Tammy Duckworth, Simu Liu, Olivia Munn and other Asian Americans reflect on the Atlanta shootings

ATLANTA — It’s been one year since six Asian women were murdered in a string of shootings at Atlanta-area massage parlors. Though the shooter’s motive was debated, the violence was felt by many Asian Americans across the nation who already felt under threat amid a growing wave of anti-Asian American hate crimes and rhetoric.

The crimes became more rampant as former President Donald Trump and other political leaders blamed China for the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of the anniversary of the mass shootings, USA TODAY asked prominent Asian Americans to reflect on the past year and their hopes for the Asian American community amid the ongoing attacks.

Shortly after the shootings, Randy Park, the eldest son of one of the victims, told USA TODAY he hoped the world would remember his mother and the other victims. They are Hyun Jung Grant, Soon Chung Park, Yong Ae Yue, Suncha Kim, Daoyou Feng, Xiaojie Tan, Delaina Ashley Yaun and Paul Andre Michels.

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'We are not the ‘other''

Tammy Duckworth is a U.S. senator representing Illinois.

“When a shooter targeted and murdered six Asian women in the Atlanta spa shootings last year, it was a horrific reminder of the systemic hate that has plagued our Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities throughout our nation’s history.

“We know that blaming the AANHPI community for a public health crisis is racist and wrong, and that’s why I’m so proud President Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which I helped introduce, into law to help protect our fellow Americans from the rise in anti-Asian hate and attacks that we’ve seen since the start of this pandemic.

“Yet with anti-Asian hate crimes up by 339% in the last year, it’s clear we must do more to stop the violence that’s continuing to terrorize the AANHPI community. We are not the ‘other,’ and I’ll continue to do everything I can to help put an end to the disease of hatred that’s spreading through our country right now.”

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'It’s time for you to stand with us'

Actor Simu Liu is the star of Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”

"With vaccine and mask mandates lifting in America and around the world, it feels like we are all collectively ready to move on from this pandemic. For those who look like me, however, the feeling is somewhat bittersweet.

"The past two years have been especially difficult for Asian Americans, who’ve experienced a staggering rise in racially-motivated hate crimes that have included harassment, assault and murder. It all came to a horrible swell last March, when a lone gunman attacked three massage parlors in the Atlanta area and killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women. In many ways, it’s felt like the world has shown us its true colors. As with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, or the forced internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, we became the scapegoats as soon as there was something to point a finger at. Beneath a thin veneer of tolerance, you never truly believed that we were equals.

“Although the headlines may have moved on since March of 2021, the violence certainly has not. On Feb. 13 of this year, producer Christina Yuna Lee was (killed) in her home in New York, stabbed 40 times by a mentally ill man. A month prior, Michelle Alyssa Go, a senior consultant at Deloitte, was pushed onto the subway tracks by another man who was mentally unwell. She had spent years volunteering at homeless shelters. Based on reports like these and countless more, an obvious pattern begins to emerge.

“There should be no sympathy for these murderers."

"These men choose their victims based on a perception of weakness and submissiveness, echoing stereotypes that have been attributed to us since long before anyone had ever heard of COVID.

“The prejudice that Asian women and elders face will continue to haunt our community – my community. What happened to Christina and Michelle were not isolated incidents to be written off as mental health issues and filed away into the ‘too bad, so sad, thoughts and prayers’ cabinet of current events. Countless Asian American women are still terrified of taking the subway to work. Countless Asian American women will fear for their lives every time they open their front doors. That fear can’t simply be waved away by a government mandate or CDC guideline.

"Make no mistake, though; we are not weak, and we will not submit. The past few years have cemented the need for each of us to come together – to speak up and speak out, to take up space and demand change. I have watched Asian American advocacy groups sprout up everywhere from schools and colleges to big tech, united by their dedication to social justice. We’re sick and tired of seeing our mothers, daughters and grandparents in the news for being yelled at, spat on, or assaulted. It’s time to fight back.

“And it’s time for you to stand with us.”

'It is crucial that we learn from the mistakes of the past'

Mazie Hirono is a U.S. senator representing Hawaii.

“Over the last year, the continued rise in anti-Asian hate crimes has spurred unrelenting fear, anger and grief across the country. In memory of the women who were murdered in the Atlanta spa shooting a year ago, and all the other victims of verbal or physical attacks and any other acts of discrimination, we must work hard to eradicate the hatred that threatens us.

“From 2020-2021, anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 339% with multiple cities surpassing record numbers of hate crimes. It is reprehensible that our communities continue to suffer the tragic consequences of racism and xenophobia. Last month, we observed the 80th anniversary of Executive Order 9066—a disgraceful stain on our country’s history. The forced internment of Japanese people on U.S. soil will forever remain a terrible and unjust event, and it is crucial that we learn from the mistakes of the past as we become a more diverse nation. It has been nearly a year since President Biden signed the COVID-19 Hates Crimes Act into law, and my efforts to stop the mistreatment of Asians and Pacific Islanders, as well as other marginalized groups, continues.

“I will continue to advocate on behalf of our communities to put an end to these senseless attacks and acts of violence. All forms of hate, bigotry, or discrimination have no place in our country.”

'It is beyond heartbreaking'

Judy Chu is a U.S. representative for California.

“The day I heard about the Atlanta shootings was one that I will never forget. As each new detail came out, I was increasingly horrified. This shooter deliberately went to three Asian spas that were 26 miles apart, where he was certain to kill Asian women. He ended up killing 8 people, with six being Asian women, who were as old as 74, who were mothers and wives, and who were killed just for being Asian.

“My heart ached for the devastated family members of these victims. And I thought about the fact this was indeed the result of over a year of wanton disregard for human life by our then-president using xenophobic slurs like ‘China virus’ and ‘Kung flu.’

“Since February 2020, we in the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus had been fighting this. But it wasn’t until this shooting that our nation finally woke up to the reality of anti-Asian hate. It is beyond heartbreaking to me that it took these horrific deaths to make people realize what was happening. But once they did, Asian Americans received support like never before, with over 1 billion online interactions for our National Day of Action alone.

“And we’re also seeing change. President Biden made addressing anti-Asian hate a priority his first week in office. I was gratified to stand behind him as he signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law. It will ensure that law enforcement is better able to respond to hate crimes. And U.S. Attorney General (Merrick) Garland has already started implementing it. But Congress must also provide the needed funding, especially as anti-Asian violence has continued with more women being killed in New York City just last month. Ultimately, however, none of us will be safe until people stop using xenophobia and bigotry as political tools.”

'There is still work to be done'

Actor Olivia Munn met with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris after they signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law.

“When confronted with resistance, no matter who you are, you will be pressed to keep quiet. There is no one on this planet who deserves to be subjected to this prolonged trauma. There was no way I could remain silent in the face of a 339% increase in anti-Asian American hate crimes in 2021. It hasn't been easy to respond to the violence.

“When confronted with resistance, no matter who you are, you will be pressed to keep quiet. But knowing that there had been an astronomical increase in hate crimes against Asians since the pandemic was weaponized against our community, staying quiet wasn’t an option. I am the daughter of a Viet immigrant and the culture I was raised in taught me to keep my head down and not cause any unnecessary waves. Immigrants in our country are often made to feel like second-class citizens. Many would rather we not call attention to the abject racism and xenophobia or single themselves out in fear of retribution. It takes a toll, mentally and emotionally. I made a promise to myself, even when it was rough, I would keep pushing the uncomfortable conversations until we saw progress and change. There is still work to be done.

“Working with organizations like The Asian American Foundation (TAAF), National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) and other AAPI performers and influencers, we aim to remove misconceptions and re-educate. Asian American women need to be empowered, supported, and protected. Murders like the 2021 Atlanta spa shootings should never happen again. When our seniors are harassed while going down the street, we must intervene. We must remind elected officials, both local and national, to recognize this is not a mild symptom of banal rhetoric. It’s an epidemic, a deadly reaction to disinformation tactics aimed squarely at Asian people and we were not going to sit back or stand down.

“My hope is that my son can thrive in a world where there are no more hashtags for women like Michelle Go and Christina Lee, two vibrant young women who lost their lives and should still be here. I want him to grow up in a world where standing up and speaking out produces results, and past mistakes are not repeated.”

'Our stories are just as American as anyone else’s'

Grace Meng is a U.S. representative for New York.

“Following heinous incidents where Asian Americans were beaten, spat on and even killed, I feared that this violence would escalate further into a large-scale attack, and on March 16, 2021, those fears came true.

“Days after the massacre, I traveled to Atlanta with colleagues from the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. We met with loved ones of those who were murdered, laid flowers at the shooting sites, and held a roundtable with Asian American leaders from the area.

“The shootings were horrifying and further underscored the danger of scapegoating Asian Americans, and pedaling terms such as ‘Chinese Virus’ and ‘Kung Flu.’

“The killings also heightened the fear that the Asian American community continues to live in.

“Last year, President Biden signed my COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law as one of several approaches to help combat the problem. The measure is in the process of being fully implemented, and I am in touch with administration officials as they move forward.

“As we mark the one-year anniversary of the massacre, we must not forget the victims of this awful crime, including the six Asian women who were gunned down.

“For too long, Asian Americans have been viewed as invisible, and are often seen as foreigners. But we are American too!

“These six women contributed to our nation’s American history, working tirelessly to achieve the American Dream, just as so many others in our country do.

“Let’s honor them by keeping their memories alive, and talking about the stories and contributions of Asian Americans.

“Share our history and the role we have played in making our country what it is today, and to help accomplish this goal, I’m working to promote the teaching of Asian Pacific American history in schools, and creating a national museum dedicated to AAPI history and culture.

“After all, our stories are just as American as anyone else’s.”

'It still feels fresh'

Sherry Cola is an actor and comedian heard in Pixar’s “Turning Red.”

“It took over 30 years, but I’ve proudly changed my mindset from ‘I’m happy to be here’ to ‘I deserve to be here.’ Unfortunately, the perpetual discrimination we experience makes it clear that not everyone agrees. Especially as an immigrant, it’s impossible for me to shake the deep-rooted feeling of being seen as a foreigner, with no help from the devastating reminders in the media and in the streets.

“It’s been a year since the tragic Atlanta spa shooting that shook us all, yet it still feels fresh because the worth of Asian Americans remains unvalued in this society. After some major trauma-bonding from the challenges we were forced to face, we’ve gotten stronger and more vocal as a community – but these frequent hate crimes continue to break us down. The murders of Michelle Go and Christina Lee paint a brutal picture of how little progress we’ve made.

“Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, recently tweeted, ‘We have to fight back, we have to love each other, we cannot be bystanders to attacks, abuse, and harm – we all deserve protection and care.’ Her powerful words always resonate with me. We owe a lot to the Black community and other marginalized groups who have endured a lifetime of suffering due to the systemic racism in this country. We are nothing without each other, and on the toughest days, we must be fueled by the resilience of those around us who have already been doing the work in gaining justice and equality.

“There’s no overnight solution and that’s the harsh reality. We must simply stand together to continue the conversation, raise awareness, and preach the importance of solidarity. There’s a world where love and hope can beat hate, but we have to be willing to put in the effort to make a change.”

'My heart aches'

Mark Takano is a U.S. representative for California.

“One year ago, six women were brutally murdered in the Atlanta spa shooting in what was yet another egregious assault on the Asian American community. What happened last year was directly related to the violent, hateful, anti-AAPI rhetoric that was exacerbated due to the COVID-19 pandemic and former President Trump’s use of terms such as 'Kung Flu' and 'China Virus.' Unfortunately, the spa shooting was just one of many verbal and physical attacks on the Asian American community, their homes, and their businesses. My heart aches for every victim of every one of these heinous attacks.

“COVID-19 exposed the many vulnerabilities in our communities, as well as the deeply rooted inequalities that must be addressed; it caused an alarming uptick in racism, bigotry and xenophobia; and it opened our eyes and put so much into perspective. I refuse to stand by and accept targeted violence toward Asian Americans and will always fight to hold perpetrators accountable and take meaningful steps to make our country safer, fairer, more just, and more inclusive for all.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Atlanta spa shootings still mourned by Tammy Duckworth, Olivia Munn

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