Inoculations

Sunday Letter | #337

Last summer, I discovered that there was a non-fiction YA book coming out about the murder of Vincent Chin. It’s written by Paula Yoo, a former Detroit News journalist (among other things!). We connected on Instagram and I sent Paula a short message telling her that I looked forward to reading the book. Otherwise, I followed at a distance – until March of this year, when eight people, most of them Asian women, were killed in spa shootings just outside Atlanta.

I haven’t written directly about anti-Asian violence in this newsletter, and that’s because I never know how to respond to these kinds of events as they happen. I’m easily overwhelmed by the news; my instinct is to turn away from my feeds so as to have some control over the aperture for information, horror, outrage. Some people will dive head first into reading or writing essays and trying to understand. But for me it’s usually a slower burn. I’ll stew quietly and not realize I’ve been stewing, until my partner asks me about it days after. I’ll get a book on the subject and finish it four months later, when every line no longer sends me off on mental tangents.

What is action supposed to look like? It’s different every time, and depends on the person. Sometimes it’s showing up for marches. Others it’s quiet, earnest conversations with friends you haven’t talked to in a while. In this case I was moved to reach out to Paula again about her book. It was coming out in April; did she want to talk about it on our new podcast?

Paula graciously agreed to chat with us. Before this year, last time I spent much time thinking about Vincent was on the 35th anniversary of his death. But as I said to Paula during the interview, Vincent’s story, in this moment, hit me differently than before. Like Vincent, I am a Chinese-American man living in Metro Detroit. Like Vincent, I am here in a time of anti-Asian – in this case, anti-Chinese – rhetoric, not just from the past administration but also the current. Like Vincent, I am about to be married. Reconnecting with his story, through Paula’s writing, I had a very visceral sense that what happened to Vincent in 1982 not only could have happened to me, but still can happen to me today. Or tomorrrow. In 2021.

You can listen to our entire conversation here, and while we do talk about Vincent and the book, titled From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry, we also talk about lighter topics like Paula’s path to becoming a children’s author, and her cats and violin videos, and her in-development series about a fictional K-Pop talent school in the US(!)

And that’s another way I’ve found that I respond to heavy subjects in the news: by emphasizing joy and laughter. On gloomy days it can feel like I’m ignoring the issue, but on more hopeful ones it feels almost like culture-jamming. If terror works by fear and trauma, then joy, I think, is a kind of inoculation.


It’s a warm Sunday afternoon here in Detroit. Julia and I pulled weeds in the yard, dug up old stumps, and planted some more cold crops in our garden beds. We had asparagus foccacia for lunch – leftovers from dinner last night – and took Matisse to the park. We laid around reading books, talking about our monthly budgets, and plotting to get burritos for dinner. And earlier this morning, I saw a beautiful comic from Hong Kong-based artist Kaitlin Chan:

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Kaitlin (she/her) (@kaitlinmchan)