Gabriel San Roman
Slingshot: The Atlanta Massacre and the Danger of Deracialized Death
The massacre in metro Atlanta last week felt all too inevitable.
Before a 21-year-old white gunman slayed six Asian American women at a trio of massage parlors, news headlines reported that hate crimes against Asian Americans rose in major cities by as much as 150 percent last year.
Since the presidential election, anti-Asian slurs have surged on far-right platforms like 8kun and Telegram.
Unable to gain a proper handle of the coronavirus pandemic, racist Americans have imbibed on the cheap high of xenophobic barbs blaming Asians for the outbreak.
The Atlanta massacre took place in this hate-driven context, but law enforcement is already running interference. Infamously, Captain Jay Baker, a Cherokee County Sheriff's Department spokesman, generously noted that the murder suspect was having a "bad day" and relayed that the gunman assigned sex "addiction" as his motive, not anti-Asian racism.
Soon after, Buzzfeedbroke the story that Baker promoted cheap anti-Asian pandemic shirts on Facebook last year.
We've been here before.
Not just in Rock Springs, Wyoming where white workers massacred 28 Chinese immigrant miners in 1885. Not just in Los Angeles, where a white mob lynched 19 in the Chinese quarter of the city in 1871. Not just in Santa Ana, where a mob rejoiced in burning down a Chinatown in 1906 after the city council deemed it a threat to public health on account of an alleged case of leprosy.
The long history of anti-Asian racism in the United States, which transcended episodic violence into law, is all too easily forgotten. If the Atlanta massacre is allowed to be deracialized, it may suffer a similar fate, only sooner.
For a contemporary cautionary tale, look no further than the border town of San Ysidro in Southern California.
Back in the summer of 1984, James Huberty left his family's San Ysidro apartment with an ominous farewell.
“I’m going hunting…hunting for humans,” said Huberty, before closing the door behind him. Etna, his wife, didn’t take his parting words seriously.
The 41-year-old white man arrived to a San Ysidro McDonald’s armed to the teeth. His killing spree began with the store manager. Rambling on about Vietnam, though he never served in the war, Huberty continued gunning down customers, including Carlos Reyes, an eight-month old infant, and Claudia Perez, a nine-year-old girl.
San Diego police arrived at the wrong McDonald’s at first before making it to the scene of the massacre. Seventy-seven minutes passed before a police sniper got a clear kill shot of Huberty.
By then, the gunman left a trail of dead and wounded bodies in and around the restaurant. The mass shooting, a rarity in those times, became known as the deadliest of its kind in the nation’s history. San Ysidro, being a border town, counted Mexicans among the majority of its victims.
In an August press conference, San Diego police chief Bill Kolender stated that he didn't believe Huberty had any racist motivation. "He didn't like anybody," the chief offered.
Media reports portrayed the mass murderer as a troubled man who'd fallen on hard times. He had recently lost his job as a security guard. Before that, Huberty grew up a loner in Ohio. Two years before the massacre, he lost his stable job at a wielding plant after he couldn't cut it as an embalmer.
Huberty moved his family from the Midwest to Tijuana, Mexico in a short, failed bid to stretch his dollar further, as Midwest manufacturers did in their own way, south of the border.
Roberto D. Hernandez, a Chicano Studies profe at San Diego State, argued in his doctoral dissertation that the massacre took place in a context where the loss of working-class jobs in the industrial Midwest was blamed by many on Mexico, where corporations outsourced cheap labor, and Mexicans.
But the dominate media narrative followed the chief's assessment, searching for answers in an economically frustrated and, apparently, mentally ill man.
Maybe Huberty was just having a bad day.
Following the massacre, traces of the murderer's animus against Mexicans surfaced. Etna told local television reporter Carlos Amezcua that her husband hated immigrants, especially Mexicans. Their next-door neighbor told the New York Timesthat Huberty didn't like Mexicans, who comprised the majority of the tenants in the complex.
McDonald’s refurbished its San Ysidro restaurant in readying to reopen. But the fast food chain decided to demolish the site and hand the land over to the city, instead. A memorial continues to stand and commemorate the lives lost in an otherwise forgotten massacre.
San Ysidro is overlooked as much of the victims from that day were Mexican. Law enforcement and much of the media sought to understand the motive for murder away from the obvious in the trail of the dead left behind.
The massacre became deracialized--and forgotten.
Don't let that happen in Atlanta.
- Gabriel San Román
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Your Mouse Muckraker / Photo by Federico Medina
Maybe it's not so surprising that in the dregs of the coronavirus pandemic, I find myself turning to jazz to lift up my sagging spirits. After all, the Jazz-Age took off when the 1918 pandemic subsided a century ago. The music of Louis Armstrong, the gravelly-voiced trumpeter from those days, dispels the monotony with melodies, if but for a few fleeting moments.
It was surprising to learn that "Satchmo," as the jazz legend was known, once teamed with Walt Disney to record an album. Not only that, but Disney Songs the Satchmo Way featured Armstrong's last trumpet recordings before his passing in 1971.
Disney and Armstrong had many ambitious plans when they first joined forces in 1966. The original working title of the album was to be Louis' Wonderful World of Walt Disney. But Disney died later that year of lung cancer.
The collection of reinterpreted Disney classics was released under its new name in 1968. Armstrong succeeded in making the songs his own jazzy and lively creations. He turned "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" on its head from a fairy godmother's playful incantation into slowed-down scats. Lesser recalled tunes, like "Bout Time" from The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band, a Disney musical, became a new, memorable experience.
And then there's the anthem, "When You Wish Upon a Star." Armstrong definitely had thoughts about the song and shared them with the album's producer Salvador "Tutti" Camarata.
"This goldarned 'Wish Upon a Star' is so beautiful and more than that, man–I listen to that tune three or four times a night. Man, did you know I'm a doggoned long-time wishing cat? Well, I am man...I haven't enjoyed anything better than our recording sessions since–well I can't remember when."
After the album's release, Armstrong was also eyed to voice the character of Scat Cat in The Aristocats, but was too ill by then. He did leave us with Disney Songs the Satchmo Way, a beautiful album, especially in times when it's nice to be reminded that the world can be wonderful.
One year later, the hospitality industry is hoping that it's an hour closer to check out time for the coronavirus pandemic. But in Buena Park, what was once hoped to be the future home of a 4-Star Hilton Hotel, completed construction of its exterior only to never get off the ground.
The Slingshot recently obtained a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by Don Chae, manager of The Source Hotel, LLC. The court documents, dated Feb. 26, 2021, detail the latest in a string of setbacks for The Source, an open air, multi-level mall that was supposed to anchor Beach Boulevard's Entertainment Zone.
Residents living along Brenner Avenue and Melrose Street suffered for years as construction work crews transformed the 14-acre dirt plot into one, giant retail and dining flop. Last to be completed, the 178-room luxury lodge especially pressed up against the neighborhood like a rising tide of redevelopment that threatened to wash away their homes.
But the hotel's woes began even before the pandemic. Harbor All Glass & Mirror, Inc. served The Source a mechanics lien on June 30, 2019 for $166,638. The company supplied labor and materials to install glass and mirrors only to end up with a dispute over pay.
Later that year, Northstar Demolition and Remediation had The Source served with another mechanics lien, this time to the tune of $53,948 for demolition, hazardous material abatement, fireproofing and mold remediation.
Through the pandemic, the liens piled up. Greenland Construction Service, the main contractor for the hotel project, hit The Source with a trio of liens between Nov. 2020 and Feb. 2021 totaling $173,690!
As it happened, I asked readers four years ago if The Source would put Buena Park on the map--or be its biggest boondoggle.
The answer couldn't be any clearer now.
Lead photo: Anti-Asian racism poster in NYC / Wikicommons CC-BY-SA-4.0 by user Kches16414