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One year after the Atlanta spa shootings, we can’t forget the victims’ names

A year ago, I reported from the crime scene and created a guide for pronouncing the names of the six Asian women who were killed

(Washington Post illustration)

Janice is not my real name. It’s the name I’ve chosen to share with the outside world. Growing up Korean American, I wanted to blend in.

The start of a new school year meant roll call, which inevitably meant a teacher stumbling through my legal name.

Like many Koreans, my legal name has two parts, and the second half of my first name would often be mistaken for my middle name. “Janice” was easier for others to pronounce, and in an effort to fit in and avoid confusion, I embraced the name change. Now, 30 years later, “Janice” has become part of my identity, but it’s only a portion of who I am as a Korean American woman.

A year after the Atlanta shootings, Asian women live in fear: ‘How are we all going to stay safe?’

During my career as a broadcast journalist, I’ve begun nearly every interview the same way. I ask, “Can you please start by saying and spelling your first and last name?”

I’ve tried my best to pronounce names just as they’re supposed to be, often listening to the recording of the pronunciation and practicing multiple times to make sure I’m saying it correctly.

I know how much a name means to one’s identity.

On March 16, 2021, eight people were murdered by a young man in Georgia; six of them were Asian women. I was working that night and was sent to Piedmont Road, where the two Atlanta spas are located. Soon, I’d learn that the victims at these scenes were Asian.

This felt like the climax in a year filled with verbal and physical attacks against Asians in the United States. In my nine years as a reporter, I’ve learned to focus on the task at hand and not let emotions get in the way. This was one of those nights; despite my visceral reaction to the scene I was witnessing, I had to detach emotionally and report the facts.

Three days later, government officials released the names of some of the victims; the names were Korean and Chinese and, sadly, were not correctly written. It appears that officials innocently made assumptions that certain parts of names more appropriately mapped to traditional Western naming conventions (a middle name, for example). This not only bothered me professionally, but it hurt me personally; it seemed that, even in the face of tragedy, our names didn’t matter.

I knew that the names of the Asian victims — Hyun Jung Grant, Soon Chung Park, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Xiaojie Tan and Daoyou Feng — would be broadcast over and over again by journalists in the days to come, and I wanted people to treat them with as much care and respect as we would in the case of any other individuals involved in such a horrific tragedy.

In the days after the March 16 shootings, the Asian American Journalists Association sprang into action.

It provided guidance for newsrooms to make sure coverage of the shooting was not only accurate but culturally sensitive, and we decided that videos explaining the proper pronunciation of victims’ names were necessary. We felt it was our duty to make sure we provided resources to help our colleagues across the nation.

Two videos were produced: A colleague and fellow AAJA member created a video that explained the proper pronunciation of the names of the ethnically Chinese victims, and I recorded a similar version covering the Korean names. Without their names in Hangul, I knew the pronunciations could be slightly inaccurate. Nevertheless, we wanted our colleagues to have a resource.

That video was just 35 seconds long, but those seconds were filled with heaviness and heartbreak.

The morning after the shooting, I bought flowers and drove to the spas. It was a way for me to take time to process what had happened, not only as a journalist, but as a Korean American woman. Saying their names, seeing them written in Hangul on posters and notes at the makeshift memorials, made it undeniably real. In that moment, I couldn’t put up my professional wall and hide my emotions behind it.

I often think back to the moment I stepped onto the breaking news scene the day of the shooting. I play back my question to the Atlanta police chief during the news conference — I asked if the victims were Asian. I remember the feeling in my stomach when he confirmed they were.

I didn’t know Tan, Feng, Grant, Park, Kim or Yue. Many in our communities didn’t know them. But I felt connected to these women because I see parts of myself, my family and my friends in them. They are not just a group of women who were killed in a tragic mass shooting. They were individuals, each with unique stories, whose identities deserve to be seen.

That 35-second video of their names was just a small way to do that.

Let us not forget that immigrants from across the world come to the United States in the hope of a brighter future; many of us put our heads down, work hard and sometimes change our names to fit in, but we never lose sight of who we are or where we came from.

My name is Hye Jee Yu, and I’m proud of my community. On the first anniversary of this appalling event, let’s all join in remembering the names of the victims:

Hyun Jung Grant, Soon Chung Park, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels and Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, who survived his injuries.

Janice Yu is a reporter and anchor at Fox 5 Atlanta.