By Melody Muhlrad
Last Tuesday, eight people were killed — including six women of Asian descent — at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area. The gunman has been identified as a 21-year-old white man from Woodstock, Ga. This horrifying shooting came at a time of alarming xenophobia and bigotry against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
I am an Asian-American Jewish woman living in Los Angeles. My parents emigrated from Taiwan in the 1970s, and my twin sister and I were born in Los Angeles in the 1980s. I converted to Judaism three years ago, before my second child was born, a decision that was many years in the making. My husband and I are raising our two Asian-American Jewish preschool-age children in Los Angeles.
News reports surrounding the violence in Atlanta have been very careful in how they describe the shootings and the gunman’s motivations. The media has carefully parsed details of the victims, emphasizing that six of the eight victims were Asian (two were white) and seven of the victims were women (one was male). It is as if the fact that not all the victims were Asian, and not all were female — even though the overwhelming majority were Asian females — should make the situation any less alarming. Even if this tragedy does not end up being classified as a hate crime, it is undoubtedly a hate-filled, violent attack aimed squarely at Asian women. The media’s couched and carefully chosen statements do a disservice to how horrific the crime is.
When I first heard of the shootings, I had just finished putting my two energetic young children to bed. I finally sat down to rest when I noticed I had missed a text message from my husband, who was still finishing up his work. He had sent me a Twitter link accompanied by the comment, “So scary, 8 Asian women murdered in ATL.” I stopped in my tracks. In complete disbelief, I had to read his description twice. I quickly forwarded the link to my sister, who had not heard the news, and she wrote back sharing my shock and horror.
As a mother of half-Asian Jewish children, the tragedy in Atlanta led me to fear for the safety of my children. It’s the kind of fear that you not only comprehend in your head, but one that you physically feel course through your veins. My children will grow up in a society where some people may hate them because of the color of their skin and others may hate them for their faith (and, of course, there are plenty who would hate them for both reasons). As a mother, I was left with two big questions: How do I keep my children safe from the hate that Asians and Jewish people experience on a daily basis in the United States? And how do I best educate my children about a society where people are hated or victimized for their race and/or their religion?
I’m embarrassed to admit this, but my first reaction about how best to protect my children from the hate they may experience was to flee. Following my initial shock over the Atlanta shootings, I found myself dramatically proclaiming to my husband that I didn’t think the United States was a safe place for our family anymore. Sure, it was an extreme reaction to what had happened, but perhaps it was the “fight or flight” reaction to fear that led me to choose “flight.”
My husband and I have talked about moving to a different country — particularly to China or Taiwan, given that I still have many extended family members there. It’s an idea we’ve addressed with more seriousness in the last year as COVID-19 has created more remote work environments. Now that anti-Semitism has hit an all-time high and Asian hate crimes are increasing in the United States, perhaps it is time to make this move?
Upon further reflection, however, I recognized that fleeing the country is not the answer. In this dark time, I am reminded of the Jewish principle of tikkun olam, or repairing the world — the idea being that although the world is a good place, God left us room to make improvements. I realized that the way to keep my children safe is to do my best to make the world a safer place for them. I’m still figuring out what this means for me, and I know this will be a lifelong process. But some of my ideas are continuing to give tzedakah to charities that are doing important work to fight anti-Semitism and Asian hate, bringing awareness to these important issues and continuing to stand up against hateful rhetoric.
For my children, I know it will be important to educate them on their dual Asian and Jewish identities in order to allow them to fully embrace their multifaceted identities. Our family has discussed the importance of visiting China and Israel (when it is safe to travel again) in order to help teach them about the history of both their cultures, as well as to meet others that are both similar and different from them. My husband and I hope to raise them to be open-minded and to love who they are — and also to appreciate the differences of others. I only hope that this continual lifelong education will help them stand against the Asian and Jewish hate that they may encounter in their lifetimes.
Melody Muhlrad is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mother of two preschool-age kids in Los Angeles. Published by Kveller, a 70 Faces Media brand.