‘There's racism everywhere, but now the floodgates are open’: Asian Angelenos on Atlanta shooting

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Flowers and a poster are left outside Gold Spa following the deadly shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. March 17, 2021. Photo by REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Michelle Gonzales is so afraid of her parents being targets of anti-Asian violence that she’s forbidden her mom from taking walks in her Carson neighborhood. 

“That was just our way of protecting her from violence that could actually happen in our community, when before we would never have thought that something like that would ever be possible in our community.” 

Gonzales identifies as half Filipino, and she says the recent shooting of six Asian women in Atlanta has shifted her perception of safety. 

“We often think that we're safe in California, we're safe in Southern California, safe in Los Angeles and in very diverse communities. But to see it happen in Queens, to see it happen in Oakland, to see it happen in San Francisco, that really hit home. It can actually happen in our community.” 

In LA County, more than 15% of residents identify as Asian, and that includes hugely diverse communities of Chinese, Korean, Filipino, and Vietnamese residents. And while many Angelenos think the region is a melting pot, others have experienced hostile incidents of racism.

For Boyle Heights resident Yoshi Warita, these incidents are part of their past. Warita is half Japanese and half Puerto Rican. He says his mixed heritage has made him acutely aware of the racism Asian residents can face. 

He told KCRW about an incident of overt harassment at a Target store in the city of Commerce when he was a young boy. Warita and his Japanese father were walking through the parking lot when they were confronted by two men who called them names and taunted them. 

“They did the gesture with their hands to slant their eyes. And they're calling us chinos — and chinos in Spanish, it means Chinese. And they assumed someone who looks Asian, they're going to be Chinese. And they were taunting us, saying like ‘Ching Chong Chung,’” Warita recalls.

Today, Warita says his father internalized recent news involving the verbal and physical harassment of Asian residents in the U.S. It’s gotten to a point where he is afraid to run errands on his own. 

“He started developing this fear. And he's encountered discrimination before, but he's never felt afraid for his safety,” Warita says. “He's always been a tough guy, but this time around, he's really taking these hate crimes seriously.” 

Now, Warita either accompanies his father on errands or will do them himself. 

For Van Nguyen, harassment has become so common that she feels desensitized when it happens.

“I've been called like, ‘what are you,’ ‘go back home,’ or ‘fuck you chink,’ and I'm just walking down the street,” she says. “Since I was younger, I hated being Asian. I hated being Vietnamese because people called me ‘fresh off the boat.’” 

Nguyen says that after the Atlanta shootings, she’s afraid to step outside. “I just want to run errands and go home. I don't need to be walking down the street in an area that's unfamiliar to me. I'm a small Asian woman. I'm super petite, 5’2.’’ Who knows what would happen?”

As a Vietnamese woman, Nguyen says her breaking point was the Atlanta shooting, especially after watching months of anti-Asian violence and harassment in the news. 

“The straw that broke the camel's back is my mom. Our mom owns nail salons and I can't imagine somebody going in — and it just gives me nightmares — somebody's going into her nail salon and shooting it up,” she says. “When I heard about the massage parlors, I'm like, ‘Oh, no, no.’ Even if it's not officially racially motivated, it hit home.” 

She says in a post-Donald Trump world, Nguyen says some racists now feel emboldened to do whatever they want.

“Mr. Trump saying ‘kung flu’ and ‘China virus’ and all that, it opened the doors wider. It's this passport for you to just say whatever you want to say. There's racism everywhere, but now the floodgates are open.”

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