Reflections on the Atlanta Spa Shooting (2021)

Originally published on HeadsUpTeens.

A collection of four narratives written in response to the Atlanta spa shooting (March 16, 2021).


My parents had always told me stories about when they were my age and the aggressive oppression they faced as not only immigrants but Asian American immigrants. The name-calling, harassment, even physical violence that came with it had always struck a chord in me. But, I had always come to the conclusion that those acts of hatred were left in the past and forgotten. Up until 6th grade I had never felt singled out or lesser because of my race, but when people started trying to force me into the cookie-cutter molds of outdated stereotypes my utopian perception of race had begun to deteriorate.

 Over the next few years, I’d be called countless slurs, and comments about my family’s heritage would light me on fire. While initially, I’d stand up for myself and my culture with as much passion as I could, this flame slowly died. I began to take the ridicule as jokes, shrugging it off as lighthearted jest. I even began to take the backhanded compliments I’d receive as true defining pieces of my character. I couldn’t count the number of times I would hear phrases like “he’s good for an Asian”, but the constant barrage of these comments soon made me complacent. And what I didn’t realize is that this inaction and ignorance only perpetuated the hatred for my peoples and allowed for racism to strengthen its grip on my community. It would take a pandemic to revitalize the passion I have for my culture and truly open my eyes.

From “Chinese Virus” to “Kung flu”, it became obvious that the blame for a worldwide pandemic would be in many eyes solely on the AAPI community, despite any individual’s background. As a result, the past year has been devastating with constant harassment and acts of physical violence that have made me sick to my stomach. Many of these attacks have been directed towards the elderly, only exemplifying the extreme cowardice of these events. It pains me every time and fills my soul with indescribable anger whenever I see a new incident because these victims could have easily been my grandmother, or grandfather, or mother, or father. And the fact that these ignorant cowards can’t see us for more than a pest they need to rid themselves of only makes this situation more disheartening. Each of the victims in that salon had families that looked up to them, depended on them, and now wish more than anything that they could share one more moment together. Yet as the shooter took them from this world, all he could say was, “I am going to kill all Asians”. That alone warrants change, we as a society need to wake up and begin to push for justice even if it doesn’t fit our political agenda and even if the people in harm’s way don’t look the same as us.

Now is not the time for complacency or just another time you have to shrug your shoulders and move on. It has taken me too long to realize this and now it’s time for me to make a change. If you are truly on the side of justice and on the side for love, please stand up for each other and do all that you can to stop this hatred. Educate yourself, spread awareness, promote kindness, and empathize with those around you. We all deserve to be here. #StopAsianHate


I have never felt Asian.

While that statement may sound like heresy to my Filipino-Korean ethnicity, race was something I never gave a moment’s consideration to growing up. To me, I lived just like my predominantly white friends: speaking only English, playing basketball and soccer as a kid, and having parents from small American towns off the East Coast. Although I live in one of the most diverse areas in the country, in my earlier years that was not the case, or at least how I perceived it. Most of my friends were white (I recall playing on a basketball team and my fourteen other teammates were all white), but I thought nothing of it. When I finally did come of age and acknowledge my ethnicity, I brushed it aside as if it were some inconsequential quirk like being left-handed or double-jointed. Yet, just because I never felt Asian doesn’t mean I ever felt accepted as White. With every joke, comment, or slur, it only reminded me of our differences, up to the point where being Asian felt like a burden. I could dissociate from my race as much as I wanted, as much as I could, and it was never enough. All I ever wanted was to be treated the same, and I learned to reject my ethnicity as something that divided me from everyone else.

I have never felt Asian.

And I know now that feeling is not solely based on extraneous reasons like playing sports or my Americanized household. It was a conscious choice that society’s standard coerced me into. I grew to hate it, and it hurts that much more because it was my personal decision. I can’t say anyone stripped my heritage away from me; I stripped it from myself and grew impartial to it.

With the recent violence against AAPI, there is a myriad of emotions I feel. Upset and dejected that there seems to be a lack of institutional change for centuries regarding social injustice. Confused as to where the public support for AAPI had suddenly come from and whether this is a long-lasting movement or some performative trend. Bitter that my peers and fellow AAPI feel so heart-broken and riled over these acts. What’s maybe even more bitter is knowing that I can’t fully empathize and process the same emotions, feeling so desensitized to my heritage for so long. Even this ability to conjure remorse and sadness has been taken away from me.

I have never felt Asian.

I’ve never wanted to play victim, and there are times where I ignore these thoughts as trivial anecdotes and myself overreacting. I tell myself that this is self-pity, that these feelings are unwarranted and an attempt at trying to create some false-hardship. That’s what racism does to someone; it makes them think their prejudice is self-inflicted, that it’s a proponent of their race that is inherently inferior. But I deeply feel that what I’ve experienced isn’t something to be brushed off. I know I’m not a case study when I read Adam’s piece above and his experiences are almost a carbon-copy of what I also had to put up with. I, therefore, write this excerpt to highlight that even in a sheltered, non-violent community how anti-AAPI sentiments still cut deep. While the incited violence deserves its rightful attention, that doesn’t mean those who aren’t physically harmed haven’t lost anything. Many of us have lost our identity, and that’s something immensely tragic.

I have never felt Asian.  I have never been allowed to feel Asian.

I never say, “Everything will be ok,” because not everything does turn out ok. Similarly, I won’t say that the future will be brighter or that change is on the horizon. Truthfully, I don’t care about the future; I care about now and the actions that are taken in the present. The sharing of intimate experiences I believe is one of the greatest catalysts for anti-racism. I hope whoever is reading this, whether they are a member of the AAPI community or not, that they can look to share or educate others/themselves on what it means to be Asian-American. Racism takes much more than what is perceived on the surface, and we only regain that lost sense of self through banding together in solidarity.


            “8 killed in Atlanta shooting.”

            To me, and many others, on that Tuesday afternoon, it surfaced as yet another deplorable headline. Guns had once again served as an avenue to enable individuals not to protect but to murder.

            But as the details of the incidence surfaced, the truth emerged that this wasn’t an attempt to kill individuals, but an attempt to kill a race, a skin color, a culture, “… all Asians.”

Soon Chung Park. Hyun Jung Grant. Suncha Kim. Yong Yue. Delaina Ashley Yaun. Paul Andre Michels. Xiaojie Tan. Daoyou Feng. Their names flow with the same phonetics as my mother’s, their eyes are molded by the same slim, almond crescent. They could’ve been my mother. They could’ve been my friend’s aunt. They could’ve been any one of us in the AAPI community because our existence in this country is, still, based upon subjugation.

            @Society and the media, call it for what it is.  “8 murdered in anti-AAPI hate crime, 6 of which were Asian women.” Call it a racist hate-crime. Call Robert Aaron Long a white-supremacist murderer, not for the sake of inciting anger and polarization, but because it is an irrefutable fact. Call it, for what it is.

            I am disgusted by myself that this headline didn’t initially phase me, that because of the rise in hate crimes lately, I had become desensitized. Yet, our individual desensitization is the very product of the wretched society we are in, an America where “normal” is when lives are stripped by bullets every day; where “normal” is when a Chinese granda is shoved onto the Brooklyn subway tracks; where “normal” is when BIPOC, LGBTQ+, Muslim, Jewish, disabled, individuals are expected to accept the racism, xenophobia, transphobia, homophobia, whatever-the-heck-minority-phobia because we aren’t the majority.

            We cannot treat this as an isolated incident from one racist, white man. This tragedy is the emergence of racism ingrained in the structures of the United States, fueled by the origin of the pandemic and the rhetoric of the former president. Floyd, Arbery, Taylor, 3800+ reported anti-AAPI hate crimes in the last year… this too, is another tragedy falling in place with the indisputable pattern of discrimination and hatred.

            Right now, take the time you need- without guilt- to mourn, reflect, and heal from racial trauma. Let your thoughts stream free through pen ink, call a friend to just yell out your anger, put aside the work for now, etc.  Prioritize your own wellbeing right now, and don’t you dare apologize to anyone for it; Self-care is the best thing you can do immediately following this. The following linked resources contain further guidance in coping with racial trauma that I hope can be of help to you on this journey:

Coping with Racial Trauma by the University of Georgia:

            Brochure on Healing from Racial Trauma by William & Mary

Article from Healthline:

Whenever you are ready, let us fuel our collective activism with our individual grief, nausea, and infuriation. Let us strive to create tangible change: reading books to address our individual unconscious biases, attending rallies and community, calling upon our representatives to pass anti-racism legislation, learning AAPI history, amplifying each other’s voices.

We will not let these continuous attempts to destroy our identity to weaken us. Rather we will utilize the feelings of disgust they invoke in us to fight with greater strength, passion, and unity.

We will mourn together today. We will fight together tomorrow,  and we will make change, together.

Pranay “Cool Guy” Dhawan

In fourth grade, a short while after recess, my class sat cross-legged on one of those blue rugs, as our teacher spoke. She said something along the lines of, “Stand up if you’re Asian.” I obeyed quietly. Of the multiple faces I saw around me, I knew mine was slightly different, a touch darker, but I thought nothing of it. That is until my teacher’s eyes reached me. I vividly remember the putrid snicker she coughed out before she told me I wasn’t Asian, and to sit back down. I obeyed once more, still quiet as I simply thought, “India’s in Asia… right?”

My race is still something I’ve always been proud of. I now realize what a privilege it is to say that due to the increasing prevalence of stories from voices previously silenced. After the recent atrocities that have been directed towards the AAPI community, I’ve taken the opportunity to reflect on my experiences as an Indian American. What first comes to mind are the slurs. It’s a word I honestly feel uncomfortable even using. I worry that it intrinsically draws a comparison to what other races have experienced. For me, joking terms like “curry muncher” and “monkey” just don’t seem nearly as heavy as the hateful verbiage directed towards other POC. But maybe that’s part of the problem. The phrases that I hate hearing, make a mockery of me and my culture. Society has conditioned me to accept it as okay, belittle myself for wanting to speak up against it, and even feel guilty for not laughing along when I hear it.

While Indian Americans generally aren’t victims of an experience similar to what the members of the AAPI community are currently going through, each race’s experiences are valid. Regardless of any comparisons, the blatant truth is that racism, in all its grim forms, is far too normalized. From the jokes and slurs to the violent attacks on the news that I’ve grown numb to seeing. Just to be clear, I’m not at all trying to make a “Hey, my life is hard too,” type of statement. It’s just that the more I think about my experiences in the context of what’s going on right now, the more I realize I might not be proud of my race. The Indian things I hold true to my heart, like the comfort food only my mom can make, the dapper Indian clothes I save for Diwali, and even my Hindu religion, are things I keep separate from my outer appearance. I bring sandwiches and applesauce to school for lunch, not my mom’s paneer and sabzi. I fear judgment of wearing a Kurta outside of the house, and if anyone asks, I call the Maulis that I’ve worn on my wrist my entire life mere bracelets.

Maybe I’m not as proud of my race and culture as I thought I was. It may very well be true that coming from an immigrant family means losing a part of one’s identity. It doesn’t, however, mean I can be complacent as society expedites that cultural erosion. Since that moment in fourth grade, likely even before, I’ve been quiet about microaggressions towards my race. Now, in this troubling time of violent conflict and division, I’m faced with questions about what it really means to be Asian. Are the disgusting sentiments just a part of being BIPOC here in America? Just seeing my close friends being so deeply troubled by the current events evokes in me a sense of guilt. All I know is that I can do better, not just for myself or my race, but for all of those facing a discriminatory society. The tragedies of today have opened my eyes to the need to educate myself, so hopefully, I can contribute to a better future where racial diversity is celebrated and love prospers among all.   

1 thought on “Reflections on the Atlanta Spa Shooting (2021)”

  1. Appreciative Reader (Anonymous)

    This set of editorials are amazing. They describe what I have felt many times but never articulated. Thanks for sharing.

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