We Know Evil In America Too

by Emil Guillermo

Evil. It’s the opposite of Aloha. It’s evil we’ve witnessed these past few weeks. Russia denies it, but we can see for ourselves.

A maternity hospital shelled. Then another. Nuclear power plants attacked. Residential neighborhoods targeted. Innocent civilians killed.

Before our eyes, we see Russia’s war in Ukraine unfold. Russia’s lies about its military actions only make this the world’s first “global gas-lit war,” pure evil.

But we know and have seen evil too, within our own borders.

Asian Americans know it all too well—at least on the mainland.

For the last two years, there has been what amounts to a de facto war of terror against Asian Americans. It was on March 19, 2020, when the twice impeached former president was first asked about his use of the phrases “Kung Flu” and “China Virus” to describe the pandemic.

The scapegoating remarks from the White House essentially gave the public a signal that translated into a public animus against Asian Americans for way more than just the origins of the pandemic.

The group #StopAAPIHate first started logging instances of hate transgressions and found it grew from a modest 700 cases to nearly 3,000 by the end of 2020. To date, they’ve logged more than 10,000 instances ranging from verbal abuse and spitting to physical violence, including murder.

Early on, the group could see a dangerous trend emerge. Women were victimized at rates three times that of men among all the instances logged.

And so, the historical marker for this era of Asian American pain will always be March 16, 2021.

This year will mark one year since the killing of six Asian American women of Korean descent in what has become known as the “Atlanta spa killings.”

The homogenized phrase hides the real pain.

We should know March 16, 2021 by the lives claimed.

Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, 49. Tan owned Young’s Asian Spa in Cherokee County, Georgia, where the first part of the day’s shootings occurred.

Tan also owned another spa, Wang’s Feet and Body Massage in Kennesaw, Georgia. She met her husband, Michael Webb, in Asia, and they came to America in 2006. The couple adopted a daughter, then divorced. Tan died a day before her 50th birthday.

Daoyou Feng, 44, worked at Young’s Asian Spa for just a few months.

In Atlanta’s Fulton County, there were four more Asian American women killed.

Hyung Jung Grant, 51, worked at the Gold Spa and was a single mother of two sons. She had been a school teacher in South Korea.

Soon Chung Park, 74, made food for the employees at the Gold Spa. She had lived in New York before moving to Atlanta.

Suncha Kim, 69, worked at the Gold Spa and came to America in the 1980s. She was close to her family and worked several jobs to support them. A grandchild described her as a “fighter” and a “rock,” for the family.

Yong Ae Yue, 63, worked at the Aromatherapy Spa. She came to the U.S. in the 1970s from Korea where she met her husband, Mac Peterson, who was in the US military.

These are the names of the six Asian American women.

But let’s not forget the other victims: Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, who had gone to Young’s for a couples massage. Her husband, Mario Gonzalez, was in another room hiding. Married less than a year, they have a teenage son and an 8-month-old baby girl.

Paul Andre Michels, 54, moved from Detroit to Atlanta in the ‘90s. His brother told reporters that he was considering opening a massage business of his own after working as a maintenance person at Young’s.

John Michels described his brother as a military vet, a gun owner, a Catholic, and a staunch Republican. He was the eighth fatal victim on March 16.

The lone survivor of the day was Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, a Guatemalan immigrant who worked as a mechanic and has a wife and nine-year-old daughter. He was shot in the forehead, lungs, and stomach at Young’s Asian Spa.

The person alleged to have committed all eight murders was convicted last July of the four deaths at Young’s in Cherokee County.

Robert Aaron Long, 21, took a plea deal to the four murders at Young’s and was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole, plus 35 years.

It is said it is easier to buy a gun in Georgia than it is to vote. Long purchased a 9 mm handgun, then went to a liquor store to buy alcohol, where he parked outside Young’s Spa for an hour.

That’s when he decided to walk in.

Long has said the shootings weren’t about race, but rather his sex addiction overcome by Christian guilt over premarital sex. He told the court when he went into Young’s he received a “service.” He gave into temptation, then took his sense of moral justice into his own hands.

He went to the bathroom and came out shooting at people.

Long said he did not know or recognize any victims, including Tan and Feng. The shooting took less than five minutes.

Long is then alleged to have driven to the two other spas, Gold’s Spa and Aromatherapy Spa in northeast Atlanta’s Fulton County, where he killed four other Asian Americans: Grant, Park, Kim and Yu.

While the Cherokee County DA did not seek hate crime enhancements, the Fulton County District Attorney is seeking the death penalty and hate crime enhancements. Long has pleaded not guilty. His next court appearance is in April.

And that’s where we are one year later. The legal proceedings and whether it’s a hate crime or not will be discussed in a subsequent column.

For now, it’s worth it just to understand how the day came to be.

A young white man, angered and confused by religion and his sexuality, lashed out at six innocent Asian American women: Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, Daoyou Feng, Hyung Jung Grant, Soon Chung Park, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue.

They were living their lives freely in America. In the case of Tan, we have a thriving entrepreneur. The others were working-class people, who by all accounts in the media were happy, providing for loving families.

They were doing what our society allows for immigrants with limited means. But they were more than just surviving, despite living in a world with issues of racism, sexism, and white supremacy.

Far from where they came from. They had made new lives in America.

They were alive.

And then all of it was taken away in an instant, gunned down in an act of zealous evil.

EMIL GUILLERMO was a columnist at the Star-Bulletin, and an editorial board member of the Advertiser. He was also the host of NPR’s “All Things Considered” in Washington, D.C. He does a web show covering Asian American Filipino issues on race, culture and politics on Facebook/emilguillermo.media; Emil Guillermo YouTube; and on www.amok.com.

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