'Don't let this experience define your life.' Japanese-American woman heals after violent assault
The past two years have seen a dramatic increase in hate crimes directed at Asians and Asian-Americans, but we haven’t heard a lot from the victims. Here’s one woman’s story of the attack that changed her life.
Noriko Nasu is 44 years old. She was born in Japan, and she now teaches Japanese to high school students in the Northshore School District. She’s also a serious hiker. Every year she takes a group of her students to Japan. One year they decided to hike to the top of Mt. Fuji.
“It’s a serious mountain. It’s as high as Mount Adams in Washington state. So I was like, ‘We need to train.’”
So every weekend, rain or shine, or snow, Nasu trained with students on local trails. But when they finally arrived at Mt. Fuji, there was a typhoon.
They made it to the summit.
The school community was shocked by what happened to Nasu in late February.
As she was parking in the International District in Seattle, she noticed a guy across the street.
“He looked at me and he just basically kept staring at me,” she said.
As Nasu parked her car, the man crossed the street somewhere behind her.
Her boyfriend came outside to meet her, and they were taking something out of the car when she was attacked.
“I just felt this huge impact on my face. I heard this noise hitting the bones on my face and then next thing, I was on the ground,” she said.
“All I could feel was my mask was filling up with blood and I couldn't breathe because it was full of blood. I was just thinking, ‘Why am I bleeding and why are my teeth broken?’”
Nasu’s boyfriend, who is white, confronted the attacker, at which point he was also assaulted.
Nasu suffered a fractured nose, broken teeth and a concussion. Her boyfriend also had a concussion and needed eight stitches.
At first, they believed the attack was an attempted robbery. But then they saw footage from a nearby security camera.
“We could see that the guy was closer to my boyfriend, but he avoided him, went around him to hit me,” she said. “After I went down, you could see in the video he was going to walk away. He came back just because my boyfriend started yelling at him.”
That’s why Nasu thinks this was a hate crime directed against her because she is Asian-American.
Sean Holdip, a 41-year-old former EMT in New York, was arrested one week after the incident. He was charged with two counts of assault. Prosecutors said they didn't have enough evidence to charge him with a hate crime. Holdip is now in King County jail awaiting trial.
After the attack, Nasu’s community rallied around her. Dentists offered free teeth repairs. Students sent cards and flowers. Her colleagues organized a meal train. “There are people who I’ve never even heard of who are dropping off dinner. Which is I think amazing,” she said.
Many of Nasu’s physical wounds have now healed. But she still suffers from neurological symptoms, like extreme fatigue. She gets migraines and dizziness when she looks at bright lights. Doctors have diagnosed her with a traumatic brain injury.
Nasu had to cancel a planned hike of the Wonderland trail this year. And on doctor’s orders, she won’t be teaching in the fall. But she’s staying positive.
“A lot of people say, ‘I hope you don't lose faith in humanity.’ But this experience actually made me realize there's a lot to appreciate. It actually helped restore faith in humanity in a way. You just don't know how loved you are or how important you are to other people,” she said.
Nasu said in the wake of the rise in assaults against Asian Americans, it's easy to believe that people don’t want her here, or that they hate her.
“But it's just this one person. Don't let this experience define your life," she said.
Nasu says she will do the Wonderland Trail, and she will climb Mt. Rainier someday. Maybe not this year, but she says the mountains are not going to go away.