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Elegy Abecedarian

 

Devi S. Laskar

Art by Moses Sun

 

A is for Acworth, where four were murdered and one survived.
A is for Atlanta, where another four were murdered about an hour later.
A is for Asian: six of eight murdered by the white suspect were women of Asian descent.
A is for Ahmaud Arbery, who died at the hands of white men in Georgia at the beginning of the pandemic last year.

B is for Bile, as in I feel bile come up my throat again when I hear the replay of the Cherokee County sheriff’s captain describing the alleged day spa killer’s actions as the result of having “a really bad day.”
B is for Black Lives Matter, an organization that all of us, Black or not, must stand in solidarity with and support in every way we can.

C is for Chapel Hill. I had considered moving back to my hometown but then…see W is for Winners.
C is for Charlottesville.
C is for Colonialism.
C is for Colorado, where a few days after the Atlanta area shootings, someone opened fire at a Boulder grocery store, murdering 10.
C is for Confluence, as in we are living in a time of viral pandemic and civil unrest, in a time of economic hardship and rise in racism, in a time of rampant gun violence, in a time of rampant police violence.

D is for Day Spa, which is the term the Asian American Journalists Association recommends writers use when describing the places of employment or recreation where the murders in Acworth and Atlanta took place March 16; to avoid colonial stereotyping, to avoid hypersexualization.
D is for Despair and Disappointment as I read and watch the news and see the Deficient coverage.

E is for Eleven, as in eleven years ago my spouse was racially targeted by his former employer in Atlanta; the state police raided my house and me, at gunpoint. I complied. I was not shot. But, there was a long moment where the Kevlar-clad agent pointed his AR-15 at me and I wondered if I was going to be another statistic.
E is for Anjali Enjeti, a writer and activist in Atlanta whose new book of essays, Southbound, is a brave meditation on identity, feminism, racism, social change – existing as a person of color who, like me, identifies as a southerner. Recently I read her book and interviewed her and was inspired by her forthright tone, how she combats the dominant culture’s white gaze.
E is for Essential. It is essential that we as human beings learn the names of those who were gunned down. It is essential we remember them.
E is for Exile, as in my family and I live in exile inside our own country. We had to leave Atlanta and have lived in exile inside the United States since 2012.

F is for Daoyou Feng who had begun working at the day spa only a few months before her murder. Her friend described the 44-year-old as “kind and quiet.” See A.
F is for Ferguson.
F is for George Floyd, whose 2020 murder, captured on video, sparked a civil rights movement across America and the world. As I write this essay, the trial of his policeman-assailant concluded; and the jury took just 10 hours to find the assailant guilty of murder. As I write this essay, there have been 64 mass shootings in America since the start of the trial.

G is for Georgia, the location of my once upon a time home. The birthplace of my children. In recent times, the geographic center for national as well as local politics, for voting restrictions, for civil rights, and once again, for gun violence and murder.
G is for Eric Garner, whom poet Ross Gay immortalized in his poem “A Small Needful Fact.” This poem should be taught in schools. So we don’t forget.
G is for Hyun Jung Grant, whom her children and friends described as a loving mother. The 51-year-old loved electronic music and dancing and worked as an elementary school teacher in South Korea before immigrating to the United States. See A.

 

H is for Hate Crime. As I write this essay several weeks after the Acworth and Atlanta shootings, it is not yet determined whether the suspect, whom police apprehended and who has reportedly confessed, will be charged with a hate crime. See A.
H is for Hate Groups. The Southern Poverty Law Center sent a map in the mail, marking where the 838 active hate groups make their homes in America. A cluster of multi-colored dots and symbols - denoting Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazi, White Nationalist and Neo-Confederate groups - surround Atlanta. See A.
H is for Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, who was near the day spa (on his way to send money to his family in Guatemala) when the gunman began shooting. He sustained multiple wounds and his family has told reporters they remain hopeful of the 30-year-old auto repair shop owner’s eventual recovery. See A.
H is for both History and Home.
H is for Human, and for my Hunger for white Americans to see people of color as human, as their neighbors.

I is for Immigrant. Most who died in the Atlanta area shootings were immigrants. We will never fully know all their sacrifices and struggles, what fueled their desires to come to America – ostensibly, to live in peace. My lens is shaded by my experiences, as a daughter of immigrants, people who gave up everything they knew for a chance at the American dream; my lens is shaded as a woman of color born and raised in the South, as a mother to brown girls, as a former reporter who reported for daily newspapers, as a poet, as a novelist who wrote about racism and misogyny and being other in America.
I is for Incomplete, as in my thoughts are incomplete, fragmented, the result of the May 17, 2010, raid and subsequent events.
I is for Isolation.
I is for the Insurrection that took place more than three months ago at our nation’s Capitol and the effects of which continue to ripple through society today. See S.

J is for Justice. See B. See S.

K is for Suncha Kim, who is described by family as a wife of 50 years, a grandmother, a woman who enjoyed music and dancing. She received the President’s Volunteer Award during the Obama administration for her efforts in feeding the homeless. She was 69. See A.

L is for Lens, as in my lens is shaded by the two sentences I’ve heard ad nauseam, from stranger and acquaintance, since the 2010 raid: “You must have done something wrong” and “You should have known better.” A state judge in Georgia dismissed all the baseless charges against my spouse in late 2016. Yet, our belongings have not been returned to us and we have not heard an apology from them.
L is for Listen.

M is for Trayvon Martin.
M is for Mask.
M is for Paul Andre Michels. His brother described him as a dedicated husband and friend who loved Christmas, a military veteran and part of a large Detroit area family. He was working as a handyman at the day spa. He was 54. See A.
M is for Model Minority Myth. I found solace in the pages of Cathy Park Hong’s award-winning essays, Minor Feelings. She explores and explodes the model minority myth - that as part of the Asian community in America we don’t have it as bad. She calls out the mainstream media and the dominant white culture for fetishizing Asians, especially women. She calls out the practice by the dominant white culture for pitting one minority group against another. Her book gave me permission to put my thoughts to paper.

N is for News. NPR and The Washington Post are among news organizations that provided thorough coverage of the March 16 Atlanta area murders. NPR also reported: the group Stop AAPI Hate tracked nearly 3,800 hate incidents against Asian American communities in America, between March 2020 and February 2021. “A vast undercount” officials said of verbal harassment and physical attacks. Women reported 2.3 times more incidents of violence than men.
N is for Newtown.
N is for Numb, as in I feel numb when I read about a data breach, a news story revealing the many law enforcement officials across the country, from Alabama to Utah to Wisconsin to Virginia, donating money toward the defense funds of white gunmen.

P is for Pandemic.
P is for Soon Chung Park, described by her family as a positive, optimistic 74-year-old who wanted to live to the century mark and was planning to move back to New Jersey in June when her lease expired, to be closer to her family. See A.
P is for Parkland.
P is for Personal and Political and Power and Privilege.

 

Q is for Quarantine.

R is for Claudia Rankine and her seminal book of poetry/non-fiction on American racism, Citizen. A year after its publication in 2014, more than 175,000 copies had been sold. Still it is an insufficient number. I have re-read and gifted Citizen at least a dozen times; her book was my big, fat permission slip to tackle racism in my debut novel, The Atlas of Reds and Blues.

S is for Say Her Name. I think of Sandra Bland every day.
S is for the Sikh community in Indianapolis, several were recently shot and murdered by a white gunman at a FedEx facility.
S is for Social Distancing.
S is for Southern Gentleman’s Game. The damage to my family is irreparable: PTSD all around; we had to flee Atlanta after state law enforcement officials threatened us; among the items the agents confiscated was my computer, so I lost the bulk of my work. I remain dismayed by most media reporting. In my family’s case, we did not receive fair and accurate coverage until The New York Times came along in the fall of 2013. Three and a half years after the raid. Three and a half years where we were told to turn the other cheek, and not respond publically to all the smears repeated in the local media because, as one of our lawyers put it, “this was a southern gentleman’s game.”
S is for The Southern Poverty Law Center’s calls to action, on the flip side of the Hate Groups map; they include expelling those congressional representatives who enabled the Jan. 6 insurrection and promoted “Stop the Steal;” and removing Confederate names and symbols from federal military installations, parks, streets and highways; and having our lawmakers enact the NO HATE Act of 2019.
S is for White Supremacy.
S is for Survivor Café. Author Elizabeth Rosner opens her book on trauma and memory with “The Alphabet of Inadequate Language.” Rosner, the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, wrote a book that was part memoir and part creative-non-fiction about how people absorb atrocities they witness and how we live with them. I have turned to my friend’s book and borrowed the structure of her alphabet to write this essay, as a guide to wade through overwhelming feelings of sadness and guilt.

T is for Xiaojie Tan, who was murdered just before her 50th birthday and whose family told news outlets of her generous spirit and kind heart. Tan was a multiple business owner and a board certified massage therapist. See A.
T is for Breonna Taylor.
T is for Adam Toledo.
T is for the former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey. The memoir of her mother’s murder in Atlanta, Memorial Drive, broke my heart. The care with which she told her mother’s story has inspired me to pay closer attention to the details of the outside world.

U is for Ugly Delicious. As I watch Chef David Chang’s documentary series on Netflix, I am moved by his honest discourse on appropriation, assimilation and racism in contemporary culinary culture.
U is for Unfinished, as in I don’t know how to finish this essay – I can offer its readers no closure.

V is for Vaccination.
V is for Gun Violence. President Biden said on TV yesterday 316 people are shot in America every day – and 106 of those people die. Every day.

W is for Winners. Every time I hear the word winner, I think of Chapel Hill. In 2015, three college students, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were executed by a white man over a parking dispute - not four miles from where I was born. The family of the slain referred to their lost loved ones as “Our Three Winners” rather than victims and have founded organizations that work in the areas of social justice and religious tolerance.
W is for Witness.
W is for Daunte Wright.
W is for Write. It is our obligation as writers and poets to remember what has happened and convey it. Somehow.
W is for Women.

X is for Xenophobia.

Y is for Delaina Ashley Yaun. Friends and family described the 33-year-old as a dedicated wife and mother, a caring sister and daughter and aunt who prioritized her family and was a “light.” See A.
Y is for Yong Ae Yue, whose children described the 63-year-old as their beloved mother who enjoyed cooking Korean food, visiting friends and reading. See A.

Z is for Zealous, as in I feel bile come up my throat when I read that Mario González, the husband of Delaina Ashley Yaun, was handcuffed and questioned for hours by the zealous Cherokee County police when they first arrived at the Acworth day spa after the 911 call. See B. See S.
Z is for Zero, as in society must have zero tolerance for this epidemic of gun violence. There will be no change in societal attitude or behavior until gun regulations reflect the times. The Second Amendment was created in an era where people hunted for food, and it took 30 seconds for a skilled marksman to load his weapon and shoot once. Let us stand together with the families of those who were lost to gun violence – let us not reduce their invaluable lives to mere statistics. Let us remember them as we fight for change.