DORAVILLE, Ga. – Signs switch from English to Mandarin, Vietnamese, Korean, and more as the Buford Highway traverses one of the most diverse locations in all of Georgia.
In a state where less than 5% of its residents are entirely Asian, according to the US Census, Doraville’s figure is around 16% – and many of them have made their homes along this freeway off Interstate 85, which transformed from a settlement for immigrants to a vibrant community of Asian and Hispanic small businesses.
The rampage Tuesday night at three Atlanta area spas that killed eight people, including six women of Asian origin, appalled a nation already plagued by an increase in hate incidents against Asian Americans. It put a chill through the restaurants, grocery stores, and other businesses in Pinetree Plaza and Asian Square on the Buford Highway.
Sue Huey of New Image Salon received a text from her daughter in San Francisco asking her not to open her shop the next day.
“She worries about me, I worry about her too,” said Huey.
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Shuai Yang, co-owner of LanZhou Ramen, who was already worried about his family’s safety when anti-Asian rhetoric increased on social media and incidents of violence from California to New York increased, grew more anxious for his wife and himself Daughters.
H massage closed for the night.
Many of the shops on Buford Highway have been here for decades, and the owners have built a community for themselves and their children. And they went back to work Wednesday morning, stunned by the terrible violence that was taking place on Piedmont Road in Atlanta about 10 miles away.
Huey opened her front door on business. H massage too.
“Don’t let fear surprise you,” said Jane Christian, who works at H Massage, “because you get stuck in the rut for a long time.”
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When news of the shootings in Doraville surfaced on Tuesday evening, Wendy Yang was immediately afraid – especially since she works at Yini Massage, a spa similar to the three who were attacked in the gunman’s rampage.
She said her staff suggested bringing a gun to work for safety reasons. However, their fears were soon allayed when Doraville police officers arrived with news that the suspect Robert Aaron Long had been arrested by law enforcement.
Long, 21, from Woodstock, Georgia, was charged with eight murders. The worker recently on leave told police he bought a 9mm pistol on the day of the shooting and used it in a rampage for massage parlors he was visiting as a customer. He told investigators that he was targeting the spas because he was a sex addict and wanted to “eliminate” the businesses that fueled his sexual compulsions.
Even so, Long’s capture didn’t ease all worries.
Huey continued what she had already practiced – she locked the doors of her salon and didn’t go out alone at night.
LanZhou Ramens Yang feared for his wife and two school-age daughters. “As for me, I’m not really that concerned, but I’m really worried about your safety, that’s the most important thing,” he said.
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Doraville Police Department helped ease tension and dispatched officers to shops and restaurants on the Buford Highway to review the welfare of the city’s Asian community.
The police were not alone in their solidarity: the day after the shooting, Doraville City Council passed a resolution condemning violence across Atlanta.
The resolution says in part: “We all have more to do to put an end to violence and hatred”.
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Here on the Buford Highway, reactions to Tuesday night violence were as varied as in the community itself. While some are more fearful now than others, they all share the same hope for a better future.
Over time, Huey hopes that violence and hatred will subside. “I think it will pass,” she said.
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Wendy Yang of Yini Massage is determined not to let this one “crazy” person change their interactions with clients or worry about something that is out of their control.
“I’ll be nice, but I know some people [are] crazy. I can’t control it, ”she said.
And Shuai Yang, the co-owner of the ramen restaurant, had a simple request: Don’t be a spectator of racism and violence.
“Right now,” he said, “it’s time for us to speak up.”
Featuring: Jane Mo, USA TODAY