‘Brought to light’: Berkeley community reflects on Atlanta shootings

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Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff
On March 16, eight people were killed during a series of shootings at three spas in Georgia. Of the eight people, six were women of Asian descent.

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Miya Sommers was an undergraduate at UC Santa Barbara during the Isla Vista killings in 2014 that resulted in the deaths of six people, including three individuals of Asian descent and two women.

The perpetrator was a student of white and Asian descent who remarked about hating his own Asian background in his manifesto, writing that it limited his sexual desirability. He also noted that he sought to punish women for rejecting him, which is why he targeted the “hottest sorority” at UCSB.

As a half-Japanese, half-white person, the killings were remarkably disturbing to Sommers. Seven years later, with the shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, according to Sommers, the Asian American community continues to live through these acts of violence rooted in misogyny and sexual entitlement.

Eight people were killed, six of whom were women of Asian descent, during a series of shootings at three spas in Atlanta on March 16. The perpetrator of this crime informed the police of his “sexual addiction” — a socially accepted concept that is not recognized as a psychiatric diagnosis — and stated that he enacted these shootings in order to eliminate the source of his “temptation.”

For Sommers and many other Asian Americans, the recent shootings in Atlanta — killing Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Soon Chung Park and Yong Ae Yue — reignited personal experiences with racism, fetishism and violence.

“My first thought was just how cruel the systems of white supremacy and patriarchal violence are,” Sommers, who is currently the assistant director of UC Berkeley’s Asian Pacific American Student Development, or APASD, said. “People can’t even live and go about their daily lives in the midst of a global pandemic as people are forced to work. They can’t even do that without fearing for their safety.”

The reported shootings are a tragedy that exacerbates the fear and pain the Asian American community continues to endure as a result of the high levels of racist attacks over the course of the past year, said Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition aimed at documenting and addressing Asian American Pacific Islander hate, in a press release. The coalition received nearly 3,800 reports of hate incidents since the start of the pandemic, with women reporting hate incidents 2.3 times more frequently than men.

Although the shooter denies his actions were racially motivated, Sommers said the shooter’s language regarding the alleged inherent sexuality and immorality of Asian spas is based on “racialized systems of imperialism and militarism.” Sommers added that since the Page Act of 1875, which prohibited the immigration of Chinese women for “immoral purposes,” the U.S. government and mainstream media have allegedly crafted a narrative hypersexualizing and linking Asian women to sex work.

“Hate/harassment towards the AAPI community has always been present, whether it be stereotypes, racial remarks, or fetishizations,” said the Chinese Student Association, or CSA, at UC Berkeley’s executive team in an email. “People are trying to find an outlet and a reason to justify their long hatred towards those in the AAPI community, and this injustice has only recently been brought to light.”

The CSA urges students to make an active effort to avoid stereotypes about the Asian American Pacific Islander community and work toward educating others to prevent the dissemination of stereotypes and myths about COVID-19. Sommers added that people should implement lessons from this incident into their personal and interpersonal lives by addressing toxic masculinity, evaluating racial preferences and combating how people “demonize” sex work.

In order to enact significant changes to “entrenched” systems in society, community building is crucial, according to Sommers. APASD focuses on serving the needs of Asian American, Pacific Islander, South Asian, Southwest Asian and North African people on campus, including academic and mental health support, and provides a space where students’ ethnic heritage and institutional barriers are recognized, Sommers added.

“As an Asian-led student organization that promotes intersectional activism and inclusion of all identities, Cal VSA strives to be a pillar of support and offer a safe space for people to share their experiences and find resources,” said Kathy Hoang and Kiana Tran, co-presidents of the Vietnamese Student Association at UC Berkeley, in an email. “We recognize that we hold the responsibility to use our platform to inform, to amplify our voices, and to instigate social change.”

Instead of looking toward those with the “loudest voices” such as celebrities, people should support local organizations that have an established record of representing disadvantaged communities such as the Asian Immigrant Women Advocates, or AIWA, and Asian Women’s Shelter, Sommers said.

For more than 35 years, AIWA has been supporting low-income Asian immigrant women through grassroots leadership development and helping these women “fight for their rights to live with dignity and respect,” according to Young Shin, AIWA executive director.

“Racial trauma is very personal and very much rooted in how we see ourselves, in where we believe we belong, and who we can trust with such painful, tangled, taxing emotions,” the CSA executive team said in the email.

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Aromatherapy Spa in Atlanta, Georgia

Following the Atlanta shootings, members of the Berkeley community came together to support the Asian American community and to remember those who have been harmed by anti-Asian violence. 

The Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, or APALSA, at UC Berkeley School of Law held a virtual vigil Thursday evening and invited people to join its reflection space, noting that individuals can “come as you are, whether cameras on or off.”

“We come together to mourn and honor those killed in Acworth and Atlanta as well as the many other victims of this year’s rise in anti-Asian hate crimes,” APALSA said in an Instagram post.

In a peaceful community gathering Sunday afternoon, about 30 East Bay residents rallied at the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park to demonstrate their support for Asian Americans in Berkeley and the city’s surrounding communities. 

Flowers, sidewalk chalk and materials to make signs were provided for attendees as families and friends stood together in solidarity. The demonstration was organized by Berkeley community members with city officials — Jenny Wong, city auditor, and Laura Babitt, Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education director — in attendance.

“It’s important to come in solidarity with the community, to show that we will not tolerate hate among Asians,” Wong said. “We need to stand up and show that this is not acceptable.”

Both Wong and her sister Kelly Wong, who is a Berkeley resident, advised that individuals should encourage those who are a part of the Asian American Pacific Islander community to speak out and to not remain silent. Babitt also reminded people that while Berkeley is considered a progressive city, people need to continue highlighting Berkeley’s core values and not be complacent.

Jessica Perez-Wong, a resident of Contra Costa County, noted the differences of activism in each generation, adding that it has been surprising to see the number of people stand in solidarity.

“In my generation, we wouldn’t have this. We would have just been told to work hard, be safe, get home before anything like this could happen,” Perez-Wong said. “You put the onus more on the people who are the victims because you just want to assimilate, you just want to succeed.”

Lisi Ludwig contributed to this report.

Contact Serene Chang and Thao Nguyen at [email protected].

Due to misinformation from a source, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the UC Berkeley Asian Pacific American Student Development serves Asian people on campus. In fact, it serves Asian American, Pacific Islander, South Asian, Southwest Asian and North African people on campus.