“Remember that hate is a virus, Mules,” the Muhlenberg Asian Student Association’s (ASA) bio on Instagram (@muhlenbergasa) reminds users. This is a sentiment that, given recent events, hits close to home for many Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students on campus.
Last Thursday, Mar. 25, 2021, many students lined the edges of Parent’s Plaza — no tables remained unoccupied — to partake in the ASA’s Moment of Remembrance, remembering the victims of the recent Atlanta shootings of Young’s Asian Massage, Gold Spa and Aromatherapy on Mar. 16, 2021. Equal parts vigil and outcry, the event featured socially-distanced ASA members who expressed their anxiety in finding the words with which to address the Muhlenberg community. Robin Chodak’ 22, co-president of the ASA, said, “it didn’t have to be perfect, just how we felt as Asian community members.”
The weaponization of this privilege is nothing new. During her passionate speech, faculty advisor and assistant professor of religious studies Purvi Parikh, Ph.D., spoke about how the Asian community has always been targeted through time, saying, “After 9/11, it was our South Asian community; during COVID it is our East Asian community.”
Indeed, nowhere did East Asian discrimination flow more freely than from the mouth of former president Donald Trump—America’s then-mouthpiece for COVID procedures. The theme of creating change was echoed by many of the students, including many of those who submitted written work to be read aloud. Jialin Huang ‘24 urged the student body to reflect on whom they put in powerful positions, saying, “This is not a problem. This is a crisis… Asian Americans should not fear for their lives simply from walking on the street.”
This shared experience of identity-based fear was echoed in the words of each speaker (the “inability to breathe freely in our own homeland,” as one student described it). Also prominent was the rightful indignation at the fact that, in Chien’s words, “it took a massacre of six Asian women to get the media to pay attention to us.”
This indignation culminated in the repetitious, resilient words of Chodak: “You will hear us. You will hear us. You will hear us.” As the event came to a close, the ASA co-president Vanessa Pham ‘21 addressed the student body with this closing statement: “To our friends and allies, thank you for coming. We look forward to seeing you more often.”
Speaking about the event afterwards, Chodak said, “I think the event was bittersweet to me. I didn’t realize how nice it would be to see so many people come together with the intent to support and be there for their hurting community members. It’s been a really long time since many of us have experienced something like that. I just wish it was for something else.
Pham said, “Standing up there alongside my fellow ASA E-Board members as well as Dr. Parikh and Dr. Chien marks a moment I will never forget. Our words stretched across Parent’s Plaza encompassing the sentiment and silence seen in the faces of the individuals around us. It was truly heartwarming to see my fellow Muhlenberg community gather together as one regardless of their background. It’s sad that it has come for such a tragic event to bring our ‘Berg community together but our determination for protecting our community will grow stronger from here on.”
Chodak added, “As a response to a tragedy, it was never going to be a ‘positive event’ no matter how we tried to articulate our words, but at the end of the day, I think some of our API members had the chance to speak their truth and some people resonated with it and I think that makes it worth it.”
SIX OUT OF EIGHT VICTIMS WERE ASIAN-AMERICAN WOMEN.
Xiaojie Tan, 49, owned and managed Young’s Asian Massage after immigrating from Nanning, China.
Daoyou Feng, 44, recent hire at Young’s Asian Massage, her relatives wish to keep her life private from the public.
Hyun Jung Grant, 51, single mother of two sons, employee of Gold Spa.
Suncha Kim, 69, mother of two, immigrated from Seoul, South Korea, employee of Gold Spa.
Soon Chung Park, 74, wife, former New York resident, and employee of Gold Spa.
Yong Ae Yue, 63, South Korean immigrant, mother of two sons, loved cooking Korean dinners and Korean karaoke, employee at Gold Spa.
Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez, 33, mother of two, was on a spa date with her husband during the shooting.
Paul Andre Michels, 54, served in West Germany and at Fort Knox, loved history and politics.