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One Year Later: A reporter reflects on the Atlanta spa shootings and anti-Asian violence

Kevin Duong.png
Vox Magazine
Kevin Duong's parents run a nail salon in Mexico, Missouri. Duong organized a vigil with fellow MU students in Speakers Circle in March 2021, and spoke of his fears for his family. "I couldn't help but stress that maybe I couldn't protect them because it's out of my power, and all I can do is sit and watch as these people suffer," he said at the vigil.

Anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States remain high. According to AAPI Data, one in six Asian American adults experienced a hate crime or incident in 2021, and just three months into 2022 - more than one in 12.

KBIA’s Moy Zhong brings us this reflection, which takes a look at the community response to last year's Atlanta spa shootings - both then and now.

You can read the Vox Magazine story, “Columbia's Asian American community reflects on the grief and fear caused by anti-Asian violence” - here.

Vox Magazine is Columbia’s connection to what’s happening in our city, providing perspective on the news and culture people are talking about.

Then - March 19, 2021

Moy Zhong: On March 16, 2021, a white man walked into three Atlanta areas spas and massage parlors and opened fire. He shot and killed eight people, and in court, he said he was motivated by wanting to “punish the people he blamed for his addiction to porn and prostitution.”

Six of the victims were women of Asian descent, including Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Xiaojie (Emily) Tan and Daoyou Feng.

Three days later, I joined a rally of my friends in Speakers’ Circle in Columbia. Community members organized a vigil for the victims, and we met as the sky darkened and the air turned colder.

About 100 attendees gathered during the three-hour memorial, bringing flowers, candles, and signs. Amy Schaffer and Kevin, who were Freshmen at the time organized the event.

Amy Schaffer: My name is Amy, and this is Kevin. We kind of threw this together very last minute yesterday because too much time had passed where there had just been radio silence.

"I am angry that the excuse for what to happened is that at the end of his rope. How many of us have had a bad day and not killed anyone?"
Alice Yu

And it kind of felt necessary to at least do the bare minimum, which is to recognize the victims of the Atlanta area shooting. We would like to take eight minutes of silence just to remember the victims.

Moy Zhong: Attendees took turns standing in front of the growing crowds - sharing their frustrations, worries and fears. Among them were Schafer, Lydia Kelly, and Alice Yu. Here they are speaking at last year’s event.

Amy Schaffer: I've been able to get a single bit of schoolwork done because every time I sit down on my computer, I get a notification from a new news source with another bad headline.

Or I get a text from one of my family members saying, “Please stay safe. We're worried about you,” and it's ridiculously hard to be productive when that's going on.

Lydia Kelly: Yesterday was like from the first conversations I was able to have to like to relate to people that look like me, and it's sort of bittersweet because I finally have - I'm starting to have a community of people that I can talk to, but at the same time, we have to go through things like this.

Alice Yu: I am angry that the excuse for what to happened is that at the end of his rope. How many of us have had a bad day and not killed anyone?

Moy Zhong: Although the shootings happened miles and states away, it hit home for Asian Americans like Kevin Doung, whose parents run a nail salon in Mexico, Missouri - a small majority white community.

Kevin Duong: It doesn't make any sense to me why I have to grow up - why I had to grow up listening to my parents telling me to be careful - whenever someone asks you what race you are to say you're American.

I should be able to say that I'm Chinese, that I'm Vietnamese without being scared that I'm gonna get hurt because of it.

Moy Zhong: With the emergence of COVID-19 and anti-Asian rhetoric under former President Donald Trump, reported hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans increased by over 73 percent in 2020, according to FBI data.

Groups like Stop AAPI Hate, meaning Asian-American Pacific Islander, formed in response to rising COVID era xenophobia and allow people to report anti-Asian hate crimes anonymously online.

Candace Osborn.png
Vox Magazine
Candace Osborn revisits Rock Bridge High School. When the Atlanta spa shootings happened, she was reminded of her great-grandmother Maria Gotangco, a Filipino immigrant who died in October 2020. "I'm so heartbroken that she's not here anymore, but I'm so glad that she doesn't have to read or see any of these things in the news," she said in 2021.

Candace Osborn was a senior at Rockbridge high school who was scared for her family. Here she is then.

Candace Osborn: Sorry, I don’t want to cry, but I’m really upset about this. I just have been thinking about it constantly, and I haven't heard anything at school about it and it's just been really frustrating for me.

Every day, I'm thinking about my grandfather, who was a Louisiana that happened to him, and it's just been really really tough throughout the entire pandemic because it's felt like every single day, I'm hearing or seeing a headline about something happening to an Asian American or an Asian person.

I lost my great grandmother in October. I'm so heartbroken that she's not here anymore, but I'm so glad that she doesn't have to read or see these things.

Now - March 2022

Moy Zhong: It's been a year and not much has changed. So, reporter Cela Migan and I have followed up with Asians and Asian Americans in Columbia to remember and reflect on the Atlanta spa shootings.

One year later. Kevin Duong says it helps him empathize with his parents more,

Kevin Duong: I think I was in shock at first. Like I didn't really register it., and then as me and Amy Schaefer kept on talking about it - it slowly started to dawn on me that this is the same sort of situation that my parents are in.

Moy Zhong: When Candace Osborne returned to her high school after the shooting, she said she felt as if she couldn't speak up.

"I think it's probably like my favorite part of who I am, which is odd because I used to feel like I had to be quieter about it."
Candace Osborn

Candace Osborn: It made me feel as though I couldn't go to people with it, and I think when you are in high school, and you're navigating the end of your senior year - that's really scary.

Because you already feel isolated, and then I just felt even more alone.

And it just felt like - being able to talk to people and see that my experience wasn't the only one and that I wasn't the only person that was really upset and feeling kind of alone - made me feel like I was a part of a bigger community.

Moy Zhong: For some However, it's still difficult to relay those feelings to their families themselves.

Wenxi Yang, an MU PhD student and Chinese international student struggles to talk about trauma with her parents who live abroad.

Wenxi Yang: And to this point, I don't think I ever talked to my parents about it. I think they probably have read that news, and I think they were probably worried about me, but they never asked me about that news.

I think I know the reasons - because they don't want me to feel more unsafe.

Moy Zhong: But she says misconnections can go both ways.

Wenxi Yang: I also never specifically brought up anything, anything hate crime related, including the Atlanta shooting. It's because I don't want them to be worried about me and my safety.

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Vox Magazine
Jane Elliston visits Speakers Circle, the site of a 2021 vigil. Elliston is the president of MU's Asian American Association, which led the vigil.

Moy Zhong: Even when some have opened up, no one would listen. Jane Elliston is the president of the MU Asian American Association, and she says she was frustrated by the apparent lack of care from her peers.

Jane Elliston: Everybody's forgotten about it.

Moy Zhong: Jane recalls an experience she had in a Women's and Gender Studies class last spring - just months after the shootings had happened.

Jane Elliston: I actually did do my workshop on the Atlanta shooting because within the shooting were elements of oversexualization of Asian American women.

And I remember the shocking part for me was the class’ response was just blank faces. Like I don't care. My classmates being predominantly white just didn't care, and I feel like nobody has cared since.

Moy Zhong: Today, anti-Asian hate crimes remain prevalent. The wounds from the deaths of those like GuiYing Ma, Michelle Alyssa Go, Christina Yuna Lee are still fresh on our minds.

We remember the pain of holding vigils for people who look like our friends, brothers and sisters, parents, and elders.

Yet many more Asians and Asian Americans have grown in resiliency and pride from coming together after tragedy. Here's Kevin Doung and Candace Osborn again.

Kevin Duong: I am a lot more proud to consider myself Asian American than I have ever been in my life, and although it is scary - being proud and being very transparent about who I am - I think it's worth it because then you're not feeling like you have to hide anything.

"So, as we remember the lives lost in Atlanta last year, know that we still have stories to tell. So, please keep listening."
KBIA's Moy Zhong

Candace Osborn: I think it's probably like my favorite part of who I am, which is odd because I used to feel like I had to be quieter about it.

But I don't know - I just feel more open about talking about it and just accepting that it is something that I love about myself, and I want to spread that and share that.

So, to me being Asian American is kind of a gift because you're able to share that culture with other people.

Moy Zhong: This story was put together by three women of Asian descent. Amy Schaffer, who you heard organize the vigil, Cela Migan, the internal vice president for MU’s Asian American Association, and me.

I’ve lived in Columbia for more than 10 years, and although Asians make up just more than 6 percent of the population, it's never felt like that to me.

After the Atlanta spa shootings, dozens of us gathered tired and terrified, and our town let us down. Local media forgot about us within days. Had we gone invisible?

We are here. Asians and Asian Americans in Columbia are vibrant, loud, and loving. We come from rich histories, and we are vital in bringing color to the city.

So, as we remember the lives lost in Atlanta last year, know that we still have stories to tell. So, please keep listening.

Moy Zhong is a senior at the University of Missouri studying journalism. She is currently the Art Director at KBIA's partner organization, Vox Magazine, and a producer on KBIA's "Missouri on Mic."