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A year after the Atlanta spa shootings, Dallas Asian Americans gather to share and reflect

Three people talk and eat together.
Elizabeth Myong
Janet Smith (left), Nhut Tan Tran (middle) and Rachel Li (right) discuss the rise in anti-Asian hate and violence at Korea House in Dallas' Asian Trade District. They attended a gathering on March 16 which marked the one-year anniversary of the Atlanta spa shootings in which eight people were killed, including six women of Asian descent.

On Wednesday, a group of Dallas lawyers and advocates gathered at a Korean restaurant in the Asian Trade District to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Atlanta spa shootings, when a man targeted women of Asian descent, killing eight people.

In partnership with the Asian Justice Movement, the Dallas Asian American Bar Association (DAABA) hosted the Dallas dinner and discussion. It was one of several #BreakTheSilence events and rallies that took place in major cities across the U.S. like Atlanta, New York, San Francisco and Houston.

Janet Smith, who’s of Korean descent, coordinated the event as DAABA’s president-elect.

“So today’s rallies, performances, vigils and dialogues are meant to serve as a means of moving out from the violence and into a moment of empathy and solidarity,” Smith said. “And to remind Asian women that they are seen, heard, acknowledged in their pain and supported in their healing process.”

While Atlanta hosted a large rally, the Dallas event was a more intimate gathering of about 20 people that was meant to offer a space for deeper conversation about the rise in anti-Asian hate, particularly violence against women.

Last year there was a 339% increase in anti-Asian hate crimesfrom 2020, which already had record numbers, and most of the victims were women. Recent attacks have included the murder of Michelle Alyssa Go, who was pushed onto subway tracks in New York City, and Christina Yuna Lee,who was stabbed to death in her New York apartment. On March 11, a 67-year-old Asian woman was punched in the head 125 times, in addition to being spit on and stomped.

“We hope this setting would foster real dialogue, honest participation and reflection on these issues,” Smith said. “But also to do something that’s too often avoided in our cultures, which is being reluctant to speak out about some of our situations.”

Tough conversations were made easier with a seemingly endless stream of piping hot entrees like galbi, grilled short ribs, and pajeon, savory pancakes.

A curated list of discussion prompts were placed along the tables to get people started with questions like: What should be considered a hate crime? How can we galvanize support from non-AAPI people? But attendees were encouraged to go beyond the script.

At Nhut Tan Tran's table, the conversation touched on everything from the consequences of tolerating microaggressions and the burden of educating others to the importance of lifting up younger generations of Asian Americans.

“I think that’ll help a lot, like exposing the younger generation to that you don’t have to feel included, you don’t have to feel different,” he said to the table. “Literally 2 billion people live on a fourth of the world: Asia. So we’re the majority.”

It was also a space where people shared uncomfortable or difficult experiences. Tran’s tablemates shook their heads as he recounted a recent experience in which a white woman threw him her car keys at an Uptown restaurant, mistaking him for the valet.

Grace Lee spoke about the mental health toll of the rise in violence against Asian American women.

“There’s a real sense of fear that started in the last two years, in 2020,” she said. “I still don’t know how to process it.”

Lee is not alone in her struggle. The rise in anti-Asian discrimination has led to increases in anxiety, depressive symptoms and sleep problems in the Asian American community, according to the American Psychological Association.

As the night came to a close, Smith said it’s important for Asian Americans to share their experiences to be heard and seen. She said she faced racism throughout her life, while growing up in Abilene and attending college.

“They think that that doesn’t happen to us, that that’s not the Asian American experience and it is,” she said. “So it is important to me because that is my story, and I need to be more bold about sharing that so that other people are believed.”

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Got a tip? Email Elizabeth Myong at You can follow Elizabeth on Twitter @Elizabeth_Myong.

Elizabeth Myong is KERA’s Arts Collaborative Reporter. She came to KERA from New York, where she worked as a CNBC fellow covering breaking news and politics. Before that, she freelanced as a features reporter for the Houston Chronicle and a modern arts reporter for Houstonia Magazine.