On a typical spring morning in years past, Noriko Nasu would carry a 30-pound pack on her back and walk 5 miles through different parks in the Seattle area. However, after suffering serious injuries from a violent attack Feb. 25 in Seattle’s Chinatown International District, Nasu, a Japanese teacher at Inglemoor High School, can now barely walk the trail without a pack. Even though she has a long recovery ahead, she’s determined to complete the Wonderland Trail, a 98-mile circumnavigation around Mount Rainier. After that, her dream is to summit Mount Rainier. 

“My body feels like a totally different person,” she said.

Nasu’s road to recovery over the last two months has not been easy. On the day of the attack, Nasu and her boyfriend were transporting items from her car by a restaurant in the Chinatown ID when, out of nowhere, she was struck in the face by a blunt object. Security footage showed a man — later identified as former New York City EMT Sean Holdip — physically attacking Nasu and her boyfriend with a heavy object wrapped in a sock. Nasu lost consciousness, suffering facial fractures, broken teeth and a concussion. Holdip was charged with two counts of second-degree felony assault and is currently awaiting trial.

Although her external injuries have seemingly healed, Nasu isn’t quite back to her old self. An hour of teaching virtual classes will leave her body shaking, with bouts of memory loss and dizzy spells. Nasu has also publicly expressed frustration that the incident was not prosecuted as a hate crime, as the perpetrator did not use verbal language during the assault. In the weeks since her attack, Nasu has taken to social media and appeared at several local demonstrations to speak out against the recent uptick of violence against Asian Americans. 

“Do you feel they take our safety seriously?” Nasu asked the crowd at a March 13 rally in the Chinatown International District. 

May marks Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and after a year full of adversity for the AAPI community, Nasu wants to use her platform to help advocate for systemic change. 

Discrimination against Asian Americans is not a new phenomenon, says Jill Mangaliman, a member of the Seattle chapter of Gabriela, a Filipino women’s rights organization. “This is part of our country’s history,” Mangaliman said, referencing instances such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the 1930 Watsonville riots against Filipino workers, and the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. When COVID-19 was first documented in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, Asians were unfairly discriminated against and blamed for spreading the virus to other parts of the world. From March 19, 2020, to Feb. 28 of this year, the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center received reports of 3,795 hate incidents aimed at Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

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However, many within the Asian American community are also working to ensure that any movement to crack down on hate crimes does not end up inadvertently criminalizing other marginalized communities.

“True safety for all must come in the form of investment and resources, not punitive measures that create division and reinforce our criminal justice system’s discriminatory structures,” wrote the civil rights advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice in a news release last month. “Many grassroots Asian American organizations, including some who are part of this network, have worked for decades as part of multiracial efforts to secure such resources for all of our communities.”

“What we really need to do is not propagate more [state] violence,” Mangaliman said, “but really, solidarity for our different communities.”

The movement for solidarity for Asian Americans in the Chinatown ID continues the legacy of Donald “Donnie” Chin, who helped found the International District Emergency Center in the late 1960s to address the need for more first responder services in the area. 

“Volunteers would walk people to their cars at night, or they would take care of the seniors, and do a night walk,” Mangaliman said. “Not to fight crime … but really, it is about taking care of them.”

In Nasu’s time of need, the teacher says she’s thankful for how her community stepped up and offered her their support. Co-workers organized a meal train delivery system to her home. Dentists offered free services to repair her teeth. Nasu received a multitude of well-wishes from students and staff — even from strangers. It’s all played an important part in her recovery.

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“I even got letters from a freshman [English as a second language] class in New York,” she said. 

Nasu says she was touched by how people she’d never met reached out to try and help her.

Kristina DeLeo, a Japanese American parent of a student in the Northshore School District, heard of Nasu’s attack and was compelled to start an online fundraiser in March to help defray her medical expenses, raising over $46,000 in just one month. 

With the support of her community, Nasu continues to bring awareness to violence against Asian Americans in ways that call for solidarity with other minority communities. Nasu recently worked with the Latino Civic Alliance on an educational documentary and efforts to pass HB 1071, which aims to allow courts to impose exceptional sentences for bias-based crimes.

Being a bystander who takes action after witnessing a hate crime is crucial, Nasu said. 

“Speak up, because by being silent, you are taking the side of the perpetrator,” she said. 

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The people in the restaurant who witnessed the attack on Nasu and her boyfriend offered help and kindness in the aftermath, which “changed the whole experience,” according to Nasu.

“It’s important for us to help each other and unite and fight the hate,” Nasu said. “We cannot be divided.”

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