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Remember the names, not the stereotypes

| Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Growing up, I dreaded the first day of school because it meant the teacher would have to say my name aloud for attendance, butcher the pronunciation, and all of my classmates around me would laugh at the terrible way it was pronounced.

Did I ever want to change my name? Sure, there were many times. Like that one time when it became a running joke in elementary school to say that I was “so mean.” Or that one time in middle school when someone constantly called me “salmon.” And that one time in college that a professor mispronounced my name as “semen.” Small victories were celebrated when someone could get my name right in the first try, and I’m not trying to say that the people who mispronounced my name or made fun of it were terrible people. Everyone is capable of making mistakes, so I don’t blame them. I just started to hate my name more and more.

But then I go back to thinking about why I was given my name. When I was born my mom wanted to give me a “normal English name” because she was afraid that my name would be made fun of. She had her own experience of her classmates making fun of her Korean name and didn’t want her children to experience the shame that she felt. However, my dad was adamant that I would use my Korean name as my English name because he was confident that I would grow up to be a strong, confident Korean American woman who would be able to stand up for herself and wouldn’t be looked down upon by others.

My dad was right. I am proud to be a strong, confident Korean American woman, part of the Asian American community that is composed of so many other Asian Americans like me who too are strong, confident and proud to be who they are and where their families come from.

Some of these Asian Americans were brutally murdered March 16 in metro Atlanta, by a white gunman, after he dropped by three different spas in the area to commit the heinous murders. These murders are an addition to the senseless violence and hatred against the Asian American community that has been on the rise since the start of the pandemic. According to Stop AAPI Hate, a non-profit organization that tracks incidents of hate and discrimination against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, from March 19, 2020, to February 28, 2021, there were almost 3,800 reported hate incidents against Asian Americans nationwide — which is only a fraction of incidents that actually occur.

It is devastating to see just how often there are reports of a 75-year-old Chinese grandmother fighting back against her attacker after she was brutally beaten in the face in the stress of San Francisco or of a 36-year-old Asian man being stabbed in the back on a street in New York’s Chinatown. All Asians, no matter what age or gender they are, are becoming victims of violence and hatred in our society, and no one should have to bear the burden of living in fear due to their identity.

The rise of hate crimes against the AAPI community has given the opportunity for strong Asian Americans to stand up for their community and advocate for change to happen. Often, the Asian American community feels like they are meant to be invisible from society due to the constant pressure of having to be as successful as the model minority myth paints Asians to be. Yet, the community refuses to be invisible this time around, as Asian Americans all across the country are joined by others who are willing to show their solidarity, in hopes of condemning racism and promoting societal changes that are inclusive and welcoming for all.

My name defines the strength that moves me forward with my life, and I am taking that strength to join other strong Asian Americans who are advocating for the safety, protection and acceptance of the AAPI community. Meaningful change goes beyond just posting something on your Instagram story that disappears in 24 hours or posting a picture with a hashtag. Change begins within the self, by recognizing the hidden biases and stereotypical views of people that we carry. We need to make a valiant effort to change the biased views we hold and to transform the rhetoric and culture that often coalesce into violence and hatred against specific groups, as has become especially evident during this pandemic.

Among those killed, there were women who were fearless mothers, wives, sisters, aunts and daughters. These are their names:

Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33

Xiaojie Tan, 49

Daoyou Feng, 44

Soon Chung Park, 74

Hyun Jung Grant, 51

Sun Cha Kim, 69

Yong Ae Yue, 63

Remember their names and their stories. Remember that many of these women were Asian Americans, the same community that is in need of solidarity and support. Our society needs to end the perpetuating patterns of tragedy and violence, and this starts with us standing up against hate.

Here are some resources on how to be an ally with the AAPI community and stop anti-Asian violence:

Violence Against Asian-Americans Isn’t New, but It Is Growing” by The Amber Ruffin Show on YouTube: youtu.be/cZGj9QjxtdY

“The Making of Asian America: A History” by Erika Lee

“Yellow: Race in America beyond Black and White” by Franklin Wu

Stop AAPI Hate: stopaapihate.org

Asian Americans Advancing Justice: advancingjustice-aajc.org

Send Chinatown Love: sendchinatownlove.com

Asian Mental Health Collective: asianmhc.org/about-us


Somin Jo


Mar. 22

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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