Last week, my mom and I called my sister on the phone to catch up. Usually we talk about new recipes or her dog.
But this time mom’s first question was “sweetie, what are you gonna do if you get attacked?” Not a standard greeting, I’m sure, but greatly relevant.
Over the last year, anti-Asian violence has become more and more severe all over the United States, but particularly in California. Unfortunately, that’s where my sister lives.
“You literally need to get a baseball bat,” I tell her, “or pepper spray. Pepper spray might be less conspicuous.”
My sister disagreed. “That won’t work for me, I’m so clumsy I’ll spray myself in the face with it, and then I’ll have to run away while crying.”
In the end, we agreed that she’d keep her bicycle helmet with her at all times for self-defense.
Have You Heard?
Although our conversation was in good humor, the fear of getting attacked as a young, Asian woman is greater than ever.
For many, it seems ridiculous that people still feel afraid walking outside alone in America. After all, (as a teen would tell their boomer parents) it's the 21st century.
But recent news has shattered the facade of America being a “safe” nation.
Earlier in February, a 61-year-old Filipino man was slashed in the face with a box-cutter on his way to work in the New York City subway. Later, an 84-year-old Thai immigrant in San Francisco died from an unprovoked attack on his morning walk.
In April, a 39-year-old woman in Brooklyn was doused with caustic chemicals and burned to death on her way to take out her trash. Similarly, an 89-year-old woman was lit on fire outside her home in Brooklyn.
Numerous Asian shop owners have suffered violent robberies or break-ins. Not to mention the horrific Atlanta shootings that happened last month, which left 8 people dead.
All these incidents lead to the same question: is it really safe to be an Asian in this country anymore? What should we even do in the face of such hostility?
We Fight Back
Xie Xiao Zhen, a 75-year-old Chinese grandmother, fought back.
On March 17, while walking down the street, a 39-year-old male suddenly punched her in the face, giving her two black eyes on the spot.
Faced with this unprovoked attack, however, Xiao Zhen was able to grab a wooden plank on the ground and fight back.
In this video taken by CNN, you’ll see that when the ambulance came, it was the attacker that was put on a stretcher, not Xiao Zhen.
That doesn’t mean that Xiao Zhen suffered no injuries. Both of her eyes were swollen, with one “bleeding unstoppably” hours after the attack.
She injured her wrist and became so traumatized that she was afraid to leave her own home.
But the public stood with her. In less than two weeks, $1 million was raised on their GoFundMe account to pay for medical expenses.
What’s more, the family has since decided to donate all funds towards combating anti-Asian racism.
Taking the Plank
Still, the entire Asian and Asian-American community bleed as instances of violence and hatred pile up day by day.
Even in the video, you see Xiao Zhen sobbing as she questions the attacker in Chinese. “This bum, he hit me,” she cries, “why? Why did you hit me?”
Unfortunately, that is the question many of us have. Why? Why us? Why now?
There is no good answer to these questions. But all we can do is stand together in solidarity and support, as we did for Xiao Zhen. Because it is time to fight back as a community. Through words, actions, or a wooden plank.
Because if we don’t fight for ourselves, who will?