indiana Avenue.