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Stopping Hate Crime Against Asian American: Where is our NRNA Voice?

Prof. Jeevan Gurung, SUNY, New York

Updated: Exclusive: The Atlanta spa massacre of eight people on March 16 shook the nation, and like many other Americans, I wanted to do more than just express shock and grief at the loss of the precious lives of six women with Asian descent. My heart went out to their families and friends. Then I saw Facebook post by my good friend Iswari Pandey, Professor of English and Director of Business/Professional Communications at California State University: “#NRNA: Did I miss your statement on the recent slaughter in Atlanta or the ongoing series of hate crimes against Asian-Americans? Any protest programs in solidarity with the rest of the Asian-American community? Remember, even a Nepali Uber driver was recently assaulted? I didn’t become a life member to be a silent witness to all these atrocities. Wake up or be prepared to face a mass exodus.” I couldn’t agree more with Iswari’s outrage.

Where is our voice ?

If not the Non-Resident Nepali Association of America, then at least the Federation of Indigenous Peoples of Nepal in America (FIPNA) needs to immediately condemn this violence and show Nepali people’s solidarity for the Asian American community in this time of need.

On the fatal day, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long arrived at Young’s Asian Massage near Acworth where he killed two and left three others wounded. Later he drove 30 miles to Gold Massage Spa on Piedmont Road in northeast Atlanta and shot dead three women. He then went across the street to Aromatherapy Spa to kill another woman. Fortunately, the police were successful in apprehending Long on his way to Florida. At this time, he has been charged with eight counts of murder and is being held at the Cherokee County jail. According to police, Long was motivated by a sexual addition to carry out his criminal act.

Let’s, however, not be misled into believing that the Atlanta massacre isn’t a hate crime. Yes, Captain Jay Baker from the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office described Robert Aaron Long’s killing spree as having resulted from his alleged sexual addiction. He even explained it as Long “having a bad day.” That and the continued reporting that the authorities are investigating whether Long’s motive was driven by hate is obfuscating what is so obvious: Long specifically targeted massage businesses that he knew employed Asian women and he killed six of them. Long may have described his action as a need to remove a “temptation,” but we cannot ignore the interplay of misogyny and racism in his motivation.

It is true that massage parlors have a history of concerns about sex trafficking, and in some cases, they have been found operating as fronts for prostitution. But the massage businesses that Long targeted were legitimately operated businesses. Atlanta’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms had this to say regarding the incident: “We are not about to get into victim-blaming, victim-shaming here. And as far as we know in Atlanta, these are legally operating businesses that have not been on our radar, not on the radar of A.P.D.”

Obviously the victims were professionals making an earning for themselves and their families, but the killing of women engaged in any profession, be it prostitution (which in this case it was not), shouldn’t minimize the fact that this was a hate crime perpetrated against Asian women.

What should scare us more about this incident is that it is a hate crime against Asian-American communities with whom we share a lot in common. Like the six women who were gunned down in cold blood, many Nepali women work in spas and beauty salons. While we may call ourselves South Asians, many of us share features that are more Asian than the typical South Asians. Therefore, there is nothing to prevent an attack on one of the spas where our near and dear ones may turn out victims. That is a very plausible scenario, as there has been an exponential rise in violence against Asian Americans, and we are getting roped in this violence. Citing a report published by Stop AAPI Hate, the New York Times reported that there were nearly 3,800 hate incidents against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. The Stop AAPI Hate report notes that the incidents could be higher since not all incidents are reported. I don’t think the Nepali Uber driver’s assault that Dr. Pandey referenced in his Facebook post was included in the Stop AAPI report. Subhakar Khadka, a Nepalese Uber driver was assaulted and coughed on by his passengers in San Francisco. His dashcam video that went viral last week shows Khadka’s passengers yelling, attacking, and ripping Khadka’s mask after he asks them to wear theirs. It’s highly likely that many more Nepalis are victims as a result of the recent spate of hate incidents against Asian Americans. And it is likely to increase even more.

Why do we fear ?