Sleepless nights are normal for me, especially this past year, and even more so this past week.
The act of domestic terrorism that tragically took the lives of eight people (Daoyou Feng, Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Paul Andre Michels, Soon C. Park, Xiaojie Tan, and Yong A. Yue), including six Asian women, hit a little too close to home for me. I fear for my life as an API woman and grieve with the victims’ loved ones, the API community, and our allies. But this event also triggered a traumatic memory that I have internalized for over twenty years.
I was always too afraid to ask for the details of what happened, in fear that it would be too painful for my parents, who always repressed their pain and suffering. This is why I never knew the full story behind the event that has haunted me for so many years until now.
I always thought that my earliest childhood memory was a happy one until I started putting the pieces together. I remember I was around three years old at the time, and I was happily jumping on my aunt’s leather sofa. None of the adults nor my cousins were telling me to stop, which they usually do because they didn’t want the leather to crease, or for me to fall and get hurt. The last thing I remember from that moment was the phone ringing and the adults rushing to pick it up.
The next memory I recall from the same year was talking to my dad on the phone. I remember how I wanted to get off the phone and go back to watching TV or playing with my toys, but my mom told me that I have to say certain phrases to my dad before I could go. “Get well soon.” “Listen to your doctor and drink the soup and eat the congee.” “I’ll be a good girl and listen to mommy.” “I miss you, daddy.”
The next thing I remember is my dad sleeping on our reclinable striped corduroy sofa. I was bored and wanted him to play with me, but was told to let my dad rest. I remember being upset about that, and not wanting to talk to my dad after.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I learned that these memories were all connected to one event. My earliest childhood memories were from the day my dad was shot after being robbed at gunpoint in a wonton wrapper warehouse in Brooklyn, and the months following that day.
I don’t think I ever hated the person who did this to my dad and our family. For a long time, I hated myself whenever I recalled those memories.
How could I have been happy on the day that I almost lost my dad?
How did I not pick up on why the grown-ups were acting differently?
Why did I not notice the scar that stretches vertically over my dad’s abdominal area and ask him how he got that earlier?
Why did I not talk to my dad on the phone more when he was hospitalized?
Why was I such a brat about my dad not playing with me when he was clearly in pain and recovering from surgery?
I forgot that I was only three at the time and that I was told that my dad was “very sick.” I was too young to understand what was happening, and none of this was my fault.
To this day, my parents don’t fully blame the perpetrator. They say that my dad was at the wrong place at the wrong time; that the people at the wonton wrapper warehouse and my dad should’ve locked the door; that we should be grateful that my dad had a strong will to live and that our family’s prayers to Buddha were heard and he wasn’t taken from us too soon. Whenever anyone sees his scar and asks how he got it, he just smirks. I’m not sure if he’s just brushing off his pain, or if he has really gotten over his own trauma.
This is the epitome of what it’s like growing up and living as an Asian American. Even when we are the victims, we blame ourselves for the pain that others have inflicted on us. We believe that if we did better, then these things could have been avoided.
Even with all these hate crimes happening to the API community, my parents don’t see this incident as one that had to do with race. They say that acts of violence against Asians were not that common in the late 90s, and what happened to my dad can’t be classified as one. It was a one-time event, and my dad was just unlucky. My dad chose the wrong time to drop off some perishable goods that he needed to store in a refrigerated area and asked his friend at the wonton wrapper warehouse if he could borrow some fridge space.
But is it a stretch to say that my dad became a victim because of his race and the stereotypes associated with his race? Many of the other warehouses in that area also manufacture Asian goods or are Asian-owned. The perpetrator chose to go to an area that was mainly made up of warehouses where Asian goods were produced in the late 90s. It was rare for non-Asians to manufacture Asian goods during that time. They chose to enter a wonton wrapper warehouse that was clearly Asian-owned and with Asian employees. It’s hard for me to believe that what happened to my dad was not racially motivated in any way. It goes to show that Asians have always had a target on their backs way before the pandemic, and these cases have only significantly increased in the past year.
I no longer hate myself for not knowing and for the actions of three-year-old me, nor do I blame my parents for never speaking up and understanding the greater issue at hand.
I blame society for labeling the API community as easy targets and “foreigners,” emasculating our men, fetishizing our women, and using us as scapegoats. Why are acts of violence and discrimination against the API community brushed off and not called what they are? Why do our elders have to defend themselves from their attackers? Why do API women have to fall victim to someone “having a really bad day?” Why is the API experience undermined and ignored? Why are our experiences, both our contributions and suffering, reduced to barely a page in American history books?
How can we be the “model minority” when we’re also statistically insignificant?
I’m done keeping my head down and not speaking up. I’m tired of being unseen, unheard, and undervalued.
See below for some ways we, both our community and our allies, can help better support the API community.
Learn more about the Asian American experience — the good, the bad, the ugly:
- Montrell Thigpen compiled a list of some historic events relating to APIs that was conveniently omitted from US history textbooks
- Stream PBS’s Asian Americans documentary for free
- Read this TIME article to discover more ways to help
Some accounts to follow on social media (Instagram accounts linked):
Donate what you can to support:
The victims of the Atlanta shootings:
- List of GoFundMes set up by friends and family of the victims
- Fundraiser set up by AAPIs Against Hate
- Advancing Justice AAJC Atlanta
The victims of other hate incidents/crimes against the API community
- List of GoFundMes set up by friends and family of the victims
API women and sex workers
The API community