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Nation & World

Ga. Asian-American Community's Reaction To Spa Shootings And Anti-Asian Violence

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

There are still so many unanswered questions about the shootings at three businesses in the metro Atlanta area yesterday, but we do know this. Eight people are dead. Six of them were Asian women. A suspect is in custody. Police believe he acted alone. The attacks come as hate crimes against Asian Americans are on the rise. Bee Nguyen is a Georgia state representative. Her district covers parts of Atlanta and parts of DeKalb County. Yesterday, she first realized something terrible had happened when her phone lit up.

BEE NGUYEN: I just got overwhelmed with text messages from family members, friends checking in. And it was very overwhelming. The feeling that I had before we knew any of the details, you know, was this has to be a hate crime. And to automatically think that, you know, speaks a lot about what has been going on in the past year as it relates to the rise of AAPI hate crimes and understanding...

KELLY: AAPI - I'll just clarify. That's Asian American, Pacific Islanders. Go on.

NGUYEN: And so, you know, I hated to think that that was what this was. And since learning more about the tragedy, my opinion on that hasn't changed.

KELLY: Police authorities say they asked the suspect whether his attack was racially motivated, and he told them no. He also told them he targeted these massage parlors because they represented a temptation he wanted to eliminate. What do you know about these businesses and how that might or might not be complicating the investigation?

NGUYEN: We know that these are three businesses that are Asian-owned. We know that the majority of people who work there are Asian. And I think for anyone who lives in Atlanta and you hear the word massage parlor, that there is an understanding that perhaps there are other sex worker-related things that take place in these massage parlors. And it's largely accepted.

It's complex because on one hand, we want to make sure that we protect any sex workers. On the other hand, we also know that there are a lot of vulnerabilities with women in the sex working industry. And regardless of what the alleged suspect in custody says or claims, the truth is it was three Asian businesses. It was targeted. It did result in six Asian women dying. And you simply cannot separate the misogyny, the sex industry piece from the racism piece.

KELLY: I can hear the anger in your voice. It sounds like this one hit really close to home.

NGUYEN: It does. You know, and I think about it a lot because I think about the history of Asian Americans in this country and the violence and brutality towards Chinese rail workers, the fact that our country implemented an immigration exclusion act that started with Chinese exclusion and then expanded to include all Asians - an entire continent of people excluded from being able to come to this country - that our country incarcerated Japanese Americans.

And so there's a long history of Asian American violence in this country, and it's been erased. And it is not told, I think, very intentionally to make us keep our heads down, to pit communities of color against each other, to make us adhere to this model minority myth. And then it's also reinforced because our families have experienced some sort of fear. And as an Asian American child growing up, my parents always wanted me to keep my head down, to remain silent, to not get any attention from anywhere because they were always afraid, ultimately, that we would be a target. And that sense of safety and that sense of invisibility has harmed our community.

KELLY: That is Bee Nguyen. She represents District 89 in the Georgia state Legislature.

Thank you.

NGUYEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.