Emil Guillermo: On watching Zelensky’s speech on a day that lives in infamy for Asian Americans
Asian American? I feel like a Ukrainian today.
I just saw President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech to Congress. Don’t just watch the clips and soundbites. Get it all. See the video that it includes. If you’ve followed the war on the news, the images will be familiar. They are part of our lives. The war in Ukraine is ours too.
The references in the speech struck more than a few chords.
Zelensky’s refrain of “close the skies” hits home when he talks about how it feels to be under attack from the skies in specific references to Pearl Harbor (“the terrible morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when your sky was black from the planes attacking you.”) And then he went to the evil of September 11th, “the terrible day in 2001.” The speech remembered the days that live within all Americans. And then to drive it home when he transformed Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” into “I have a need.”
And Zelensky and Ukraine do—for peace.
We all do as Americans.
And as Asian Americans, we do too.
That a woman’s voice interpreted President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech to the Congress is appropriate. Because Zelensky’s virtual speech from Ukraine was delivered on March 16, our Asian American day of infamy when six Asian American women were murdered in three Atlanta spas in 2021.
That’s what it took for people to notice what was happening to our community–and maybe even to notice us for the first time. Suddenly, there was an onslaught of media attention, as if we were finally “discovered.”
And all it took was a day when Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year old Christian zealot, bought a 9 mm handgun and went to three Asian spas looking to kill us.
As a community, we stand and remember their names.
Xiaojie “Emily” Tan.
Hyung Jung Grant.
Soon Chung Park.
Yong Ae Yue.
They came to America seeking opportunity. Instead, they met an evil that claimed their lives.
Add their names to the nearly 11,000 cases logged by the San Francisco State University project #StopAAPIHate. You see that Asian Americans have been under attack since the start of a pandemic, when a twice impeached president used the phrases “Kung Flu” and “China Virus” to scapegoat our entire community.
The rhetoric unleashed a hate that persists today. It is an onlsaught that includes men like 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee, who was assaulted and killed while on a walk in a quiet San Francisco neighborhood on Jan. 28, 2021.
It includes the death in December 2021 of Yao Pan Ma in Harlem.
And Gui Ying Ma in Queens. Michelle Go in Manhattan. Christina Yuna Lee in Chinatown.
From New York to San Francisco, anti-Asian American violence has made headlines.
And then just last week on March 11 in Yonkers, New York, a 67-year old Filipina woman was brutally beaten while waiting for an elevator in her apartment building.
The unidentified woman can be seen on the security cam attacked from behind by 42-year-old Tammel Esco, who is described in reports as a neighbor. The video is so vicious even TV news avoids all but a flash frame of the assault, which included 125 punches, seven kicks, anti-Asian slurs, and spitting on the victim.
Esco is charged with attempted murder in the attack that police say will be treated as a hate crime.
But this was not his first brush with the law. Esco is reported to have 14 arrests and multiple convictions on his record. Last month, he pushed a woman through a plate glass window and was discharged conditionally with no jail time. CBS2 reported Esco was in a five-month in-patient program for substance abuse after his arrest last year. He previously served 42 months in prison for a 2010 stabbing.
A reader sent me the clip of his latest act. I couldn’t bear to watch it. The small Filipina victim, just 67 years old, is minding her own business, waiting for the elevator. Suddenly, Esco, a large man, begins a relentless bullying attack.
It could’ve been my mother. My wife. My daughters. Me.
It’s the subtext of our over-the-shoulder life in America. Asian Americans are under attack. Forget about using data to prove or diminish what is happening. Just watch the videos of the attacks and there is no argument.
Lives are lost. People are hurt. People live in fear. Something must be done now to stop the repeat offenders who are let out into the public and make the Asian American community a repeat victim.
We can see the images of a Ukraine in tatters and can comprehend the evil in war.
But this isn’t supposed to happen within our borders, in our neighborhoods, in our America. It is the war within, the local version of what we see happening globally in Ukraine.
So Zelensky’s speech, it spoke to me. I felt the deep need for peace right where I am. I felt the need for it everywhere.
In San Francisco. In Yonkers. In Chinatown.
In Ukraine. ###
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.