Asian Americans at DC rally call for multiracial solidarity

WASHINGTON DC — About 15,000 people gathered June 25 at the National Mall here for the first-ever Unity March, organized to bring attention to the dramatic spike in hate crimes against the Asian Pacific Islander community.

Cheerful young crowds gathered outside the Capitol building in the sweltering humidity of a DC summer day. Recalling the Supreme Court’s decision a day earlier, many men and women carried handmade signs equating reproductive rights with civil rights for the AAPI community. Others had added handwritten statements about freedom of reproduction to preprinted signs.

The overall theme of the rally — echoed by many speakers on stage — was the hope that what Americans share in common is greater than what divides us. More than 40 organizations, representing the full spectrum of AAPI sub-ethnicities, hosted the midday event, led by APIAVote and Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

MSNBC news anchor Richard Liu hosted part of the four-hour event, which can be watched in its entirety online.

Over the past three years, the web portal Stop AAPI Hate has recorded over 11,000 incidents of verbal harassment, physical violence and intimidation targeting AAPI people. More than two-thirds of assaults are directed against women.

The afternoon put many human faces on the anti-Asian hate crime statistics. Several speakers have themselves been victims of hate crimes or have lost family members in hate-motivated attacks.

“White supremacy has taken over our American lives. Asian Americans are fighting for our God-given rights simply to exist,” said Reverend Yena Hwang, one of the few female Korean ministers ordained to serve in the Presbyterian Church.

Filmmaker Pardeep Kaleka recalled the morning of August 5, 2012, when outspoken white supremacist Wade Michael Page stormed the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, as Sunday morning prayers were held. Page killed six people, including temple founder Satwant Singh Kaleka, Pardeep’s father.

Satwant Singh Kaleka confronted Page during the massacre and tried to stop him from going to the kitchen, where the women prepared the daily feast known as the langar.

“My father’s last words were a prayer: he was not praying for himself. He prayed for all of us,” Kaleka said.

New York resident Esther Lee was verbally abused and spat on when she refused to engage in a fist bump with a man as she boarded the subway. Her attacker called her a “miserable, fucking carrier,” an accusation often leveled against the Asian American community since the start of the pandemic. None of the other subway passengers stepped in to help Lee.

“It was 57 seconds of pure terror,” she said.

Lee went straight to the police station to file a complaint, but was told her case was not a hate crime. Police told her she shouldn’t have filmed the incident and blamed her for setting off her attacker.

Robbyn Lewis, Member of the Maryland House of Delegates, broke up a hate crime while performing at Union Station in Washington DC. An Asian woman was harassed by a man on a bicycle. “I was born in Maryland,” the woman shouted, as the attacker escalated his taunts.

“I had to do something,” Lewis said. “I was scared, but how could I not?” She confronted the attacker, who turned his venom back on her, calling her a “bitch” and other rude names.

“I put my body between the woman and this man,” Lewis said. “While he was spinning, I was spinning too. I had a terrible feeling that he was going to reach up and hit her.

As he left, the man spat in Lewis’s face. The politician called the police: spitting on someone is a crime. Federal prosecutors are working to identify the incident as a hate crime.

“I think about that and how many times women are harassed, and they’re completely aalone,” Lewis said.

Gareth and Fe Hall shared the tragedy of their only child, Christian, who was killed by police aged 19. The Halls adopted Christian from China when he was just one year old. “He totally embraced all the races around him. He told people he was black, Filipino, Chinese American,” said Gareth Hall, who is Black. Christian dreamed of becoming a rap star.

But the youngster has struggled with his mental health, joining his peers in what is often referred to as the phantom pandemic of youth mental health crises. On December 30, 2020, Christian experienced a severe bout of suicidal ideation. His parents called 911. Soldiers from Pennsylvania shot Christian, justifying their actions by stating that Christian was carrying a weapon.

“The very people who were supposed to protect my son killed him instead,” said Fe Hall, who is Filipina.

Komal Chohan paid tribute to his grandmother, Amarjeet Kaur Johal, who was one of nine people killed when 19-year-old Brandon Scott Hole opened fire at a FedEx Ground facility in Indianapolis, Indiana on April 15, 2021 Four of Hole’s victims were Sikhs.

“It was a wake-up call for me that we had to take the fight into our own hands,” Chohan said, noting that she and others in their 20sorganized to fight against hatred. “We didn’t feel safe in the place we called home, a fear that many Asian Americans have faced, and we feel like no one is listening.”

Many speakers referred to pioneering activist Helen Zia, who co-founded American Citizens for Justice shortly after Detroit, Michigsan auto plant worker Vincent Chin was beaten to death with a baseball bat by two white men . Zia spoke briefly during the march, via video.

“We are walking here where so many have already walked in the fight for justice. For too long, our communities have been pitted against each other, fighting over the crumbs that are thrown at us,” Zia said.

Ethnic Media Services

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