EVENTS | ACTIVISM
On March 16, 2021, a 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long went into three different spas in the Atlanta area and murdered eight people with a gun. Six of them were Asian women. Hate crimes against Asian Americans are not new by any means, but anti-Asian sentiment rose precipitously after ex-president Donald Trump used a racially charged hashtag (#chinesevirus) and continued using anti-Asian rhetoric throughout the pandemic. Just a month after being acquitted in his second impeachment for inciting the Capitol Hill riot, his nation-dividing orange spirit lives on.
On March 21, New Yorkers took to the streets demanding that anti-Asian hate crimes be stopped and that the Atlanta shootings be officially recognized as hate crimes. What further fueled the protesters’ anger was sheriff spokesperson Jay Baker’s statement that the shootings were based on the shooter’s supposed sex addiction (AKA fetish) and that the shooter was having a “bad day.”
A crowd of speakers and protesters assembled at Union Square, later moving on to Columbus Park in the heart of Chinatown. See what the protesters and the first Asian American NYC mayor hopeful Andrew Yang had to say below.
Spica Wobbe & Uncle John
Spica Wobbe: This is something everybody should participate in. The violence, the hatred, and racism have been around in this country for too long. What happened in Georgia is just the tip of the iceberg. I think everybody should show their concern and should try to end it together as a community, as a society. This is too much, we cannot take this anymore.
John Wobbe (Spica’s husband): We personally know people who have been attacked. A couple of months ago there was a woman whose face got punched in, she had to go through reconstructive surgery.
Spica Wobbe: There is no reason for people to do that. I think that all of the hatred is coming from the wrong propaganda, the ideas. I think that we should change it by doing this [protesting] and education as well. We should teach our children and even adults that hate doesn’t make us grow, hate will only destroy us. We should change our attitude, have an open mind, and have our community as one, not separately. That’s the only way we can survive.
I’m from China and I’ve been doing PHD research here for the past six years. Even before I came here I saw on the Chinese news about hate crimes and the suppression of Black people in the US. In the few years that I’ve lived here I’ve seen so much more hate crimes on the local and national news. Now it’s getting wilder and wilder and I think it’s time to stand together and try to make some change.
Michele Wong McSween & Family
Michele: I’m here because I have to stand up to this ongoing racism. I brought my family and I wanted to show them that we need to stand with other Asian Americans to fight for our rights and to show them that we have to band together to stop the community and nation from marginalizing us, taking advantage of us, from casting us aside and using us for whatever role they need us to be, whether we are the “model minority” or whether we are not a minority, because we didn’t need help because “all Asians are successful.” No, we cannot be whatever anybody wants us to be and I’m tired of it and I want my kids to see that there are all these people that feel the same way as us. We should not be feeling the same way anymore. I want them to be proud of their culture and I want them to see that everyone here is standing together and we are all unified in showing our pride and how we can come together to hopefully make a change. It’s long overdue.
Stevie, Michele, Walker, Harry and Steve
SWK: Can you explain what the term “model minority” means and why it can be so toxic?
Michele: It’s just unfairly placed on us, where we are seen as high achieving, highly educated, we are respectful, we are polite, we do the right thing. There are so many Asians that don’t have the same resources. I think there’s 40% of Asians [25% is the actual number] living in poverty in New York City. What kind of model minority is that? They are suffering, they are struggling but yet nobody knows about them. They only know about Crazy Rich Asians, or other movies that portray Asians in a certain light. Granted there are some that are like that. I’m a fourth-generation Chinese-American, I was always taught “Just work hard, just do the right thing, don’t make a fuss, don’t rock the boat, keep your head down, just work hard, don’t draw attention to yourself.” Well I am tired of that and I don’t want my kids to feel that way, I want them to feel empowered to speak up. I want them to feel like they have every right to achieve whatever they want and no one can tell them otherwise. And I’m also very sick of not seeing Asians of being pushed in the heads of businesses and organizations. Our representation is abysmal.
SWK (to Michele’s eldest son Walker): What is your opinion on what is currently happeningas someone from a young generation?
Walker: I’m thinking about mine and my brothers’ futures. I’m coming out here to support and create a more welcoming community for the youngsters.
Vivian Sun (middle)
We just want to show support to our community and the Black community. This is a solidarity protest. I think it’s very meaningful that there is a dialogue and there is a conversation. It’s not a surprise that there has been some kind of bias and prejudice within our own community. There has always been a struggle to reconcile our differences. With Trump, he made everything so much worse, he almost pitted everyone against each other. I think there is a huge misunderstanding.
Every time we walk around we don’t feel that safe anymore, because people now feel okay to come up to us and tell us out loud, “Go back to China.” This is something that makes us very uncomfortable. We have been living here a long long time, we all are citizens. We don’t want people to judge us by our face. Racism has always been there and it’s getting so much worse, it’s so sad. There has been so much pain for Black people too since last year, since forever. It’s a huge problem and I think at least we should be united against white supremacy and against racism.
What brings me here today is all the Asian hate crimes happening all over the country. I feel like we need to take a stand and we need to have our voices heard. We’ve been invisible for too long and that’s why I’m here with this movement [Stop Asian Hate] and in solidarity with the Black Lives movement. I see a lot of companies taking a lot of performative posts and it’s annoying on our end because we don’t see any change within your company but we see you posting all these Black and Asian Lives Matter posts. And it’s annoying. I’m fed up with it and I really wanna take a stand to that. I want people not only to just post but also decide to take action with their posts.
I just immigrated here two years ago. I really love America and its culture. I’m also one of the LGBT groups. I love this environment but honestly I really don’t buy this slogan, it just says “Stop Asian Hate.” I think it’s so weak, it’s like when someone bullies you and you just passively say “Stop.” I don’t really buy it. I really love the Black Lives Matter slogan – it gives people emotion to connect to.
Last month it was a spring festival that’s really important for us Chinese. We were all supposed to sit down and have dinner but my roommate’s mom disappeared for the whole day. We were so worried about her, we weren’t just worried about where she went, we worried about her life. That’s our Asian mom, we all call her mom. It’s not about hate, because I can hate you, you can hate me, but we don’t do the crime. But now it’s not just about the hate, it’s about the hate crime. You can hate me, you can disagree with me, but you don’t slash me, you don’t bully me.
Every time I go out, I pass by the subway station, I get really scared. Now I have to dress myself like a punk or a jerk so that nobody thinks “she’s weak.” I need to look strong to protect myself. We are going to change this. We are going to stop the killings, we are going to stop Asian moms disappearing, we are going to stop Asian elders’ lives being threatened.
I really don’t get why the United States became this. All the politicians always blame China. You always blame others! Also another slogan is “Racism is a virus, hate is a virus,” [scoffs] It’s so ridiculous because we got the vaccine right now. The vaccine doesn’t cure the virus, so who’s going to cure the racism and the hate? We don’t have a vaccine for that.
Some people say, “I’m an Asian American, I’m not Chinese,” you just bullshit! They always tell any Asian face, “You are Chinese, go back to China.” When they see an Asian face they think you are Chinese. They don’t know the difference. You try to protect yourself and your Asian face, but it doesn’t really matter if you are Chinese, Korean, or Japanese – it’s your face, your color. Don’t just separate yourself saying I’m not Chinese. Why not Chinese? We all could be Chinese. We are human and we all should be untied.
If someone slashes me I will slash back, if someone says fuck you I will fuck you back. It now needs to stop. I can fight back. It’s not about stopping something, it’s about fighting back.
Alina & Leon
I came from China, but my son was born in America. I saw the Atlanta news and it’s shocking for every Asian person. One time there was this person who threw a bottle of water at me and told me to go back to China. I made a decision for myself to bring my son today. I want to show all the people: stop hating Asians. My son is in school and the teacher would tell them about Black Lives Matter but I always told him that all lives matter. Before this, Black people died by police and this time Asian person died by the white person, and I heard that Atlanta’s police said something that’s not good for us Asians. He said that that guy had a bad day, no. On your bad day you can’t shoot anyone else. That’s why I took my son here to show him this. My son is a more silent person, so I told him, we don’t have to speak on things, we can just show up together with other people.
Calvin Hunt & Richard Kirkpatrick
Calvin Hunt with son
Calvin: What brings us here today is gentrification. We are all God’s creatures, we are all created equal. So we just out here to support our brothers and sisters. We are all the same. All lives matter, Black Lives Matter, Asian lives matter, and we are here to support Asian community as human beings, as God’s creatures. It’s that simple.
Richard: We are just sick and tired of the hate. We are tired of the hate. Enough is enough. It comes in all colors, we are like a box of crayons – we come in different colors, it’s all about love not hate.
Romey & Lolenzo
Romey: I’m Asian so I wanted to stand up for this cause. I want to bring awareness to anti-Asian crimes that have been rising up so far.
Lolenzo: I’m Black and Latino, I came here to support him. He’s my boyfriend. We go through the same discrimination as well, so it’s only right for me to come and support my partner.
Cassandra Schriffen & Irene Ippolito
Cassandra: I’m a teacher in NYC and I’ve been teaching in NYC for about 50 years and I am here because 40 years ago when I was teaching in Manhattan on an integration transfer, the Asian students in my school fought for my right to teach in Manhattan. So I am here today to support their right to walk.
My hope is that we don’t see each other’s color, that we just see each other’s heart and that we can all live in peace in our beautiful city.
Irene: I’m here just to show solidarity with the other people that are standing out here today against hate and ignorance. Our country is gotta do better. We are stronger because of our diversity and we just have to stand up and say, “We are stronger together, we need each other, we need to go forward together, we are all American, we are all human beings and this hatred and this ignorance is just unacceptable.”
I think we have to have hope. The young people give me hope, the younger generation gives me hope. I’ve seen so many young activists that are really taking a lead and I hope the younger generation has their heads in tighter.
SWK: Why do you think the younger generation is so active in protesting and speaking out against what’s wrong?
Irene: That’s a good question. I don’t know if part of it is social media maybe, because they grew up with more diversity than the older generation. Maybe that has a lot to do with it, but I’ve just been blown away with the younger generation that I’ve been talking to and I am here to support them.
I’ve been hearing in the recent news that older Asians are being attacked and the hate against Asian Americans is getting out of control. I feel like I really had to come here today to say something. I had to spread the message about not just keeping our heads down, but fighting back. It is really important especially if our life is threatened and our elders are being attacked. We have to stand together and fight back against this type of attack. It’s just not acceptable.
I’m from Seoul, South Korea. I came here when I was 10 years old so I’ve lived here for more than 25 years. I grew up in Virginia, I did experience racism in high school. A bunch of C words thrown in my face, “Chink go back to China.” I moved to New York almost 3 years ago. I really love the diversity here, but it’s just so sad that those racist attacks are happening. I think it’s important no matter what color you are to unite and fight back.
What’s shameful and scary is that the police officer was defending the offender saying he had a “bad day.” It was also later revealed that that police officer posted a racist shirt on his Twitter. How crazy is this? How can we trust law officials that have to protect their citizens?
Linda & Ginger
Ginger: We are here in support of fighting and ending racism and in the wake of all the increase of Asian-American violence. It really just moved us to be here and try to make a difference and try to encourage change in the society.
Linda: I think these crimes really hit home these recent past weeks just because things are happening in Chinatown where we feel like we belong and where our parents came to feel like they belong. And now there are basically predators out there going against us, killing us. We are here for any type of racism, not just anti-Asian crimes, any racist crimes.
Hello, New York City. How beautiful are we? This truly is the most incredible assemblage of beautiful Asian and Black and brown and white human beings I have seen in quite some time. First, let’s give another round of applause to my soulmate, my rock, the true rock star in our family, my wife Evelyn. Many of you know that Evelyn herself was the victim of sexual assaults by her doctor and I found that out a number of years ago and it ate me up. I felt like I failed her as a husband and she went through it for a period alone. And then we shared it as a family and then years later she had an opportunity to potentially share that pain, her story, with the world.
And as her husband, I was just awestruck by the courage for her to even consider that. Consider something so deeply personal and I wanted to be supportive at every stage as her husband. I said, “Baby like whatever you want to do. I’m a hundred percent behind you.” But I will let you all know in my heart of hearts. I wanted to get that fucking guy really bad.
After my incredible wife came forward, another 40 women came forward and that doctor now is up on federal charges and he’ll never hurt another woman ever again. So that story unfortunately is something of a precursor to what our community has experienced over the last number of days and the last number of weeks and months. It has been staggering to see the racism against our community morph and metastasize into something dark and virulent and increasingly dangerous. I remember when I first felt it, it was a little more than a year ago today you all probably remember it too, remember that first time when you actually got that extra glance, glare, animosity, on the streets here in New York, raise your hand if you remember that. Oh, we all remember that don’t we?
First you’re thinking, “Okay. Maybe that was just that one person. Maybe it was just in my head.” But then you kept experiencing it and then you’re like, “No this is not in my head.” And then the first time you saw on video an elderly Asian woman shoved brutally to the ground or someone spat on or someone punched or beaten. Then you thought to yourself, “This is real.” Raise your hand if you remember that too. Oh, we all remember that. We all remember that and we hoped in our hearts that it would stay at that level, that it would stay, just the spitting and dehumanization, on that level. But we feared that this day would come, we feared that some of our people would be shot for no other reason than their race. And unfortunately that is exactly what occurred last week in Atlanta. And I’ve said to anyone who would listen, it is madness to question a 21-year-old lunatic as to his motivations when we can see clear as day that this was a hate crime, am I right New York City?
Everyone who is Asian American knows that these women were targeted on the basis of their race, that if you go to an Asian-owned business in an Asian community and you open the door, you know exactly who you’re going to find, you know, exactly who you’re going to murder in this case. And as Evelyn said, we spent weeks in Atlanta, Georgia, making the case among the Asian-American community, that we needed to invest in our future, that we needed to get out and vote.
Andrew Yang with wife Evelyn Yang
And so it was deeply personal seeing these women’s stories. I actually imagine, as I know Evelyn did, like was there a chance that we met them when we were out among the community knocking on doors, speaking in plazas? The Asian-American community in Atlanta, if you have not been, it is amazing. I was blown away. I went down to Atlanta trying to make the case for Reverend Warnock and Jon Ossoff who won and got Chuck Schumer to become Senate Majority Leader. And as Evelyn said, the entire country has many people to thank for that, but among them it is the Asian-American voters of the state of Georgia, Asian Americans are 4.7% of the vote there. Do you think that did not make a difference in an election where there was a one percent margin and Asian Americans went two to one for the Democrats?
Protester: You did the math.
Andrew Yang: I did do the math. It’s true. So spending time in Atlanta and then seeing the racism against our community become this murderous, this dark, has been very painful for all of us. It’s been devastating and heartbreaking for so many of us.
And the question is, are we going to make this mean something to our families, our community and the country? Are we going to make these women’s lives and passings mean something? Are we going to make them mean something, New York City?
We need to take this opportunity to let people know that Asian Americans are here to stay, Asian Americans are just as American as everyone else. Asian Americans are just as human as everyone else.
And I do remember vividly growing up, son of immigrants here in New York State and feeling like my Americanness was being challenged at every turn – there weren’t many of us on TV. I remember I would bug my parents every time Connie Chung came on TV until eventually I got tired of it. And I want to give another shout-out to some of the Asian-American artists and creatives and creators who are here today, and we’re making the case all over the country.
When I ran for president, some of the first people that gave me the time of day, the Fung Brothers, who were right there. We know that their parents were not that excited about their career choices. The Asian-American comedians you know what I mean, it’s probably somewhere with running for office.
So we need to get behind and support our Asian-American artists and creatives as they tell their stories and ours. Am I right? That is actually part of the process of dehumanization, that is a part of the process of people seeing that we have souls, hopes, dreams, fears, struggles. We may not wear them the same way other folks do, but we have them nonetheless.
There were a number of reasons I decided to run for president, but I will confess to you all, there was one day, there were several, but one of them was that I thought I had an opportunity to make that presidential debate stage and I thought about what having an Asian-American face on that stage would mean to our community.
And then I said, you know, like that would have been a game-changer for me as a young person, as a child, seeing someone [like me] on that stage. And I didn’t just make that stage once – I made that stage seven times, beating out governors, senators, members of Congress, and our current mayor. And I did this in part to demonstrate that there are no limits to what Asian Americans can do in this country, that we are not meant to be relegated to some particular role that has been prescribed, that we can lead, we can dream.
We can help this country make sense of what is happening to it and help bring people together. When I was in Atlanta, I had the privilege of visiting Martin Luther King’s childhood home as well as the King Center with Martin Luther King’s son Martin III, and I do want to give a special shout-out also to our Black brothers and sisters who are here today and expressing solidarity with our community. We are so grateful in part because Asians are not used to people sticking up for us. Thank you.
But standing on the front stoop of Dr. King’s childhood home with his son, as he looked out at the view that he woke up to every day as a child, and his son said to me, “On the left you can see there are very affluent houses and on the right you can see that there are people who are struggling,” and Martin Luther King III said, “This is the view that inspired my father to try and address what he saw as the three evils of our time: racism, poverty, and war.” And when I ran for president on universal basic income I was the first person to say, “This is not my idea, this is an idea that Martin Luther King put forward in his 1967 book Chaos or Community.” He said we need to help humanize an economy that is turning on more and more people; it was not my idea at all. It was Dr. King’s idea.
I’m so indebted to the Black community for so much of what has happened over these last couple of years. Dr. King and his family, their vision for whatever reason has lain dormant over the last number of years and I say to folks in the Black community, “I believe we have sanitized Dr. King’s memory.” We celebrate his birthday every year and what do we see on TV and hear on the radio? “I have a dream, I have a dream. We’re going to climb the mountaintop together.” And that gives us the mistaken sense that his dream has been realized, does it not? Is it not that, “Oh he had a dream and here we are on the other side,” but Black people know better, Asian Americans know better. We all know that Dr. King’s dream has not been realized at all. And that is going to be the work of everyone here and everyone around the country to help push our society forward to a point where we recognize everyone’s intrinsic worth as a human being, as a mother, as a father, as someone who just wants to create a better life for themselves and their families. Just like the people who were killed in Atlanta wanted for themselves.
I know what I saw when I met with these people, most of them had just come to Atlanta over the last number of years and they came with better hopes for themselves and their families and to see their lives snuffed out.
So one question I’d have for us all is, what now? What are we going to do? No, we’re heartbroken. We’re angry. We want people to sense our pain, our presence, their frustration. We feel that our problems have been suppressed for so long and that we’ve been told that we don’t have it the same as other groups, just to accept our place in American life, but that’s not us at all. Is it, New York City? We are people of action, are we not? So I’m going to suggest a few things that I’m going to do as the next mayor of the greatest city in the world.
One of the first things I’m going to do is I’m going to fully fund the Asian hate crimes task force in the police. It is not an issue that you can have volunteers addressing. If crime against the community goes up 900%. You don’t say, “Oh well, let volunteers take care of that,” you dedicate resources until that problem feels like it is going down, not up.
The second thing we need to do is call a hate crime a hate crime, when a woman gets shoved to the ground in front of us all in Flushing and is disfigured. That’s a hate crime. When a man gets slashed on the subway because someone doesn’t like the look on his face. That’s a hate crime.When a woman gets acid thrown in her face in her face in Manhattan for no discernible reason, that is a hate crime. And it’s only by calling out these crimes as such that we can raise the proper level of attention and frankly prosecute them the way that they deserve, to send a message that there is no room for hate in New York City.
And the third thing we have to do is build bonds and connections with the Asian-American community here in New York, because we know you know that for every incident we’re hearing about there are two, three, five others that we will never hear about. You know that an Asian American who’s been punched, stabbed, beaten, stabbed will probably know about, but punched, spit on, and other things, is likely never to tell anyone and we have to change that. We have to start building bonds of connection with the Asian-American community to let them know that this city is their city, is ours, and I’m going to suggest to you all that one great way to do that is by electing the first Asian-American mayor in the history of New York City.
Because you know I’ll take it seriously. But these are things that frankly we can do at the public level, in this event today, is not about the public level. It’s about us each individually as human beings. And so what can we do? What we can do, and I’m going to take a page from my friend Jumaane Williams who I’ve been speaking alongside over this last number of days, what he says is, “Look, this starts with us individually. We have to take it upon ourselves to try to greet someone that we see every day that we would not have greeted otherwise,” and often those are people that are going to be unseen, that are going to seem invisible and you might surprise them initially, but over time they will start to see you as a human being that cares about them. They will start seeing themselves as human if we start to acknowledge each other and our own humanity, then we can expand what it means to be part of a community. Will you all come into greeting at least one person every day that you might not have greeted otherwise?
We can expand the sense of fellowship to include folks who right now might look different than us and might not think that they are the same but we are the same. This is one of the lessons I got from visiting. Dr. King’s birthplace.
Well then the other thing I’m going to ask of you all is this, and this is something that I had some experience with. This is the story that Noel Quintana told when he was on the New York subway. He said that he was having a dispute with this person and that it started to elevate and then eventually this person took out a box cutter and slashed his face and you’ve all seen the picture, you all know what happened to Noel, and Noel said with tears in his eyes, in an event not that different from this one, event that that was held a couple of weeks ago in Foley Square, not that far from here. Some of you were there, raise your hand if you were there. And so if you were there you remember what he said, he said with tears in his eyes, he said that there were people around and no one did anything. He said if someone even had just taken a video, then maybe we would actually have apprehended this person who right now is still free and walking the streets of New York City.
Now I’ve had some experience with this. I was in a situation where something was happening nearby me and there is not really like time to think when you’re in that situation. Like I’m not going to pretend like some people are somehow going to make different decisions, but I will say that the commitment we all have to make, this is the best way for us truly to make each other safer, is that when something is happening around you, you have to do something. I want you to reflect on this, New York City. I want you to reflect on what it’s going to feel like when you are a witness to something happening. Are you going to be the person that lets it happen or are you going to be the person that does something?
Noel Quintana has been asking that question. And that is the second commitment I’m going to ask of you all, New York City. If you see something, you have to do something – and if you do something you’ll be able to look yourself in the mirror when you get home at night and say I did everything I could to help that person.
And if you say that and you act on that and you make that commitment, then we have a real chance to rebuild from this to reshape our community, to let people know that we all have so much more in common than what divides us, that we are all human beings and that Asian Americans should feel as safe walking down the streets of New York City as anyone else in this city. We are just as New York as anyone else, we need to act on that. We need to gather together in events like this, but we need to vote. We need to make our voices heard, and if something is happening in our vicinity that we can do something about, we’re damn well gonna do something about it. Am I right New York? So let’s help each other, let’s care about each other, and rebuild our community, which will include everybody together. Thank you all so much. I love you, New York City.