Photo depicting the archways of Hing Hay Park with a banner strung between the posts that reads (in English, Vietnamese, and Chinese), "Remembrance for Massage Parlor Victims." An individual in a yellow jacket stands beneath the banner giving a speech.

Massage Parlor Outreach Project Holds Third Annual Vigil for 2021 Atlanta Shootings

by Amanda Ong

On March 16 from 9 to 11 a.m. in Hing Hay Park, the Massage Parlor Outreach Project (MPOP) will be hosting its third annual vigil commemorating the eight lives lost in a shooting in Atlanta on March 17, 2021. Those killed were Soon Chung Park, Suncha Kim, Yong Yue, Hyun Jung Grant, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez, and Paul Andre Michels. Six of those lost were Asian women and massage parlor workers. 

MPOP was formed in 2018 in response to the series of raids that happened on parlors in Chinatown, due to assumptions that massage parlor workers were the victims of sex trafficking. Rachel Sun, who runs communications at MPOP, says that without negating human trafficking as an issue, this assumption is not true and can be very harmful to massage parlor workers, their jobs, and their livelihoods. Aside from events like the vigil, MPOP connects workers to local resources, assists with language access, and provides political education and other training to increase community safety.

“We support massage workers at the intersection of gender, class, and racial violence,” Sun said in an interview with the South Seattle Emerald.

MPOP’s first and, so far, largest vigil was held immediately after the shootings in March of 2021. As a massage and sex worker support organization, it reacted immediately to the event to create a space for mourning and grief among the Asian community in Seattle. For its second vigil last year, two massage parlor workers wrote and shared their reflections. 

This year, however, will have a slightly different format. A week prior to the actual vigil, MPOP hosted an art session specifically for massage parlor workers to create speeches and poetry and reflections to be presented at the vigil.

“There’s going to be 25 workers there, and we’re also going to have people from other organizations, like flower flower,” Sun said. “There’ll be a space for them to journal, and we will also create a space for discussion. … Following the journaling session, we want to transition into art creation.”

The art activities included painting, postcards, love letters, collages, and more. These art pieces will be displayed at the vigil in an effort to center massage parlor workers and their reflections. The vigil will also include a moment of silence; music; the reading of a collective statement from MPOP; and speeches from organizations like API Chaya and ChuMinh Tofu’s “The Eggrolls” and from artist and activist Emi Koyama, with language interpretation available.

“That sense of togetherness that you get when you’re all in one place, it doesn’t feel as lonely when you have a lot of people grieving in the same space,” Sun said. “It’s also a place where CID can build community together. Every single time there’s an event going on in Hing Hay [Park], the elders always come out, and they always ask questions and approach us with genuine curiosity. It’s really energizing to see.”

MPOP and other attendees gathered an array of flowers to honor the lives lost in Atlanta for their first vigil in 2021, directly after the shooting that took the lives of eight people, including six Asian massage parlor workers. (Photo: Melissa Ponder)

Even among the Asian American community, massage parlor work is often stigmatized. Sun says that raising class consciousness has been a huge effort on their part in reaching the community. In what has been difficult for many to make sense of, shootings this year in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, which will also be reflected upon at the vigil, were both instances of Asian American shooters targeting other Asian Americans. The Half Moon Bay shooting took place at a farm where the shooter had been working in deplorable conditions. The shooting itself was, in fact, a burst of class violence. Violence against Asian Americans has mounted in the past few years, and Sun points out that while this violence has become increasingly difficult to reckon with, there is certainly some understanding to be gained in class consciousness.

“This is all so deeply intersectional,” Sun said. “I feel like some people, depending on their background, choose to only see one part of the violence that happens. But we’re all in this oppressive system, and how do we break out of it together? … When something horrendous like this happens, think about your own positionality and what actions you can take to make an impact.”

While the event will take place in the CID, massage parlors, and particularly Asian-owned massage parlors, are spread throughout South Seattle. Sun says it is these South Seattle Asian-owned massage parlors that are the most frequently criminalized and cracked down on. Massage parlor workers are a part of the South Seattle community, she says, and with that comes the need for space to grieve.

“Come to the vigil,” Sun said. “It’ll be a great opportunity to engage in conversations about things that are difficult and that you might not have space for and your daily lives.”

Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.

📸 Featured Image: Community members delivered speeches and reflections at the first Massage Parlor Outreach Project (MPOP) vigil that honored those slain in the Atlanta massage parlor killings in 2021. This year, a few community organizations will speak in addition to reflections shared by massage parlor workers. (Photo: Melissa Ponder)

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