Instead of “Hello,” in Korean, to greet one another we ask, “An-yung-ha-sey-yo (안녕하세요)?,” which would translate to “Are you all right?” or “Are you in peace?”
Over this difficult year, what used to be a simple greeting has increasingly become a weighty question to ask our Korean American families, friends, and community members — even ourselves — as we ask about each
other’s safety, health, and basic survival.
The greeting became almost impossible to bear in March when a 21-year-old white man, Robert Aaron Long, had a “bad day,” and brutally murdered eight human beings: Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Young Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, and Daoyou Feng.
» READ MORE: In Philly, anti-Asian hate is not new
On May 20, President Joe Biden signed a bill to help tackle rising hate crimes against Asians in America. Still, while I’ve tried to work and lead my everyday life, flashbacks of news on unprovoked attacks on Asian and Asian American adults, youths, and elders across this country, and the history of racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, and white supremacy, continue to flood my head.
This year made me feel sad, furious, anxious, and afraid. I was made afraid because I am Asian — and also because I am a woman. Because I am a mom with a young daughter. And because other Americans still don’t see that I belong here. My daughter will be asked, just as I am asked, where she is from, even though she is a Philadelphian. Others will see her as foreign, just as I have always been seen as foreign. As Asian American women, we are seen as expendable foreign objects. And like many of my friends who are immigrants and Asian American women, I fear that anyone, including myself or my daughter, might be the next target of such violence.
But the day after the Atlanta shootings, Philadelphia communities showed up at 10th Street Plaza to honor the victims and support one another. From Atlanta to D.C., New York, San Francisco, L.A., Houston, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia, communities across this country came together, both physically and virtually, in solidarity with Asians and Asian Americans. In recent weeks, during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, people continued to speak out against anti-Asian hate, sexism, systemic racism, and white supremacy.
It is this solidarity, this sense of community, that helps me overcome the helplessness and fear as I go through each day as a mom and member of my community. Concrete actions have taken place to support the victims’ families and the organizations serving local communities in Atlanta. I see more people joining conversations on racial justice and what we can do to dismantle both systemic and internalized racism.
In the midst of this unprecedented crisis that brought out the ugliest aspects of our country, I am learning to be hopeful. Knowing that this country has a long history of resistance against hate, while witnessing solidarity across communities for the movement for Black lives, and now for Asian and Asian American communities, I can shake off my fear and anxiety.
And as my Korean American community comes together and cares for one another, we should also remind ourselves that against this backdrop of xenophobia and hatred, there is another trend in America — one predating the pandemic — of growing visibility, familiarity, acceptance, and celebration of Korean and other Asian cultures in America. A Korean film won the Oscar last year for Best Picture. Young people of all races across the country listen to BTS, a Korean boy band, and K-Pop fans upended a Trump rally in Tulsa.
As we slowly make our way back to our everyday life, we must all remember that the hatred that plagues our country has deep roots, and will take equally deep commitment on our part to root out. Not one person, one organization, or one community can accomplish this task. We as Asian Americans must find solidarity with other demonized communities of color while we reflect on our place in America and its history as the fastest-growing demographic in the United States today.
While we keep the Atlanta victims and their families in our hearts, alongside all those in our communities who have died and suffered, let us not forget we have work to do to undo the xenophobia and systemic racism. When we band with one another and work together to liberate all of us, then, only then, we will be able to greet each other with “an-yung-ha-seyo,” without fear.
Hyeonock “Mel” Lee is a first-generation Korean American immigrant woman who came to the United States more than 10 years ago. She is the first executive director of the Woori Center in greater Philadelphia, whose mission is to organize Korean and Asian Americans to achieve social, racial, and economic justice. www.wooricenterpa.org