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The Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics

ISSN: 2472-7318

On March 17, 2021

Amy J. Wan

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Keywords: anti-Asian violence; interdependence; writing

Categories: Homeland and Belonging in the Face of Anti-AAPI Hate; BIPOC Perspectives on Labor and Love during COVID

Content warning: anti-Asian violence


Amy J. Wan

I am writing this on March 17, 2021, the day after eight people were killed at three Asian massage parlors outside of Atlanta, GA. My intention for this morning, set for myself 24 hours ago, was to get up early and work on an article that is almost done, has been almost done for the last 6 months. “Only citations left to go so it’s an easy job,” I told myself. 

Last night the news broke before a Zoom call celebrating the one-year anniversary of a weekly virtual rom-com movie night that has sustained me during this pandemic. The Zoom that night, filled with many other Asian Americans, was festive, and I didn’t have the heart or the strength to be the one to bring up the killings, just in case other people didn’t yet know. I didn’t want to destroy these last moments of joy. 

Over the past year, there has been a trickle of violence, a racial slur, an assault…building, building, building. Elderly people being targeted and getting pushed down. An Asian mom getting spat upon in her face. Graffiti on a sidewalk outside of a preschool. But a mass murder is something you can’t excuse. You can’t turn your back on mass murder and pretend it’s something else. 

What have I done during these last 12 months? At first, I looked out the window to empty sidewalks. I listened to sirens passing outside of my window. We stockpiled food and, of course, toilet paper. I stayed inside, leaving our apartment maybe twice for over a month in March and early April when we didn’t know how anything spread and there was a morgue truck on the street a few blocks away. I read newspaper stories about how I lived in the first US epicenter. I worried both that someone would blame me for the virus raging in our city and that I would catch it in the hallway, the lobby, or the laundry room of our apartment building. I worried about my kids and what they knew and what they didn't know. I lost sleep about my parents and their trips to Costco and the Asian supermarket. I learned about masks. 

Then that summer, into fall, into winter: I clapped at 7pm for essential workers. I was enraged about endless instances of racialized state violence against Black and Brown people while also trying to avoid the videos that bear witness, that don’t let you look away. I marched. I volunteered in order to help get progressive politicians elected. I worked to feed my neighbors. Five times as many people came to the food pantry where I volunteer as compared to February 2020. I shared resources with my students about emergency grants and mutual aid. I tried to make sure my kids were learning something, one in their shared bedroom and one at the dining room table. I researched how to get vaccine appointments for my elderly parents, my even more elderly grandmother, my friends, my neighbors, and tried to help spread the word. The virus, the inequity, the hate crimes--they’re all bound up together. 

Writing happens, what academics often call “my own work” (as if all other work doesn’t count), in pockets of early morning quiet, thanks to a partner who does half of the dishes, the laundry, the cooking, the childcare. Do not underestimate the importance of a partner who is committed to household parity. 

And this was all before the trickle of anti-Asian sentiment turned into a flood of violence. When I had to wonder whether someone was going to punch me in the face (or worse) while I was walking my kids to the playground or going to get groceries. What is “my own work” in the face of trying to survive? 

There is pressure as a woman of color in mid-rank because so few of us make it to full professor. A grad school friend told me that we are obligated to do it, to try. 

The academic world is falling apart, and I am somehow still measuring myself by these old standards. The institution is still measuring me by these old standards.  

This pandemic has been a stark reminder of who we are and what we have. And what we don't have. 

I have a writing meeting later today with two dear colleagues who are junior to me, at least according to how higher education is organized. A traditional structure would see me as mentoring them but I’ve never seen it that way, these two amazing and intelligent women of color who have both grounded me and raised me up. We have built ideas and friendships together, and I am so grateful. Even so, I don’t want to write today but I do want to be in community with them, one of them an Asian woman who likely is also reeling. I will make it clear that I’m not OK, but I show up for them. We show up for each other. And today, that’s the best I can do.

coda: Since the original writing of this, at least three Asian womenMichelle Go, Christina Yuna Lee, and GuiYing Mahave been killed, all victims of so-called random violence, in the city where I live. 



Amy J. Wan (she/her/hers) works as Associate Professor of English at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center. She teaches undergraduate and graduate classes on writing, literacy, and pedagogy and is the author of Producing Good Citizens: Literacy Training in Anxious Times (Pittsburgh, 2014). Her writing has also appeared in College English, WPA Journal, Writing Spaces, Literacy in Composition Studies, and Radical Teacher, among others. Her current project analyzes how to create spaces for change and resistance within the global US university through a historical and contemporary study of policies addressing access, diversity, race, and language.

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