My name is Adele Lee. I am the daughter of Korean immigrants and was born and raised in Los Angeles. As I prepared for an emergency town hall with the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation family around the country, I struggled to find the right words to share. It was difficult because, at any given moment, I am still processing feelings of anger, grief, fear, and sadness. As the names, ages, and information about the Asian Americans murdered in Atlanta were released, I got especially choked up because one of the Korean women shares the same name as my aunt, who too has a son about the same age as hers. Like my aunt, my mother, and countless other Asian women, she came to America to find a better opportunity for her family. It has been very challenging to sleep or eat, thinking about those who were killed, their families, and friends while also feeling fearful for my life and my loved ones.
The tragedy in Atlanta also brought up many suppressed feelings about my own experiences as an Asian woman — buried memories of all the times I’ve been exoticized and fetishized — as an object, not a person, as a character to some fantasy. I’ve been asked by complete strangers what kind of sexual favors I can do for them, which anime character they think I resemble. And before I can even put together a sentence, they are quick to respond that it’s just a joke or that I should be flattered.
I think about the countless times separate and together with racial fetishizations that I’ve been the target of racial slurs, the mimicking of my language, my eyes, and the way I laugh. I think about all the times I had to just bear it because I didn’t have the language as a child. As I got older, I was afraid if I spoke up, it could turn violent. I then had to replay those moments and live with the shame that I didn’t do more.
To say targeting six Asian women is not a race issue or a gendered issue is entirely unacceptable. This denial minimizes and erases my experience as an Asian woman, our identities, our history, and also that of other women of color.
Part of the experience of being Asian in America feels like yelling into a dark void. I imagine we are not alone in this feeling. It feels like when you scream, people see you but do not hear it., Or you are told, “Why are you screaming? You have it so good in this country.” And then you begin to doubt yourself and think, why am I screaming when no one seems to care, or am I making a fuss, or maybe I should just be grateful for what I have. And so we too add to our own invisibility.
I know that Asian Americans also contribute to our invisibility. We don’t share our racial traumas with each other, our elders, or our kids. Perhaps because of our own internalized racism or some lingering effects of the model minority myth to not make noise, to not call attention to ourselves, to say our pain is not as horrific as other people of color. But we know that this behavior enables white supremacy, which makes us feel small, fight against each other, and feel alone and insignificant.
And so we need to fight together against white supremacy — let’s make noise, let’s grieve, let’s start a process of healing with ourselves, with each other, and with other communities because our fight is intertwined.
In the honest space where our TRHT community came together, I don’t feel so small. I feel seen — especially with my chosen family in solidarity.