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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: A Year Later, Asian Americans Struggle to Find Real Safety


By Phi Nguyen

March 16, 2021 was a typical Tuesday night until my phone started buzzing. Messages from across the country began to flood in about a gunman attacking Asian spas in the Atlanta area. Eight people died that night; six were Asian women massage workers.

As I struggled to process, my boss issued a directive: We need to organize.We work at Georgia’s largest Asian American civil rights organization, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, and I jumped into action. While writing an organizational statement deep into the night, I began to grasp the depths of pain the shootings would wrought on my community. I chose our words with care for the Georgia I love.

A year later, people are asking what has changed. Not nearly enough …

Phi Nguyen

… Creating safety for Asian Americans requires us to identify all forms of racist violence – not just physical assaults, but state-sponsored policies and systems that detain and deport immigrants, criminalize sex workers and incarcerate Black and Brown communities. Creating safety for Asian Americans requires a radical reimagining of safety and belonging; investing into systems that center humanity, dignity and care for all people.

To achieve safety and justice, we need a comprehensive approach that includes individual, community and government action. For example, we can act locally to ensure ethnic studies will be taught in our K-12 classrooms to counter state education bills that try to ban books and accurate, comprehensive discussions of race and racism. In addition, Asian American communities must push for state legislation that gives undocumented immigrants basic rights – such as access to a driver’s license – in places like Georgia, Michigan and Minnesota. And system leaders like Georgia’s university system Board of Regents must accept undocumented students to top-tier public universities and grant in-state tuition to all Georgia residents, regardless of immigration status.

In the months after the shootings, we caught a glimpse of what is possible when we come together and collectively invest in community care. Atlanta’s Asian American community and other community leaders came together to raise money for immediate and longer term basic needs, assisted in relocation for some survivors, and continued to offer in-language mental health support that people actually need. Imagine what can happen if we can change entire systems to do the same.

Phi Nguyen is the executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta. She was the litigation director for the same organization when the Atlanta spa shooting occurred on March 16, 2021.

Opinion: A year later, Asian Americans still struggle to find real safety (ajc.com)