Hundreds march for Asian American lives in Madison, as many call for hate crime charges in Atlanta

A UW-Madison professor explains why she believes Tuesday night’s attacks were tied to racism.
Published: Mar. 18, 2021 at 11:16 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Frustration as well as shouts of “Asian Lives Matter,” spilled onto the streets of Downtown Madison in the wake of a shooting in Georgia that killed eight people, six of whom were Asian American women.

“[I am] heartbroken. I did not even sleep well,” Xiujuan Zhang, a protester in a crowd of several hundred, said.

Individual activists from the Madison area organized the protest alongside the UW-Madison BIPOC Coalition. They met at the City-County Building Thursday night and marched to the Capitol Square.

Authorities in Georgia previously said that at this point, they do not believe the Tuesday night attacks were motivated by race, rather a “sexual addiction.”

On Thursday, Atlanta police said “nothing is off the table,” on whether investigators are looking at a potential hate crime.

“You can’t divorce the racism from the sexism,” protester Kate Jasenski, said. “As an Asian American woman, I experience both at the same time, all the time.”

Jasenski, Zhang and other protesters said they see the attack as a hate crime. Cindy I-Fen Cheng, a professor of history and Asian American studies at UW-Madison, agreed.

Cheng argues the shooting suspect’s trail across three different spas, killing six Asian women, was tied to racist stereotypes.

“His desire to rid himself of what he called his temptation, his sexual addiction is completely linked to his understanding of Asian American women as sexually available sex workers,” she said.

Cheng said there are two “contexts” relevant to the attacks. The first, she referred to as what’s happening now across the nation. According to the group Stop AAPI Hate, 3,795 hate incidents against Asian Americans nationwide have been reported over the past year, though experts believe there are more cases unreported.

Historical context, according to Cheng, can also explain how Asian American women are often seen as sex workers. She said, for example, throughout late 20th century wars in South Korea and Vietnam, local women of limited economic opportunities served as “comfort women” or entertainment workers to boost the morale of soldiers. “The same women are brought over and [there’s a] belief that they come into massage parlors for this,” she said.

At the end of the night, protesters arrived on the Capitol steps to share testimonies of how racism had targeted the Asian American community.

“We just think it’s extremely important to show our solidarity,” Kathryn Wundrow said, marching alongside her father and sister. “Today’s not about us, but I think it requires our support in order to show others they’re not alone in this fight.”

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