On Mar. 26, this display was put together by Li and a few other organizers for the vigil to honor the victims of the Atlanta shooting.

On March 16, a 21-year-old white man opened fire in three massage parlors in Atlanta. His sickening and horrifying attack resulted in the death of eight innocent people, six of whom were Asian women. In the news conference, a Georgia officer stated that the suspect had “sexual addiction” and that he was “fed up” and having “a really bad day.”

However, this shooting was driven by so much more than mental health issues. The fact that the perpetrator believed he was eliminating sexual “temptation” of Asian massage parlors reflects fetishization and misogyny facing Asian women, the origin of which dates back to the late 1800s. When the first group of Chinese women immigrated to the US, they came searching for opportunities and freedom; Instead, they were being viewed as prostitutes or perpetual foreigners stealing jobs from white Americans. To eliminate such influence, all immigrants were soon banned from entering the country without reason by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the first exclusionary immigration policy in the US. The stereotype of Asian women being weak, submissive and exotic was further perpetuated through American films and media, like the “Dragon Lady” or “China Dolls”.

All women of Asian descent are suffering the consequence of this harmful stereotype. Six massage parlor workers lost their lives in this mass shooting; anyone working in spas and salons could be the next victim. According to the reporting forum Stop AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) hate, there have been over 3000 reported hate crimes against Asian Americans in the last year, but the actual total could be way higher. Nearly 55 percent of Asian women have reported experiencing physical or sexual violence; they are seen as weaker targets who cannot fight back. Young girls are being approached on the street by white men with racist pickup lines; I was taught to bring a pepper spray with me at all times.

None of this is acceptable. Asian women are strong, independent human beings, not objects to fetishize. We do not deserve to be killed to satisfy the sexual fantasy of white men. The discrimination we have faced for centuries, from the Chinese Exclusion Act to statements like “the China Virus” and “Kung Flu” needs be taught in school along with slavery and Jim Crow. The racial profiling of the virus and increasing violence since the start of the pandemic deserve proper recognition by the media. This recent shooting is a hate crime, and it should be called so.

Asian Americans have been suffering in silence for way too long. But it’s not because we don’t speak up. Rather, our voices are never heard. We are silenced by a society built on white supremacy and prejudice. We are silenced by the broken justice system that brutally kills innocent people of color while justifying a white suspect of a hate crime with having “a bad day.” We are silenced by the pressure, shame and degradation society imposed on us for not living up to the model minority myth that all Asians are smart and successful. We are silenced by the complex historical conflict between AAPI and Black communities that prevented people of color from uniting together. We are silenced by our skin tone, too white to be seen as people of color, but not white enough to be seen as white. We are silenced by simply being an Asian American, or “just another Asian” to everyone else.

All of this violence and hate must end. Now more than ever, it’s time for unity across racial groups, not division. It starts with joining one of the many demonstrations, rallies and protests happening across our country to stand in solidarity with the AAPI community. It starts with amplifying Asian Americans’ voices and giving us space to speak up about our pain, anger and fear. It starts with reaching out to your Asian American friends and letting them know that you are there for them. It starts with one less racist joke, one less “where are you from?” and one less “your English is great.”

In a country that vows to protect every citizen’s “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness,” I still want to believe that everyone deserves to have their voices heard. I hope you do, too.