Tuesday’s Atlanta-area spa shootings where eight people were killed, including six women of Asian descent, hit close to home for me.
At least four victims were of Korean origin. While I was born in this country and I’m proud to be an American, I am half Korean and half Japanese.
At this point, it is unclear whether the shooting victims were targeted because of their race. Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds said Wednesday that the suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, of Woodstock, Georgia, told authorities that his actions were not racially motivated and that he had a sexual addiction.
I find it unsettling, nevertheless, because it comes at a time when anti-Asian sentiment and violence are on the rise in our country. Some blame people who look like me of being responsible for the so-called China virus, more accurately known as the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
A context of anti-Asian bias
In the early months of the pandemic last year, one woman on Facebook, commenting on an article I wrote as business editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, told me that I was a nothing who should go back to China.
And I am not the only one.
I recently interviewed a Daytona Beach, Florida, area family that runs a Korean restaurant. They told me they were being similarly harassed on nearly a daily basis, both by people showing up in person to place orders and then refusing to pay for them, as well as those calling them on the phone during their busy dinner rush.
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SaeHee Martin, a native of South Korea who owns the Chop Chop Korean Restaurant in South Daytona, told me on Wednesday that she was frightened to learn about the Atlanta-area spa shootings.
“I’m afraid,” she told me. “I don’t know what some crazy people are going to do.”
It doesn’t help that the shooter told police that he intended to drive to Florida to kill more people at spas.
When I read the national news reports about anti-Asian hate crimes, most seem to be happening in large cities that have a bigger percentage of Asian Americans.
In King County, Washington, for example, where I was born and raised, those of Asian heritage account for nearly 20% of the population, according to the latest Census Bureau statistics.
Here in Florida’s Volusia County, where Daytona Beach is located, Asians account for only 2% of the population.
The Atlanta-area shootings show that anti-Asian hate crimes, if in fact that’s what it was, can also happen in communities where there are fewer Asians.
In Cherokee County, Georgia, where the first of the three spas shootings occurred, Asians account for 2.1% of the population.
Even some people I consider friends persist in referring to COVID-19 as the China virus. When I confront them about it, I am told, that’s where it started.
True, but to blame all Asians, or even all Chinese, for the pandemic is flat out wrong. That suggests that we are all alike, as if we were the Borg from “Star Trek.”
No one is a stereotype
Growing up in a mostly white neighborhood in Seattle, I was constantly told Asians are good in math (not true, for me) and not so good in English or when it came to matters involving creativity and innovation. For the record, I double majored in English Lit and Journalism with a minor in art. I also played for many years in rock bands and won a local songwriter contest in the Daytona Beach area a few years ago.
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Conversely, I am not skilled in kung fu or any of the martial arts, and I am not particularly adept at using chopsticks, although I try.
Alike, we Asian Americans are not.
And as far as what country I pledge my allegiance to, I am as proud as any of you to be an American. I have an uncle who fought in World War II in, not against, the United States Army as a member of the highly decorated 442nd infantry unit made up of Japanese Americans. He fought the Germans while one of his brothers was interned during the war in a relocation camp for those of Japanese descent in California.
My wife and I have three sons, all of whom have served in the U.S. military, including one who is still in the Air Force.
Stop viewing us as “others.” We are Americans, and we are human beings who don’t deserve to be vilified or, as in the apparent case of the Atlanta spa shooter, objectified. Much less targeted.
Clayton Park is business editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter: @ClaytonPark3