I can still remember it. Her screams. The flood of tears. The look of terror on her face. My sister came up the street, looking for her big brother, and what she saw would leave her with nightmares for years.
The pandemic has been hard on all of us. Devastating for many. The toll it has taken on the entire world may not be fully understood for a long time. I understand that the impulse to find someone to blame is normal, but it can never be an excuse for violence, racism or hatred.
The recent mass murder of eight people at three spas in Atlanta — mostly Asian, mostly women — has been a shocking reminder of what racist tropes and unhinged anger can devolve into. This moment was probably inevitable, as violence against Asian Americans has been on a disturbingly rapid rise over the past 12 to 18 months. According to NBC News, there were 3,800 reported incidents of violence against Asian Americans — disproportionately women — in the past year, accelerated by far-right political rhetoric about COVID-19. Whether this particular shooting was racially motivated or not is irrelevant, as the boiling point of anti-Asian sentiment was undoubtedly going to lead to something just like this.
She pulled her bike up and was screaming “get off him” through her own tear-filled eyes. She was incredibly brave in that moment. The three other boys were simply watching while the fourth sat on my chest and repeatedly punched me in the face, my head bouncing on the ground beneath it. I don’t remember a lot of what happened, but my sister will never forget.
As an Asian American, Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo decided to speak out. What he describes is something I can relate to all too well. The jokes. The name calling. The endless stereotypes. I have also stayed silent, but it’s time to speak up. Overdue, even.
My memories are fuzzy of what happened next, but I remember walking in the house and seeing my mother burst into tears when she saw me. I had never seen her so scared before, and it scared me in return. The bruises covered almost my entire face. One of my eyes was nearly swollen shut and I had signs of post-concussion syndrome for the next week.
I was 12 years old.
From the moment they found out my mom was Asian, they started treating me differently. They’d tell me to “Go back to China.” They’d call me names like “ching chong” or “slant eyes.” I’d laugh or stay quiet, but the message to me was clear: You don’t belong here. I wanted desperately to fit in, so I went to play basketball with them that day. The boy who attacked me got mad when I scored a basket on him and that’s when it started. He started hitting me, asking me if I knew karate. Before I knew it, I was on the ground, getting the hell beat out of me.
What happened at those spas in Atlanta is unfortunately not entirely new. For many of us, the hatred and racism has been a part of our lives for a while. Don’t get me wrong, the “good students and good at math” stereotypes are hardly the stuff of nightmares, but the ugly words and leave-this-country sentiments were a constant reminder that you were different and unwelcome even if you were born in this country ... like I was.
Bluntly, it shouldn’t take a mass shooting to bring attention to hatred. It shouldn’t have to cost innocent lives before we pay attention to the signs that violence against Asian Americans is becoming more and more likely and common. And frankly, unless you are of Native American descent, your family is here because — like my mother — they immigrated from another country too. This is our home just as much as it is yours.
So to Younghoe Koo: Thank you for speaking out. The harmful jokes and the name calling need to come to an end. The mindless animosity and hatred towards Asians in this country have to stop. This is our country, too. By speaking out, you have given a voice to that beaten and bruised 12-year-old boy who just wanted to fit in.
Now I just hope others listen.