Hundreds of demonstrators, of different races, religions and backgrounds, came together to protest the recent anti-Asian attacks in the nation. Their chants rang loud, protesting violence that has shaken a nation to its core.
"Racism is a virus, you cannot divide us. Who keeps us safe? We keep us safe. Ain’t no power like the power of the people 'cause the power of the people don’t stop," the protestors chanted.
In Mesa on Saturday, protestors wearing masks and holding signs marched in Mesa’s Asian business district to support the Asian American Pacific Islander community in response to the rising anti-Asian hate crimes and shooting in Atlanta last Tuesday which killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent.
“Because I was in the front, I couldn’t really see how far back we were going, but man, when we turned that corner and I looked back and there were still people where we started, I was like — how did this happen?” said Jenny Poon, a board member of the Arizona Asian Chamber of Commerce and CEO of CO+HOOTS who helped organize the speakers for the event. “It was incredible, and it was all because our community came together. Not just our community, but the Black and brown, Indigenous and even our white allies."
The march began at Mekong Plaza and ended at the Arizona International Marketplace where a vigil was then held. Protestors held various signs that read “Hate is a virus," "Stop Asian hate" and “I am not: a virus, your fetish, your model minority.”
“Our young people are breaking that Asian mold of staying quiet because we can’t be quiet anymore. Collectively, we do make up more than them, them being the oppressors and whomever else is against us,” said Minnie Acero, 53, who worked as a nurse and in real estate. “And we need to show that we’re breaking that mold and we’re doing it generationally speaking because they’re attacking us generationally from our grandparents to our sons and daughters.”
At the vigil, Thea Eigo, director of administration for the Asian/Asian Pacific American Students' Coalition read the poem “A New National Anthem” by Ada Limón with her sister Willa Eigo.
“It was just a really great opportunity to be able to to have a moment to, even though we were just reading a poem and we weren’t telling our own stories, through art and all these different things tell our own stories and so it was really powerful to get up there and to everyone,” said Thea Eigo, a sophomore studying women and gender studies.
Speakers and participants from a variety of backgrounds celebrated in solidarity with the AAPI community. Organizers and leaders from the Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro chapter and Hispanic community spoke about the shared oppression across all marginalized groups in the U.S. A Navajo community member, who introduced himself as Arrow, sang songs in Diné Bizaad.
“White supremacy has pitted our communities against each other,” said Zara, an organizer with BLM Phoenix Metro. “It is the same white supremacist system that blames Asian folks for corona, the same system that kills Black people and that fetishizes your women and disrespects your men.”
ASU students who are not a part of the AAPI community also came out to show their support against the recent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.
“I’m Middle Eastern so I’ve had to experience a lot of racism myself, too, so it hurts so much to see other people in your community going through things like this,” said Helya Khalighy, a sophomore studying business law. “I have a lot of Asian people in my life who I love so dearly, but even if I didn’t, Asian people still deserve rights, Asian people still deserve to be here, Asian people shouldn't feel unsafe when they leave their house."
White allies came to show their support as well.
“I think it’s really important to listen to the Asian American community as well as other people of color and learn from them. I haven’t personally experienced them, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t listen and support them,” said Angelicafawn Kemp-Shaw, a sophomore studying social work.
Other speakers who shared personal experiences of racism and of family immigration histories to the U.S. included Shela Yu, a Phoenix-based artist whose parents emigrated from Taiwan.
Yu teared up as she recalls staying silent when her coach in high school fetishized Yu based on her race, and she drew attention to how the shooting in Atlanta is a result of the fetishization of Asian American women.
“I would feel so sick having to go to school everyday if I thought I had to encounter someone who made me uncomfortable." Khalighy said.
Odeen Domingo, president of CO+HOOTS, shared a poem at the vigil in memory of Juanito Falcon, a 74 year old Filipino immigrant who was killed from head injuries in an unprovoked attack while walking in Glendale on Feb. 16. At the vigil, participants were also encouraged to light three strands of incense, offer a prayer, wish the dead well and put the incense into the sand at the altar.
“When they talked about the 74-year-old man who was killed here, it really hit me because it made me think of my dad. Even though he’s not an Asian American, thinking about someone who’s older being hurt just because of their race really affected me." Kemp-Shaw said.
“There was a lot of frustration that no matter what we do, no matter how many years we’ve been here, no matter how many generations and no matter how much work we’ve put into building this great nation, you almost get this feeling that we’re never American enough," said Vicente Reid, CEO of the Arizona Asian Chamber of Commerce. "Looking at my children, I’m doing everything for them and future generations to ensure that they don’t have to go through the same thing."
Crow's response to anti-Asian attacks
The ASU Asian/Asian Pacific American Students' Coalition released a statement following Tuesday's shooting in Atlanta in solidarity with the victims, stating that "the AAPI community has faced a rise in discrimination and violence due to the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year, but we recognize that this is not a new issue."
AAPASC also called on ASU administration and President Michael Crow to “speak on this attack and the overall rise of xenophobia, racism, and violence that the AAPI community is facing.”
Soon thereafter, on March 19, Crow released a statement that met AAPASC's demands, condemning the recent violence against Asian American communities. In a prior statement in March 2020, the president did not specifically condemned violent actions against Asian American communities, which frustrated AAPASC.
“We also must continue to confront and condemn hate crimes, racist behavior, discrimination and gender violence and attacks — in all forms and wherever found — and hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions. We do that now and will intensify our efforts to advance our institution and our community as one that is truly equal,” Crow wrote in his most recent statement.
For Thea Eigo, Crow's statement signaled a positive sign of support and progress from ASU's administration.
“I think it felt like a win in general for him to put out the statement, especially so quickly, and to specifically call out the AAPI community. I think that his statement did address a lot of the different things that we had said in our statement as well," Thea said.
Saturday's events follows last weeks anti-Asian hate crime march in Chandler and vigil at the State Capitol. Alexander Enriquez, a sophomore studying economics, emphasized that advocating for ending anti-Asian hate crimes shouldn’t stop with these protests.
“I think that going forward, it’s important to put words into actions. We should be making strides to start tearing down systems of oppression, not just reforming the systems of oppression. As the next generation, we should be looking toward not just reforming, but restructuring,” Enriquez said.
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