Less than one year ago, in April of 2021, I helped contribute to the letter to the editor that Lewis & Clark’s Asian Student Union wrote for The Pioneer Log. The letter condemned Anti-Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) hate and called on the larger LC community to make lasting changes. Yet, not much has happened to prevent these crimes in the past year. Violence against AAPI women in the United States needs to be recognized not only as an issue of misogyny but also racism.
Michelle Go was murdered on Jan. 15. Originally from California, Go had been living in New York for a few years where she worked on mergers and acquisitions for Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited. Go was known for volunteering with the New York Junior League, a 120-year-old women’s volunteer organization, for several years. That morning, Go left her apartment to catch the subway to get to work. It was on that subway platform that Martial Simon pushed her onto the tracks from behind, into the path of the oncoming R train. Go and Simon were strangers. When asked about this crime, Simon responded by saying he was “God.”
Go’s death was a tragic loss. In the interviews after her death, she was described as caring and thoughtful, with a passion for helping others. Her volunteer work helped many low-income New Yorkers, seniors, immigrants and underperforming elementary and middle school students, as well as their parents.
The police reported that the event is not being investigated as a hate crime. For Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum it is impossible to separate Go’s killing from what Asian Americans have been through in the last two years.
“The frustrating part for me is that people want it to be a single issue,” Choimorrow said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, it’s the person that’s broken, not our system.’ ”
Go is one of the many Asian American women who lost their lives as Anti-AAPI sentiments have been on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is estimated that nearly one in five Asian Americans (21.2%) and Pacific Islanders (20.0%) have experienced a hate incident in the past year, according to a nationally-representative survey conducted by Stop AAPI Hate and the Edelman Data & Intelligence Team.
In May of 2021, the country heaved a sigh of relief when Biden signed the anti-Asian hate crime bill. It was applauded for a rare moment of bipartisanship in a gridlocked Washington. Biden said he hoped the signing ceremony, which took place during AAPI Heritage Month, would convey a message to the Asian American community: “we see you.” As if being seen would solve all our problems.
Biden’s actions came in the wake of the Atlanta Spa shooting where Robert Aaron Long killed eight individuals, six of whom were Asian women, and one other person was wounded. The perpetrator told investigators that sex addiction drove him to commit these killings. The news went back and forth on whether he was really racist, or even a bad guy. Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department reported these women were “a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.”
Long’s blatant hypersexualization of Asian women was pushed aside as the investigation proceeded. His actions were seen as disconnected from the race of the women he targeted. To this day, that shooter has not been charged with a hate crime.
In the past year, people have forgotten the names of Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant, Yong Ae Yue, Suncha Kim and Soon Chung Park. I have seen my AAPI friends face microaggressions and harassment. I stay on the phone with my younger sibling as they walk home at night. I always make sure to leave my location on. I cringe at every “well my girlfriend’s Asian” joke. I hear my classmates talk about how some presenters in race monologues are “being over-dramatic” or “do not have it that bad.”
I want to see better from the LC community. It seems as though we have to wait for lives to be lost in order for our warnings about harassment to be taken seriously. Even then, these stories are seen and not acted upon. It seems even more cruel that AAPI victims of harassment have to worry not only about death but also about disappearing. That once a story is no longer sensationalized, it will be archived into silence and the perpetrator never gets fully charged.
I am not sure what could have been done to prevent Michelle Go’s murder, but a good place to start would be by acknowledging that they are acts of both sexism and racism.