Emil Guillermo: Hearing Christina Yuna Lee’s screams
Christina Yuna Lee died tragically, violently, unexpectedly on Sunday morning. She screamed her last breath.
Last night, my friend Jose (Joe) Ganoza died in peace.
I’ve known Joe for more than 50 years. I didn’t know Christina at all. And yet I feel her loss far more. We had many slivers of affinity, and yet we had never met or said hello.
I just know we were fighting the same fights.
But first, my respects to Joe.
He was one of the big brothers of my best friend, which means he was my big brother too. He was a Peruvian immigrant, with a touch of Chinese–which made him look Filipino. He was always there to help when you needed it. Or to kick some ass when you were really in trouble.
He would have been there for Christina.
How do I know? Joe was just 16 when his family immigrated from Peru. After high school, he was drafted into the Army and served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. He never talked about it much. But he saw it all from the front lines. The good, the bad, and Agent Orange. Upon their return, many vets were shamed for what they had done. But Joe served with honor and received a Bronze Star for valor. Maybe that’s why it seemed he always looked out for you.
He just cared.
Joe wasn’t one of the more than 900,000 to die of Covid during the pandemic. He just died during Covid–of plain old organ failure. That’s all my friend, an engineer, would say. But the family knows why he died. He was still in grief from the loss of his wife of more than 30 years. When Nina passed during the holidays, Joe was depressed. Depression led to loss of will. Joe came back from the hospital this week ready and determined to join Nina. His home became his hospice, life’s slow exit.
When he died last night, we all were prepared for his last breath.
No one was ready for Christina Yuna Lee’s sudden and traumatic death.
I’m at an age now where I can’t watch fictional crime or true crime on TV. When you know the rules of narrative and that a dramatic spike is about to occur, I spare myself. I turn the channel. I walk away.
You cannot walk away from Christina Yuna Lee’s death. Not as an individual. Not as a community.
Lee, a 35-year old Korean American, was coming home to her apartment in Chinatown early Sunday morning. Security camera footage caught an image of a man believed to be the suspect, Assamad Nash, 25, a homeless person with a criminal record. He is alleged to have followed Lee to her apartment, forcibly entered, then stabbed Lee to death in her bathtub.
Someone called 911 about screams from the apartment. When police arrived, they heard the screams fade, and then a female voice said, “We don’t need the police here—go away.”
But the voice was that of the perp. When police got through the door, Lee was found dead with more than 40 stab wounds. Prosecutors said Nash was found under the bed, the murder weapon behind a dresser.
Nash faces murder and burglary charges and is being held without bail. If convicted, he could face 25 years to life.
Was this a hate crime against an Asian American? NYPD is still investigating, but this may just be a case of hate beyond hate crime. It could have happened to anyone, no matter what race or gender. Anyone perceived as vulnerable could have been a target.
We’d still feel the pain and still feel fearful. For all our brothers and sisters. And for me, my daughter, younger but no less vulnerable than Lee. She’s in New York, fast becoming a city where people on the streets are unstable, homeless, or both, representing real threats to public safety.
There are no easy answers, but when treatment and help is elusive for some people, they become perps in waiting for any opportunity. Maybe to get back into a system where they can get three squares and a cell. Freedom is relative when you’re young, mentally stressed, and homeless.
Then we have victims on both side of the equation, and bad things can happen to innocents in an instant.
As I said, I didn’t know Lee. But the heartfelt tweet of one of her colleagues at Splice, Kenneth Takanami Herman, told me what we all needed to know about Lee.
She was “irreplaceable,” Herman wrote. Lee loved music, and having just moved into her new Chinatown apartment, she loved having her own place “to listen to vinyl records.”
Reading that made an old rock and roll FM deejay like myself (Emil For Real), want to play some records. Just for the crackle and pop.
Herman and Lee got to know each other at Splice during the time of the Atlanta spa murders. Just like many of us when we heard the news. I was in a zoom meeting with about a dozen Asian Americans, artists, performers. We just looked at each other in silence and knew we had to do something, say something.
Herman and Lee formed a support group at Splice. They discovered they shared a mission to make their work and society more inclusive and diverse. Lee formed the Art Appropriation Council to combat racism and appropriation.
When we’re fortunate, we find the path to social justice in the work we do. Just doing our best to bend the arc our way.
And now we must think of what we can do for Christina that will make New York safe for all. She’d want us to remember her last breath. *** NOTE: I will talk more about this live on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” the microtalk show of the AAPI, at 2p Pacific on Facebook, on my YouTube Channel, and on Twitter. Catch the recording later on www.amok.com
Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page. The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.