The evening of the Boulder, Colorado mass shooting and six days after the Atlanta spa attacks, I posted a tweet. As soon as I sent my message for the world to see, it started to garner more attention than any of my past tweets. It read: “I am an Asian American woman. I am from Boulder, Colorado. I live in Atlanta, Georgia. My heart is breaking for the places I call home.”
That is how I was, and still am, feeling. I have always grappled with being one quarter Chinese, but I’ve had an identity crisis in the last two weeks. I feel like I’m not Asian enough to wonder if it could’ve been me or mourn as a part of the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community, but also know I’m not white enough to simply stand in solidarity as an outsider. Recently, I’ve had many long-overdue discussions about race, including my own, with my friends and family. That was all mentally taxing. It wasn’t until I was at a church service, and the woman preaching that day said “I hear you, I see you, I hurt for you.” I’m not a sentimental person, but tears started to stream down my face when I heard those words. After a week of telling myself that I was okay because I wasn’t close enough to the AAPI community to mourn, having such words spoken over me validated my experience as an Asian American in an entirely new way.
The following day, news of a mass shooting in my hometown swept the nation. Suddenly, my little hippie hometown of Boulder was in the news for all the wrong reasons, and this small college town that raised me became synonymous with massacre. Let me break it down for you: I’m a class of 2018 Fairview High School graduate. The shooting happened at a King Soopers, a popular supermarket about five blocks from Fairview — I had driven by it every day on my way to high school and been inside plenty of times. It was a place safe and dear to me. My cousin owns a pizza parlor in that same shopping center. And even though Colorado is no stranger to mass shootings and gun violence (Columbine, Aurora theater and STEM School to name a few), Boulder felt protected. We Boulderites say we live in the “Boulder Bubble,” and we live and breathe that sentiment. Boulder is a granola utopia, a place where you can hike in the dark without fear of what lurks in the shadows because it’s probably a squirrel or a doe. It’s a place where the bike lanes are as wide as the car lanes. It’s a place where you can end up in the Table Mesa King Soopers parking lot at one or two in the morning and still feel safe. Of course, that was before the Table Mesa King Soopers became the site of a senseless mass shooting that claimed 10 innocent lives.
I think it’s worth mentioning that, unlike the Atlanta mass shootings from two weeks ago, the names of Boulder’s victims were public the morning after the shooting. Boulder has showered their families with support since, but we still know very little about the shooter. In Atlanta, however, the victims’ identities remained unclear for days. Instead of focusing on Atlanta’s victims, we talked about their murderer, what his motives were, who he is. This illustrates an implicit racism toward Asian Americans — if we don’t even get to know who these victims were, what does it say about their value to the Atlanta community and Asian Americans’ values to America as a whole?
We, Asian Americans significantly affected by tragedy, are feeling something indescribable. It’s crushing. It’s this weight of collective grief I am personally feeling for two distinct communities that are both incredibly close to my heart. It’s almost too much to bear.
Cailen Chinn (22C) is from Boulder, Colorado.