Opinion: I keep thinking I could have been Christina Yuna Lee

Editor’s note: Amara Walker is a correspondent and backup anchor for CNN. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary belong to the author. See more opinions on CNN.


It could have been me. It could have been any of us.

It is the sickening feeling that I have tried to process alongside my Asian American friends and colleagues as we grapple with the horror of another Asian American woman brutally killed in a an unprovoked attack.

It’s the same feeling that overwhelmed me when a man carried out a shooting at three Atlanta-area spas last year, killing eight people in two counties, including six Asian women. Convicted murderer Robert Aaron Long pleaded guilty to four of the Cherokee County murders and was sentenced to life in prison. And he still faces additional murder and hate crime charges (and the death penalty) in Fulton County, where he pleaded not guilty.

Christina Yuna Lee, 35, entered her building in the early hours of the morning on February 13 and, according to a complaint filed by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, a man pushed the door open as it closed behind her, following her inside. Prosecutors said Assamad Nash, 25, allegedly followed Lee to her apartment and stabbed her dozens of times. He was charged with murder.

Although I never had the pleasure of meeting or knowing Lee, I still find myself crying for her, a woman who was brutally killed in her own home. I keep turning to the picture of her with that dazzling smile.

Her eyes appear to match the “bubbly, curious, creative and confident” description posted in an Instagram tribute from Dani DiCiaccio, who described herself as Lee’s manager at Splice. She wrote that Lee was known to have “lunch with people from completely opposite and random teams,” and Slack “people on a zoom call telling them, ‘Your lipstick is absolutely perfect today.’ .”

I can’t help but think of Lee’s parents and the depth of anguish they were unwittingly thrown into. I’m haunted by how Lee would have brought an Uber home when he lived right next to a subway station. It breaks my heart to know that she could have made such a decision, thinking in vain that it would be the safest option.

Lee’s alleged killer is believed to be homeless and questions have been raised about his mental health. Even though his murder is not currently considered a hate crime, I can’t help but think that whether it was a hate crime or not, it won’t change that fact: Americans in of Asian descent are under siege.

In particular, Asian American women are terrified of being added to the tally of anti-Asian incidents that have risen sharply since the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020. Recent NYPD data shows a 361% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes from 2020 to 2021 and the San Francisco Police Chief reports a 567% spike over the same period.

What’s alarming, but not shocking, to me is that 65% of hate incidents are reported by Asian American women, according to Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition that tracks anti-Asian attacks. And these are only the cases that have been reported.

Many Asian American women (myself included) change their daily habits, walk the streets in groups, frequently look behind their backs, or avoid public transportation.

We are afraid because we have been seen as easy targets thanks, in part, to demeaning stereotypes that have persisted since the 1800s, when Asians began immigrating to the United States. Many of us wonder if we are more vulnerable now that the wave of anti-Asian incidents across the country continues.

It’s hard to separate from the personal and life stories of Asian women who have been brutally attacked and killed, beginning with the Atlanta Spa massacre in March 2020, the Michelle Go subway murder in January, and the murder by Christina Yuna in February. Lee. We see ourselves reflected in these precious lives because Asian American women are bound by a unique vulnerability to racism, sexism, and misogyny that can manifest in violence.

Along with countless Asian American girls and women, I grew accustomed from an early age to being the target of racially charged calls like “I’ve loved you for a long time” or “Me so horny”; phrases that were popularized by the depiction of a Vietnamese sex worker in Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 Vietnam War film, “Full Metal Jacket.”

These degrading tropes fetishizing and sexually objectifying Asian women have become so entrenched in American culture that they are used casually in mainstream music by 2 Live Crew and Fergie, and even in TV shows and movies such as ” South Park” and “40 years”. Old Virgin”, without giving too much thought to the harm they cause.

These ubiquitous tropes are regularly used as weapons against us – and still elicit a visceral reaction of anger from me when I hear them today. Yes, I still hear them today.

In fact, I was recently proposed by a group of men, as I walked past an indoor golf course, who were hurling racist and vulgar comments at me. A man made noises that seemed to mimic an Asian language, while his friend tried to ask me out, mocking broken English.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard these ignorant and bigoted phrases from complete strangers or even acquaintances: “I’ve never had an Asian girl before”, “You Chinese girls are naughty, aren’t you?” (I’m not of Chinese descent for the record, and I point this out because often people don’t care to distinguish among a racial group that has its roots in dozens of different ethnicities. We are not interchangeable ).

Perception might as well be reality. Perceptions that Asian American women are subhuman sex objects or exotic fantasies that are submissive and sweet reduce us to easy prey. As a teenager, I was constantly reminded that being an Asian woman meant some people would see or treat me differently.

I have always been on my guard. Today’s hateful environment demands it more than ever. It is no coincidence that Asian hate incidents have a disproportionate impact on Asian women. And hate doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There is an urgent need to address gender and race-based violence, along with mental illness, addiction and homelessness.

The massacre of eight people, including six Asian women, at three different spas in Atlanta last year was a wake-up call to a stark historical reality for Asian American women; that our gender and race are inextricably linked, making us particularly vulnerable to violence. The killings also serve as a reminder that demeaning stereotypes of Asian women can impact how these crimes are potentially handled, allowing law enforcement officials to downplay the depravity of the killer having a bad day, or the killer himself diminishing the lives he took for a sexual. addiction.

On January 15, Michelle Alyssa Go, 40, who worked on mergers and acquisitions for Deloitte Services LP, was pushed directly in front of an oncoming train at Times Square station. Like Lee, Go’s alleged killer is homeless. Go’s attack is not being investigated as a hate crime. But these latest murders have shaken an Asian American community that was already on edge.

How tragic that I have to write this reminder: we are real people. We are daughters, sisters, wives and mothers. We are your neighbor, your boss, your employee, your doctor, your patient, your driver and your passenger.

Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe that the wave of attacks will decrease alongside the number of Covid-19 cases.

We need to tackle these dangerous stereotypes.

We need to tell more Asian American stories, beyond statistics and photos of victims. The fate and contributions of our ancestors to America should be incorporated into the history books.

We need much more media representation, beyond the Hollywood representations that have perpetuated these demeaning stereotypes for decades. Asian Americans have shamefully low visibility in the media, although it is improving, albeit slowly.

We need allies in this fight who will not only help change the narrative about Asian Americans, but who will also show up for us and speak on our behalf.

Like Christina Yuna Lee, like Michelle Alyssa Go, like the victims of the Atlanta Spa shooting – Delaina Ashley Yaun, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Soon Chung Park, Hyun J. Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong A. Yue – we are valued members of our community.

We are suffering. Listen to us. Look at us. Take our concerns seriously. We too deserve to feel safe in our country.


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