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Japanese woman assaulted in US reflects on anti-Asian hate crime spike: interview

In this photo provided by Noriko Nasu, she is seen mountain hiking in Oregon in August 2019, about a year and a half before she was assaulted.

LOS ANGELES (Mainichi) -- Noriko Nasu felt a sudden, powerful blow to her face; then she lost consciousness, collapsing in the street. The U.S. resident had been struck and seriously injured by a man she didn't know, and left to struggle with painful complications afterward. With the coronavirus pandemic has come a steep rise in hate crimes against people of Asian descent in the United States.

    In this photo provided by Noriko Nasu, she is seen two days after the attack with broken bones in her nose and cheeks, as well as swelling and bruises around her eyes.

    Nasu, a 44-year-old Japanese woman who teaches Japanese at a public high school, agreed to an online interview with the Mainichi Shimbun about the attack. As a victim of senseless violence, how does she see the current situation?

    On Feb. 25, at about 9:30 p.m., Nasu had just met up with her partner, a white man, in Seattle's Chinatown. It was then that a man coming toward her suddenly struck her in the face using what appeared to be a sock with a stone in it. The blow broke her nose and cheek bones, and knocked out two teeth.

    "At first, I didn't know what had happened, but when I looked at the security camera footage after, the man didn't go to attack him (her partner), who was closer to him, but me, and walked off without stealing anything. I think I was targeted," Nasu said.

    Her face swelled up badly, and she developed large bruises around her eyes. The swelling and injuries have since mostly healed, but she said, "If I look at a computer screen for a while, my body shakes, and when I hear loud noises I get a bad headache for days on end." She says it appears to be a neurological issue.

    Noriko Nasu is seen speaking to the Mainichi Shimbun over video call in this image taken in Los Angeles on April 14, 2021. (Mainichi/Hojin Fukunaga)

    About two weeks after the assault, she returned to teaching online high school classes, but because of her symptoms, she has to give her students assignments to do on their own for every second class.

    Before the attack, Nasu had been active. Every other day she would go for runs on the local park trails, and she also often went mountain climbing. But her life has completely changed. While stroking her still-painful cheeks, she said, "Now I'm soon out of breath just from walking, and my body feels so heavy. I'm lying down all the time. It's shocking to find myself this way."

    Nasu also bears deep emotional scars. She has lived in the U.S. for 19 years; she came to study at grad school as an international student in 2002 after being attracted to its racial and societal diversity. Now, she is a green card holder. Although she previously hadn't experienced clear racial discrimination, she said, "With this incident I came to understand deeply that there is hardened discrimination against people of Asian descent."

    Is the U.S. really multicultural? Nasu expressed a mixture of love and doubt about the country, saying, "Now, I'm afraid to go outside. When I do go out, I try to make sure I'm not walking alone." It's been almost two months since the incident, but it seems she'll need more time to recover from it.

    A Black man was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the attack. He was indicted for second degree assault, but a hate crime case could not be made. At the time of the attack, he didn't say anything, and no evidence that it was a racially motivated attack against an Asian person was found.

    In this photo provided by Noriko Nasu, she is seen climbing Mount Adams in Washington state, in August 2019.

    But from the circumstances, Nasu interprets the incident as an anti-Asian hate crime: "I heard that second degree assault is a heavier crime, but that's not the issue. I think it's important send a message to society that racism is not acceptable by indicting him for hate crime."

    There have been similar cases in which assault cases against Asian people have not been treated as hate crimes. In a March mass shooting at massage parlors in the Atlanta area, eight people including six Asian women were killed. The suspect, a 21-year-old white male, denied his actions were racially motivated, and currently the indictment does not include the term hate crime.

    Nasu said, "Asian people are quiet, and compared to Black people our voices against racism are not heard. Don't we need to band together and speak up for our rights more?" Almost as if in accordance with her thoughts, people of Asian descent across the U.S., including those with Japanese, Chinese and Korean roots, have come together to demonstrate against racism, particularly after the Atlanta shootings.

    While Nasu was wounded by U.S. society's inconsistencies, she also felt hope. After the incident, she received flowers and messages of encouragement from friends, students and even strangers. A woman she had never met started an online campaign to raise funds for her treatment. Nasu said that this widespread support was also characteristic of America; she took a positive view, saying, "I like my current job, and feel I want to continue living in this country."

    In Japan, too, racial discrimination against people including Zainichi Koreans does exist. Nasu ended the interview with a message for her home country: "I want the issue of hate crimes in the U.S. to become an opportunity to face the discrimination against and prejudice toward other Asian people in Japan, which is hard to recognize when you're there. I hope it can lead to actions to protect the rights of minorities."

    (Japanese original by Hojin Fukunaga, Los Angeles Bureau)

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