PHOTOS: Remembering victims of anti-Asian hate crimes

As the anniversary of the 2021 Atlanta spa shooting approaches, a vigil at USC honored those who lost their lives in violent attacks against the APISA community since then.

On March 16, 2021, a man killed eight people — six of whom were Asian women — across three spas in Atlanta. The man said he opened fire on these massage parlor workers to “eliminate sexual temptation” for himself and others, a reflection of the sexualized image of Asian women. Almost one year later, Anti-Asian hate crimes increased 339% from 2020 to 2021, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

The first three months of 2022 have already seen the death of two APISA women, Michelle Go and Christina Yuna Lee, alongside a slew of violent assaults. The recent and continued trend of racially motivated attacks against people of Asian descent since the COVID-19 pandemic struck has left the community in a state of prolonged mourning and chronic grieving.

Members and allies of the Asian, Pacific-Islander and South Asian (APISA) community gathered in a vigil organized by the USC Asian Pacific Islander Faculty and Staff Association (APIFSA), USC APASS, USC APASA, and USC Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (ORSL) on Wednesday evening to remember the recent victims of anti-Asian hate.

Healing, love and justice don’t just come to you. You have to want them, and you have to know that it is your right to live in whatever space you choose to live in, safely, with dignity and a sense of community.

—  Linda Truong, Co-Chair of USC APIFSA.
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A vigil attendee penned a note in memory of victims of anti-Asian hate attacks. (Photo by Michael Chow)
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Attendees in a moment of prayer for victims of anti-Asian hate attacks. (Photo by Michael Chow)
Organizers of the vigil distributed postcards featuring illustrations of Asian victims of injustice by LA-based illustrator Jonathan Chang. Chang depicted them in vibrant colors to provide comfort and commemorate the victims amid the tragic circumstances of their passing. (Photo by Michael Chow)
An attendee held baby’s breath flowers to mourn victims of anti-Asian hate crimes. Many allies of the APIDA community showed solidarity against discrimination and hate crimes with their attendance. (Photo by Michael Chow)
ElevASIAN student leader Lucia Ruan left a note in memory of Julia Li, a 34-year-old from Kazakhstan who was shot in St. Paul, Minn. “I hadn’t even heard anything about her before today,” said Ruan. “I’m glad we have this space to remember her and also afraid to think about who else from our community has gone through hurt that we don’t know about.” (Photo by Michael Chow)
Sophomores Hayden Rivas (left) and William Okajima (right) improvised a dance to junior violinist Elizabeth Wei’s performance of an excerpt from a Chinese violin concerto by Chen Gang and He Zhanhao titled “Butterfly Lovers' Violin Concerto”.

I had grown up listening to this concerto as it was my grandfather’s favorite piece of music and one of the most famous Chinese classical works, and for that it has always had a special place in my heart in my identity as an Asian American musician. Recently, I found that this concerto has come into limelight as Olympic skater Karen Chen used this piece for her Free Skate. I hoped that this piece resonated with the community at the vigil in reflecting upon the beauty of our identity while recognizing the injustices we still face today.

—  Elizabeth Wei, a junior double majoring in violin performance and applied and computational mathematics

William and I really wanted to be inspired by Elizabeth’s music. Our plan was to feel present in the moment [and]; influenced by the people around us. The core of the vigil was to reflect on the terrible injustices facing the Asian community. Due to this, we came in with no choreography. Instead, we developed the movement in the moment and planned to come together at the end!

—  Hayden Rivas, a sophomore majoring in dance
Attendees held up their hands to keep the flames alive as strong winds threatened to blow the candles out. (Photo by Michael Chow)
LED candles lined the fountain at Hoover Pedestrian Mall as around 50 vigil attendees shared a moment of prayer and grief. (Photo by Michael Chow)
Organizers Jasmine Yu (left) and Katherine Guevarra (right), co-vice chairs of the USC APIFSA programming and events committee, share a hug after the vigil. “It has been an extremely difficult year for [APIDA],” said Guevarra as she teared up. “I am extremely touched by the show of solidarity by members and allies of the community.”

Correction: A previous version of this article used the acronym “APIDA.” All instances of the term have been changed to “APISA,” which is more reflective of the heterogeneity in South Asian communities.