Sanchita Kedia, Contributing Photographer
In the aftermath of the Atlanta spa shootings that killed eight people — six of them women of Asian descent — the Yale and New Haven community is mobilizing to mourn the victims and fight discrimination against Asian Americans.
These efforts have included vigils, skits and other opportunities for community members to share their experiences and heal together. Many Asian and Asian American University faculty and students told the News they felt hurt, overlooked and anxious for their safety.
“I think it’s very clear by the way different groups of people are treated in the U.S. that equality is still something that we’re very far from achieving,” said Brian Chang ’22, co-president of the Taiwanese American Society, or TAS. “That’s infuriating, given the ideals this country is supposedly founded upon.”
TAS is hosting a forum on March 27 with members of the Taiwanese community regarding Taiwanese history, politics and identity. Chang said he hopes the event will act as a space for members to talk things through their experiences of feeling underrepresented.
Sophie Lai ’22, the organization’s other co-president, told the News that the aim of the event is to amplify the Asian experience. She said that although she feels the Yale administration has made changes to make minority students feel safer and heard within the community, anti-Asian violence can occur anywhere.
“I do feel more anxious when walking outside, even on a crowded street,” Lai wrote in an email to the News. “It’s hard to feel completely safe when anti-Asian violence in America’s 15 largest cities has risen 150% since 2019.”
Jun Kwak ’22, president of Hanppuri — an international Korean student organization — said the media failed in its responsibility to analyze and deliver the news of the Atlanta shootings. Kwak told the News that he felt disappointed, angry and hopeless about the repeated violence towards Asians.
Kwak spoke at a vigil on Tuesday to commemorate the lives of the eight victims of the Atlanta spa shootings. The vigil was co-hosted by many student organizations, including the Yale College Council, the Asian American Cultural Center and the Muslim Students Association. At the vigil, members of the Yale community, including AACC Dean Joliana Yee, American studies and history professor Mary Lui and professor of East Asian languages and literature Tina Lu, spoke to attendees about violence against Asian Americans.
During the vigil, Lui discussed the history of anti-Asian discrimination in the United States. Lui said that Asian Americans dealt with mob violence in the 19th century; immigration exclusion, removal and containment during World War II; and discrimination after 9/11.
Grace Kao, a professor of sociology and the director of the Education Studies Department, told the News that the history of exclusion began with the 1875 Page Law — a ban on Chinese immigrant women, who legislators believed were more likely to be prostitutes. Following that, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited the immigration of all Chinese laborers to America.
Kao said that the attack in Atlanta is connected to a stereotype of Asian women being sexually available. She said that for many years, Hollywood and the porn industry have portrayed Asian women as sex objects and love interests for white male stars.
“There’s a lot of media attention about whether or not [the victims in Atlanta] were working in the sex industry, but personally I don’t think any of that matters because they were murdered in cold blood,” said Kao. “The narratives around their work and who they were will be used by some people to paint them as less deserving of our attention.”
On Thursday, Compassionate Home, Action Together, or CHATogether — a group dedicated to creating skits that address the dynamics of family life and racism for Asian Americans — held a healing event for the Yale community. Thursday’s conversations focused on the mental health of Asian Americans in light of a rise in anti-Asian sentiment and violence.
Eunice Yuen, a final-year child psychiatry fellow at the Yale Child Study Center, helped found CHATogether in 2019. She told the News that the skit events CHATogether held in the past drew 20 to 30 people. This time, over 90 people attended. Yuen said that attendance at Thursday’s event was diverse and many did not identify as part of the Asian-American community.
At the event, Yuen addressed the difficulty and shame that young Asian Americans may feel when discussing their experiences with racism, particularly when those feelings are not validated by friends and family members. She said validation, irrespective of whether family members fully agree with one another, is crucial to compassion.
“We need to validate our feelings [because] the community is really hurting a lot,” said Yuen. “We need to build cultural pride about being who we are, being Asian American women, and [embrace] that to one another.”
Yuen said that healing for the AAPI community can come down to something as simple as teaching others the spelling, meaning and pronunciation of Asian names. She said she is proud of how quickly various departments and leadership at the University responded to the shooting in Atlanta, and said that the community needed to remember the importance of solidarity with other minorities as well.
“As Asian American women, we often feel that [we] want to prove how much we can do to succeed and live a life very similar to the white community,” said Yuen. “The recent events may be sending the message that it doesn’t matter because we could be instantly deleted.”
Asian American Yalies and others have also spent time and money this week supporting Oriental Pantry, a pan-Asian grocery owned by Yoon-ock Kim on Orange Street, after it was broken into and robbed on Sunday. The Yale and New Haven community showed its support by donating to the store’s GoFundMe campaign and shopping in the store.
Yale Law School graduates Julia Wang LAW ’18 and Kathy Lu LAW ’18 are trying to combat AAPI racism on a national scale. The pair founded the Immigrant History Initiative, or IHI, in 2017 — which seeks to highlight the centrality of immigrant experiences through education.
IHI started in New Haven when Lu and Wang developed a curriculum to teach Chinese American history at the local Southern Connecticut Chinese School. Since then, they have created a social media campaign to educate people about racism against people who identify as AAPI, held workshops to address racial violence and are writing a guide to help parents have conversations with their children about what it means to be Asian American.
“This program really gives students an opportunity to have a space that is specifically dedicated to talking about Asian American communities, their history and what it means for them here and now as young Asian Americans growing up in the United States,” said Lu.
Lu told the News that educating people about the history of anti-Asian violence and racism is crucial because it does not just “pop out of nowhere.” Rather, she said, it brews under the surface and comes to the forefront during times of crisis when people fall back on deeply rooted stereotypes about those who are perceived as foreign.
IHI held one of its workshops in January to teach children, parents and educators in Connecticut about racial identity and anti-Asian racism. Wang said that although it was only meant to be a 50-person workshop, nearly 600 people registered.
“Since last year, the response to the work that we’ve been doing has been overwhelming,” said Wang. “People are finally wanting to talk about [anti-Asian racism] and we are here to help guide these conversations.”
On Thursday afternoon, New Haven residents Christine Kim and Jennifer Heikkila Diaz launched a yet-to-be-named new coalition for Asian New Haveners in a press conference alongside Mayor Justin Elicker and Connecticut Attorney General William Tong. Kim said she was afraid to take her children outside in the days immediately after the Atlanta shootings and wanted to do something to organize AAPI residents, according to the New Haven Independent. In his remarks at the press conference, Tong spoke about stereotypes of Asian people and how those stereotypes make AAPI residents unsafe.
The event took place outside of Laotian restaurant Pho Ketkeo on Temple Street. The restaurant was the target of vandalism last April and its owner, Ketkeo Rajachack, was robbed and beaten in the Temple Street Garage in June. Neither case has been resolved.
On Thursday, with her former manager Samson Sao translating her Lao into English, Rajachack said she started the business to bridge communities and hopes residents will continue to support the business.
On Friday at 6 p.m., the AACC is hosting “Processing Circles,” a Zoom event for the Yale community to come together to process recent incidents of anti-Asian violence in a small-group setting.
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