Breaking Out of Silence: An Invitation to Remember

Holy Wisdom Monastery Living in Community 12 Comments

By Mary Chiang

With cups already full of all kinds of grief, it’s difficult for me to begin to express myself. Yet too many lives have been lost due to inaction, silence and distraction, I find myself unable to be as I have been, a “safe” and distant observer. I must begin somewhere even if I will stumble along. Because of the caring nature of the Holy Wisdom community, I hope to offer my experience of racialized trauma* from the Atlanta shootings last year. I invite you to honor the lost lives of the following victims of anti-Asian hate, gun violence and forms of labor society tolerates with little concern for the laborers.

Killed in Atlanta, GA on March 16, 2021:

  • Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Tan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44
  • Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; and Soon Chung Park, 74
  • Yong Ae Yue, 63

On St. Patrick’s Day last year, I began the day with TV and breakfast. The ticker tape noted that there was a shooting in Atlanta where some women were shot. In light of all the COVID cases and death counts rising, I barely reacted to this news. Like most New Yorkers, shocking events happen all the time, as long as it wasn’t in my neighborhood, life goes on. I logged on to my computer and greeted co-workers.  Later in the day, at the start of a virtual bible study on emotionally healthy spirituality, the lead pastor offered empathetic words acknowledging the event and suddenly I found myself confused, shocked and broken after learning the initial details of what happened. In short, a man in Atlanta, GA went to three locations and gunned down six Asian women in their workplaces, killing eight people in total.

It took a week before I could look up the news reports and many months to decide to understand exactly what happened. I had just moved countries because of the pandemic, had no friends close by to call and it was still unsafe to meet due to the pandemic. I tried to talk to my close friends from overseas but they had their own troubles and offered no understanding. My sisters did not react as I did.  My parents didn’t seem affected except to say, “There’s so much killing all the time.” I attended my Chinese church online whose Sunday sermon title included the word “race,” but it neglected to even acknowledge news of the tragedy. I just knew six Asian women were dead because a man decided to kill them.  I felt as if I was drowning in grief, and no one even acted as if anything was wrong.  Racialized trauma* happens when something terrible happens to someone who looks like you and the event is something that could have easily been you.

The way I understood it, most of the women were going about their lives at work. Some probably needed to retire but couldn’t. Despite the pandemic they were going in to work to make their living. It was clear to me that because they were Asian, they were targeted and killed without any interpersonal provocation with the killer. Their families and loved ones must pick up the pieces of this great personal loss. The rest of society is thankful it didn’t happen to them.

The worst part is the confusion and denial which happened in the conversations around what happened. The reports denied the fact that this was considered a hate crime. The killer went to Asian only places. He targeted Asian women. How could it not be? Yet, the media reported the killer’s words and people listened.

Conversations around the issue of race in America have been commonly about two races: black and white. Because there is so much sensitivity to this issue and using the right language and terminology, few people want to try because they might offend or say something incorrect. Talking about race is hard and painful. I have come to a point where not talking is hurting me more than my mistakes can. And now when I talk, it is because I am in pain.

Asian Americans have been talking, doing the research and taking action. However, our voices are dismissed, ignored and somehow silenced altogether. Perhaps it’s because the race issue usually doesn’t include Asians.  One of the things that irritated me was the public silence of the first days while everyone was still in shock. I finally got something when my sister told me that Trevor Noah (South African comedian and host of the Daily Show) strongly addressed this issue publically. While I was thankful for a voice to say something right, I wondered why it took a Black man to say something, for me to hear this? Where are the Asian spokespersons who have something to say? And well, who are they?

Anti-Asian hate crime in 16 of America’s largest cities increased 145% in 2020 according to an analysis of official preliminary police data by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, with the first spike occurring in March and April amidst a rise in COVID cases and negative stereotyping of Asians relating to the pandemic. https://www.csusb.edu/sites/default/files/FACT%20SHEET-%20Anti-Asian%20Hate%202020%20rev%203.21.21.pdf)

As I anticipated the anniversary of the Atlanta shootings, that empathetic church sent another invitation, a holding space to grieve the loss of two Asian American women who were brutally killed in New York City. Again, stunned… I am experiencing racial trauma, as it was denied and dismissed from being a racial attack. What can one do but weep and pray to the One who hears. I pass on this prayer:

By John O’ Donahue from his book Benedictus

Prayer for Peace 

As the fever of day calms towards twilight
May all that is strained in us come to ease.

We pray for all who suffered violence today,
May an unexpected serenity surprise them.

For those who risk their lives each day for peace,
May their hearts glimpse providence at the heart of history.

That those who make riches from violence and war
Might hear in their dreams the cries of the lost.

That we might see through our fear of each other
A new vision to heal our fatal attraction to aggression.

That those who enjoy the privilege of peace
Might not forget their tormented brothers and sisters.

That the wolf might lie down with the lamb,
That our swords be beaten into ploughshares

And no hurt or harm be done
Anywhere along the holy mountain.

When the mask mandate was lifted on March 1, I had a strange reaction. I couldn’t take my mask off. I have been living and working among the Holy Wisdom community for two months. Until Covid-19 is eradicated I will continue to wear a mask because of its effectiveness.  While parts of China and Hong Kong are in lockdown, the CDC has permitted most Americans to remove masks.  Now I realize why I couldn’t just cast off my mask.

I associate the wearing of masks to the pain and grief of millions due to Covid-19 but also to the deep injustices which the pandemic helped manifest as root social issues. That is not over. Attacks against Asians, the denial of race-based claims, and inaction is no longer tolerable. Wearing my mask represents many things – that Covid-19 is still killing people all over the world, and that there is much work to be done toward social and racial justice. When I remember how suffocating the mask first felt, how it silenced my speech, and covered my face, and literally choked me, I resisted and despised it. Now, during this Lenten season, I feel that the very thing which represents suffering, wearing a mask, means I stand with those in grief and invite others to remember with me.

At Holy Wisdom Monastery, on St. Patrick’s Day, there will be flowers, the names of the honored ones who lost their lives in Atlanta, and those recently murdered. Please make space in your hearts to hold the Asian American community.

* The definition of racial trauma or race-based traumatic stress:
“….real or perceived experience of racial discrimination that includes threats of harm or injury, humiliating and shaming events, and witnessing harm of other People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) individuals.” Source: Comas-Diaz, L., Hall, G.N., Neville, H.A. (2019). Racial trauma: theory, research, and healing:   Introduction to the special issue. American Psychologist, 74 (1), 1-5.

Comments 12

  1. Mary,

    Your thoughts and openness and for your
    articulating this Asian racism presented
    an opportunity for sensitizing and
    supporting one and other.

    May blessings
    resonate. A comment paraphrased
    of Fred Rodger if you are able to
    say out loud the difficulty , you will
    will learn also how to cope.

    Michael Belongie

  2. Thank you Mary, for bringing this home to me. I will stand with you and grieve with all. And I will be more sensitive to you and those of Asian descent. I am grateful for you and your sharing.

    Marcia Krater

    1. Sorry for the late reply. I lost the link. I’m also really shy after posting anything public. Thank you Marcia for posting your comment.

  3. Thank you, Mary, for your insightful, wise, and pain-filled words. I keep telling myself that love always wins and good always conquers evil. It’s very hard to believe those words with all the pain and suffering that is going on in our world. But, I hope, and believe, and continue to pray for peace on this earth.

    Love,
    Rita Emmenegger

  4. Dear dear Mary, Thank you so much for articulating your thoughts and issues about this dreadful and much overlooked issue. I resonate with it. Sometimes it is too painful to think about it and I would rather not. But it is impossible to change my skin color and the skin color of my family members. And I don’t wish to! Our Lord created us this way and over time I have come to accept, appreciate and love what Father God has done in blessing us and blessing others through our yellow race.

    Echoing Rita, I cling fiercely to the belief that “love always wins and good always conquers evil.” However, it is very difficult to blithely say this in the wake of these brutal killings. I, or, God forbid, my young adult daughter, could have been one of the slain women.

    The question I ask myself is, what is the Lord’s heart here? How does God want me to respond? And collectively, because we are part of a Body, how is He speaking to us, the body of Christ, about this issue? Similarly to the Black/White issue, in the Black/Asian, White/Asian issue, “If one part [of the Body] suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
    1 Corinthians 12:26‭-‬27

    In the past year and a half, I have had some opportunities to speak to my White friends about the history of anti Asian-American discrimination and racism. And to share my personal experiences. I pray that as we all learn more together, my White friends will see themselves as part of the solution too. God bless you all.

    Lots of love and prayers,

    Lil 💜🙏🕊️

  5. Mary,
    thank you for your very real, raw and articulate expression of what the last year or so has been. It is so strange and confusing that there are those who do not identify or even seek to understand what you are feeling or going through. It is like a denial or a refusal to engage in what is an uncomfortable and difficult conversation.
    Peace and shalom. Bless you,
    Cary

    1. I just picked up White Fragility… it’s a good starting point to understand the many ways people are responding to these issues. Thanks Cary!

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