A year ago today in New York City, Christina Yuna Lee was murdered after being followed into her Chinatown apartment. And just a month prior to her passing, Michelle Alyssa Go was shoved in front of an oncoming subway train in Times Square.
I never knew Christina or Michelle. But I was shaken by their deaths.
I am Korean American, like Christina, and I was born a year after Michelle. Like them, I made New York City my home. Like them, I loved the city – the best city on the planet, I still say unironically – and I loved the life I built there. For years I used to walk the streets and ride the subway daily and at all hours, including to my job as the chief legal advisor for the city on sanctuary city policies during the Trump years.
I came to work in public service by way of a loss of my own. When I was 17, my dad was self-employed and uninsured when he was diagnosed with cancer. He spent most of his illness on a couch in our living room, and one of his few hospital visits happened the week before he died. A month after his funeral I started college. I was stranded on the other side of the country, in a city I had never seen before, where I knew no one.
Two things made surviving my own grief possible. One was time. The other was learning that what my family and I had gone through was not unique and not our fault. My dad was one of 50 million people in the country without health insurance at the time, because of policy decisions made by people in power over decades.
I started my career in policy on a personal crusade for universal health coverage because it made sense of a loss in my life and gave me a purpose. Now, more than twenty years later, I spend my days developing policy for Stop AAPI Hate and AAPI Equity Alliance. I’ve watched as Christina, Michelle, and others have become a call to action for entire communities reeling from the rise of anti-Asian hate during the pandemic. I’m uneasy about how symbolism can erase the specificity of a person’s life, as they become a projection of our hopes and fears. I also see how turning tears of grief into a rallying cry can make an otherwise excruciating pain, endurable.
I never knew Christina or Michelle, and I will never know them. But, in the words of Michelle’s father, Justin Go, upon the one year anniversary of her murder, “Michelle should be remembered for how she lived, not for how she died.” For ten years, Michelle volunteered and advocated for the homeless while working as a senior manager for Deloitte Consulting. Meanwhile, Christina championed for AAPI representation as a creative producer, leading diversity and inclusion causes at her company. Her legacy lives on with The Christina Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting causes that were important to her.
I remember Christina Yuna Lee and Michelle Alyssa Go for how they lived their lives, full of love, connection, and service. For in these ways whatever meaning we lose in death we find for ourselves in life.
— Candice Cho, Managing Director of Policy and Counsel at AAPI Equity Alliance