Content warning: This piece contains references to gun violence, death, murder, police brutality, and hate crimes that can be disturbing or triggering for some readers. Please find resources listed at the bottom of the article.
Sudeep Bhargava: The world is falling apart again. I witness this destruction right as I’m at the edge of everything, and nothing at all. How strange it feels to make myself seem so important only to be rendered useless as I watch people thousands of miles away being attacked; as lives are erased, made either invisible or pointedly hyper–visible; as grief once again takes hold of my communities. I suppose I was foolish to take a restful moment for granted.
Kingsley Song: The week after the shooting, I spiraled into grief upon being bombarded by social media, interview requests, the slow release of victims’ names and new information, and the empty words of both our university and the Biden administration. In the span of hours, days, weeks, I have watched with that same horror as their lives have been minimized, co–opted, and abstracted beyond recognition. What does it mean when these lives are reduced to a news spectacle? What does it mean when we lose sight of their humanity and the many others who have been subjected to the longstanding legacy of violence that has led us to this current moment?
A month has passed since eight people were murdered in Atlanta—and less than two weeks since eight more were killed in Indianapolis—and I am still frozen in the same horror and numbness that I found myself in the night the news broke: sitting in front of a blank document, detached from my body in the early hours of the morning. What cruel irony there is in trying to find words when I had not even known the victims’ names. Sixteen people with families, loved ones, communities—and more importantly lives—were killed. What does a statement matter when I can predict half of a recycled, corporate response before reading it? What do condemnations and condolences matter when people, specifically Asian, female massage parlor workers and Sikh community members, were just killed?
SB: I wonder whether “destruction” is an act or a state of being. I have been made aware of the underlying technologies that constrain my actions: racism, xenophobia, colonialism. The congruence of Atlanta and Indianapolis’ body counts haunts me. Perhaps the outcry after the first was not enough; perhaps a body count and a couple posts aren’t enough to end this violence.
Throughout the month of March, a building in Philadelphia shined in bright LEDs, “#StopAsianHate,” and I thought about all the ways violence can be repackaged and resold. Eight people’s lives were lost, and their tragedies were reduced to a three–word plea: “Stop Asian Hate.” Hashtags come and go, but racism is as ingrained as my own last name—which is to say that it existed before me, and will continue even after this body expires. This isn’t to say that there is nothing to be done, or that any attempt to “#StopAsianHate” is futile. Rather, it is to acknowledge that all individuals have limits, and the role of grief is located both within and without the body.
KS: I am left with more questions than answers. I am heavy with grief and the weight of expectations. What is there to say when 33 Vietnamese community members were deported in the same week? When the police killed 19–year–old Christian Hall in the same state we attend school? When eight people were killed because they were deemed a “temptation to be eliminated”? When this blip of visibility in the public sphere is contingent upon a literal massacre of our communities?
SB: I embody a state of constant apologies. I am assigned a minority identity to share with folks who have less access than me. As the violence that rips through Asian American communities is broadcasted, I’m called to interrogate the term itself. Of the people who have been silenced or displaced, I share neither cultural nor geographical roots. I live comfortably as a student at an elite institution—comfortably as a masculine–presenting South Asian American with access to wealth and knowledge otherwise denied to much of my historical lineage. In middle school, I was once asked why I came to this country. I didn’t have the proper language to respond to it at the time, but I know there was nothing I could say that would rid me of the lingering otherness I felt.
KS: As I write this, I am still struggling to navigate all of the contradictions that make me question every word I write. As an Ivy League student, an East Asian person with access to wealth and resources in the suburbs of the Bay Area, I am reminded that I am only a representative in name, and not in experience. I will never know the lives of these women, much less the specificity and depth of violence against massage parlor workers, low–income families, elders, immigrants, and so many more. I name these limitations not to shirk responsibility, but to call attention to those who are marginalized within the “Asian American” community. Who is not in the room? Who are our people?
SB: The world has always been in the process of unraveling. There are times I feel it more strongly, and others when I hardly feel it at all. Those latter moments are the ones I am most ashamed of. They indicate times when I have focused so strongly on my own well–being that I forget about all the pain, all the grief. And yet, I am no stranger to either of those feelings; grief has held space within me since the day I was brought into this world. The margins to which my body, history, and culture are delegated to are the spaces I share with others. I have mourned countless times, and I mourn today as well.
KS: I do not have the answers, but I am slowly learning that I do not need to have them. Amid tragedy, I bear witness to the seeds of radical love, resilience, and interdependence being sown in our communities. If I have learned anything this past year, it is that when we pair our imagination with action, our communities provide the creative solutions we need. From walking programs with elders, to mutual aid efforts, to community processing circles, I am reminded that another, better world is possible.
SB: The act of grieving is ultimately an act of love. I watch myself come apart and my communities come together. Where there is destruction, there is also love—the thing that remains once everything else ceases to exist. It is our anger, our frustration; we do not call to love the oppressor or the oppressive system, but to turn that energy inwards and recognize our inherent value and power in organizing. Our ability to love makes us eternal. Love is intention. Love is justice. And above all, love is what binds us to each other.
Asian Americans United: (215) 925-1538: Works in Asian American and multiracial coalitions around education, youth leadership, anti-Asian violence, immigrant rights, neighborhood development, and folk arts and cultural maintenance.
Asian Arts Initiative: (215) 557-0455: Multidisciplinary arts center offering exhibitions, performances, artist residencies, youth workshops, and a community gathering space.
Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance (API PA): firstname.lastname@example.org: Coordinates political, electoral, and legislative work and engages in competent and accessible voter contact.
Philly Asian Queer: https://phillyasianqueer.com/: Volunteer social organization that strives to engage queer, API folx through advocacy, social and supportive programming.
Red Umbrella Alliance: https://www.phillyrua.com/: Provides services and relief funds to sex workers, especially amidst COVID-19 pandemic.
SEAMAAC: (215) 467-0690: Supports and serves immigrants and refugees and other politically, socially and economically marginalized communities.
Vietlead: (267) 457-2851: Serves Vietnamese and Southeast Asian communities in the form of direct services, education, advocacy, and organizing.