It took six deaths for our cries to be heard

“They do not know better because there are not many Asians here in Colombia,” I would tell myself while a child squinted at me, while a man yelled at me “Japonés (Japanese)” or while schoolmates blurted out sounds they thought sounded “Asian.” 

For too long during my pre-college life in Colombia, I labeled these actions as “ignorant” or as “uneducated,” but not racist. I would laugh at jokes made about Asians and then it even came to a point where I was telling them myself. I never would have imagined the pain and anguish I would feel for being Korean.

3,795: the number of incidents of verbal harassment, physical assault, and other hate incidents received by the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center from March 19, 2020 to February 28, 2021. 3,808: the number of incidents that would have been reported if I had the courage to report the 18 times I was harassed last year. I was asked to leave a store by the manager because I was making customers “uncomfortable.” People have yelled “Fuck you, Asian” and “Do you know how many people you have killed?” at me. The sad reality is that 3,795 represents just a fraction of the actual number of incidents that have occurred. And then tragically, last week, those incidents became ever more visceral when a white man killed eight people in Atlanta, six of whom were Asian. Four of them were ethnically Korean. 

It did not take bullets to wound our AAPI community; it was already wounded by words of hate, and cowardly attacks on AAPI elders, among other acts. At the beginning of the pandemic, I wanted to believe that the incidents that I experienced were anomalous, due to  extraordinary times. I hoped that the fear caused by the pandemic deformed us, but that this would pass. 

Yet, today, I acknowledge that history is repeating itself. From the Chinese Exclusion Act to the Philippine-American War to the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans, hate against the AAPI community  is nothing new in this country. Yet it took six Asian women to die for our cries to be heard, for our struggles to be acknowledged, and for the injustices to be revealed.

 Sadly, “Chinese virus” were two words repeatedly said by former President Trump that triggered and incited this new wave of racist, anti-Asian, and xenophobic sentiment. This triggered fears and anxieties I never had felt before. I felt guilty and ashamed for who I was, as stereotypes obscured the truth of my identity. 

I often felt like a coward for crying, for feeling scared, and for being sensitive. I felt exhausted in living in constant fear as I was afraid people would act upon the lies that the former president was telling the nation. I felt angry that minorities have to live subdued by racism while the privileged reap the benefits of society. More importantly, I felt alone, as if no one really cared that we, the AAPI community, were suffering. It took the death of innocent souls for the country to realize how battered and afraid the AAPI community was.

I want to believe the words that I often see in AAPI protests that say “Asians are not Viruses, Racism Is” or “Hate is a Virus” because it means that there is likely a vaccine, a cure for this problem if we just work hard enough to find it. But down in my heart, I just wonder, “Will those who are privileged ever want to understand my pain, my struggle, and my fears of living in a society embedded in racist ideals and be willing to fight for change? If so, why has nothing changed?”   

I guess the only thing left for me to do is hope that change will eventually come.