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After A Week of Grief And Rage, Baltimore Asians Honor Atlanta Victims

Honoring lives lost, organizers built a makeshift memorial at the Ynot Lot
Honoring lives lost, organizers built a makeshift memorial at the Ynot Lot

As the vigil came to a close, a chorus of screams echoed across North Avenue.

It was a moment of solidarity and collective rage for Asians and Pacific Islanders (API) in Baltimore City, after a white gunman murdered eight people, six of them Asian women, at three Atlanta spas last Tuesday. The incident has drawn attention to the rise of violence against Asians across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vigil took place at the Ynot Lot in Station North. Baltimore doesn’t have an official Koreatown, but prior to the pandemic, this neighborhood is where many Koreans would gather for food like bibimbap or galbi, to feel a little closer to home.

For Asian Americans, last week’s shootings fit into a pattern of exclusion, hate and violence they have faced - not just during the COVID-19 pandemic, but for centuries.

It’s a pattern that Eunbi Kim feels Americans have long overlooked.

Kim, a Korean American organizer of the vigil and member of Baltimore Asian Resistance in Solidarity (BARS), is also a musician with the stage name EN’b.

“White supremacy ultimately kills us all. All minorities, all people of color,” they said. “Including queer trans folks.”

Kim, who identifies as transmasculine, said that racism and sexual violence go hand in hand.

“The fetishization of Asian women is so normalized that people don't see it as a problem when it's literally now killing people. And it always has,” Kim said. “There have always been Asian sex workers abroad at U.S. Army bases, where they’ve been considered disposable.”

Kim said trying to bring awareness to that violence is like ‘screaming into a void.’

“How many bodies do we need to legitimize an issue?” they said. “That's the same way that I think about the Black Lives Matter movement. This must be an inkling of what Black folks have felt throughout history where community members are being killed. And they see no justice.”

At the vigil, people put together a memorial with incense, candles and flowers, as well as food traditionally served during Korean ancestral rites, like yakgwa, and Asian pears.

BARS member Steve Hung said he was surprised to see the people, including non Asians, filling up the 6000 square foot lot.

Growing up Asian in America, Hung said he was bullied, and often felt fear and rage. That motivated him to take martial arts, like Taekwondo, seriously.

Now, in part due to that training, Hung said that fear is gone.

“My non Asian friends are like, ‘Oh my gosh, are you all right? Are you scared? Are you enraged?’” Hung said. “Honestly, no. I'm disappointed. I'm jaded.”

Much of the vigil was an open mic session. Organizers asked attendees not to record the speeches, to ensure a safe space for those present.

Among the speakers was Kate D’Adamo, an advocate for sex worker’s rights.

“As an API person, just having a space that honors that collective experience right now that provides that kind of community and comfort is so desperately needed and so important for healing,” she said.

D’Adamo said because the victims were profiled as sex workers, whether they actually provided sex work is beside the point.

“The most important thing is remembering that these were healers,” D’Adamo said. “These were people who engaged in care labor. And if we're going to talk about their work, we have to talk about the fact that these are people who provided space, and love and intimacy and care for people who are in pain.”

Over the past year anti-Asian hate crimes have spiked by 150% in major cities, according to a study by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino.

Sarah Y. Kim is WYPR’s health and housing reporter. Kim is WYPR's Report for America corps member, and Anthony Brandon Fellow. Kim joined WYPR as a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. Now in her second year as an RFA corps member, Kim is based in Baltimore City.