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I was too busy thinking about what I know of the immigrant Asian women who often work in those types of businesses — how harsh their work conditions often are, how lonely and difficult it can be for them to adapt to a new country. I pictured the many Asian nail technicians, massage therapists and other service workers I had encountered over the years — chatty, warm, friendly women who were happy to talk to you about their hometowns or give you relationship advice if you asked them.
I thought of the friends I had whose mothers had owned nail or hair salons. The empathy I felt for them, the rage I felt on their behalf — none of that was predicated on their profession. Once that admission became public — and even before — many people were talking about sex workers, albeit some in respectful ways. I saw tweets about protecting sex workers, as well as those about donating to nonprofits that advocated for sex workers and fought against sex trafficking.
I saw former sex workers and sex addicts alike come out to condemn the shooting. The focus on sex workers was so intense, I thought I had missed that it had been confirmed that the women who had been killed were, indeed, sex workers.
I added a second tweet, clarifying that it was not clear that the victims were sex workers. And, as of this writing, there has been no official confirmation that any of the women killed were actually currently sex workers. According to early reports, at least one of the victims in Cherokee County was a customer on a date with her husband. We knew that the two other Asian women killed in the Cherokee County spa, Xiaojie Tan and Daoyou Feng, were women of Chinese descent in their mid to late 40s.
We heard that the four Korean women killed in Atlanta were, according to Korean newspapers , between their 50s and 70s. I pictured the many Asian nail technicians, massage therapists and other service workers I had encountered over the years — chatty, warm, friendly women who were happy to talk to you about their hometowns or give you relationship advice if you asked. He says he knew about the kind of place his mom worked — he told The Daily Beast that, though she was an elementary school teacher in her native Korea, "here in America, she did what she had to do.
She was a single mother of two kids who dedicated her whole life to raising them. Yue's sons, Elliot and Robert Peterson, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she was a d massage therapist who had been laid off early in the pandemic and had only recently restarted her shifts at the spa. Tan's daughter, ex-husband and customers denied to reporters on Thursday that her two spas provided anything more than massages.
So why was it so easy, despite the dearth of information on the victims in the immediate aftermath of the shootings, for even the most well-intentioned people to assume and promote the assumption that these women must be sex workers? Ask any Asian American woman, and I guarantee she has a slew of stories to share — of being solicited by strangers, of being asked to perform strange sexual tricks, of being treated like a sexual bucket list item. The source of this stereotype is a complex one, simultaneously rooted in Western imperialism, white supremacy and the anti-immigration and anti-miscegenation laws of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Meanwhile, abroad, the Western military presence in Asian countries accelerated and contributed to thriving economies of sex workers. The hypersexualized image of Asian women-as-prostitute, driven by Western male demand and colonial-power enforced poverty, is still perpetuated today in film, television and other Western media.
We can make space for their names and their stories. We can resist reduction. We can resist sensationalism. For many, sex work may be a choice — which illuminates the class diversity among Asian Americans often ignored by the model minority myth — and one they should be able to make free of our moral judgments.
We can do better. Instead of jumping to conclusions about the work these women did because of where they worked, we can wait for their families and friends to come forward and tell us who their loved ones were. Instead of judging them or pitying them, we can make space for their names and their stories. We can be cognizant of the ways in which racism and misogyny are inextricably linked. Xiaojie Tan. Daoyou Feng. Hyun Jung Grant. Soon Chung Park. Suncha Kim. Yong Ae Yue. I hope we have a chance to learn who they all were, beyond our speculations about what they did.
Karissa Chen is the editor in chief at Hyphen magazine. Her fiction and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including The Atlantic, The Cut and Eater, and she is currently at work on a novel. IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser. Share this —. Follow think. By Karissa Chen, editor in chief, Hyphen magazine. Mourners gather for Atlanta vigil to remember spa shooting victims March 19, Opinion The Atlanta shooting was like a sucker punch to the gut of Asian Americans like me. Opinion What police don't understand about the Atlanta suspect's 'sex addiction' defense.
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