USC

Vigils and rallies held across Southern California in response to Atlanta spa shootings

Asian American advocacy groups and leaders organized events to shine light on the increase in Asian hate crimes and provide a safe space for grieving.

On Saturday, nearly 2000 people congregated together on Olympic Boulevard in Koreatown, Los Angeles for a rally against Asian hate following the Atlanta Spa Shootings, an act of domestic terrorism that took the lives of eight people, four of whom were Korean American women. Forty community-based organizations were represented. Asian American icons like journalist Lisa Ling and Congress members spoke out passionately about the current state of the country.

It was an Asian American community-driven event that was of a scale seen only once before in Los Angeles, says Korean American Federation of Los Angeles president James An.

“The last time I can remember that the Korean American community rose up like this was after the riots in 1992,” Korean American Federation of Los Angeles president James An said. “I remember I was 12 years old when that happened and I remember our community just being burned down to the ground. ... We were ignored back then, but we’re not going to be ignored this time. You are going to listen to us.”

Having lived in America since 1979, An recognizes that anti-Asian hate has been an ongoing problem despite it only being brought to the forefront of public discussion recently.

“We grew up hearing words like ‘chink’ and ‘go back to your country’ and ‘Chinese’,” An said. “Back then, when I was a kid, I just thought that was the way things were… People go through this every day.”

KAFLA has been around since 1962 to provide for a community that is home to the largest Korean population outside of Korea. Prior to Saturday’s rally, they also organized a caravan of about 100 cars driving through L.A. in protest of the recent events.

Rallies and vigils have been taking place in a wide-spread fashion all over the country, and even internationally since the Atlanta shootings occurred over two weeks ago. In the Los Angeles and Orange County areas, there have been numerous events put together by large Asian American organizations and one-man-bands alike.

On March 23, Southern California community members gathered together at Community Center Park in Garden Grove. Hundreds of luminaries were laid on the ground and brought light to the dark sky. A vigil was held to honor the victims of both the Atlanta spa shootings and the Colorado shooting, which had occurred the night prior.

It was the fourth event held within the past few weeks by Nailing it for America, a Vietnamese American-led volunteer organization, in response to recent anti-Asian hate crimes. Just a day after the Atlanta spa shootings, they organized a vigil and rally at Garden Grove Park. A large banner was set up with photos of Asian seniors including the phrases ‘Stop Asian Hate’ and ‘Protect Our Seniors’ in both English and Vietnamese. The event was largely dedicated to the experience of Asian American women and featured an all-women speaker list, including Concilmembers Diedre Thu-Ha Nguyen and Kim Nguyen. Female Buddhist monks also led a prayer.

A common theme was followed by 22-year-old Betty Hang in the rally she hosted in Alhambra, a city that houses a majority Asian American population. Though she received support from numerous organizations, she was the sole brainchild of the event and used it as an opportunity to show the community that everyone has the power to organize and instigate change.

With the hundreds in attendance at her event, Hang too emphasized providing Asian American women a space to candidly voice their thoughts. Many related with each other in their struggles of being fetishized and exoticized by society at large and on an individual level. To her, being able to hear these voices come together was such a powerful experience.

“I have not yet had an opportunity to see Asian women come together and speak on their experiences and relate and unite and just be in a space where they could collectively validate each other,” Hang said.

According to the Center For The Study Of Hate And Extremism, there has been a 1200% increase in hate crimes towards Asian Americans since the start of the pandemic. Regardless of whether one is Chinese, Vietnamese or Korean, like many of the victims of the Atlanta shootings, Ted Nguyen, Hang and An all believe that all Asian Americans have had similar experiences of discrimination and bigotry. For that reason, they see it as the community’s responsibility to come together to fight against it.

“I think it’s very important for us to unite,” Nguyen said. “That’s why I really made a concerted effort to include all those other ethnic groups as well as social justice groups and other disadvantaged groups [in the rallies and vigils]. Because we’re all American.”

Hang agreed.

“Take into consideration that we are all very different but essentially one and the same when it comes to the attacks that are happening and that we all are being targeted,” Hang said. “And I think acknowledging those differences but knowing that we are stronger together is the biggest thing that I think Asians need to know. When we do come together, it’s a powerful force that we can combat the oppressive forces and the people who are targeting us.

Many of the hate crimes reported have been targeted against the elderly. In the events that these three have led, the majority of the people who have spoken were younger generation Asian Americans. Through social media and changing societal landscapes, they see that many kids and young adults have a platform to speak up against injustices for their communities in a way that their elders never could.

“I think a lot of people in this generation are realizing that silence is really loud. And if you’re not speaking, then essentially you’re being part of the problem,” An said.

“When we see the vile violence against our grandpas, grandmas, aunties and uncles, we can’t help but to speak up and stand up for them because they can’t stand up or speak up for themselves,” Nguyen said.

Organized and impromptu events are continuing to occur across Southern California. An sees the greatest value in these events are not the immediate impact they can have but on the influence, bringing awareness can have to push for systemic changes in the country’s governmental operations. Recently, KAFLA authored a letter to the White House demanding that a task force be created to support Asian hate crime victims.

On March 30, President Biden responded to that calling by announcing actions in response to the increase in anti-Asian violence. This action plan includes reinstating the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, funding for AAPI survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and creating a COVID-19 task force on addressing and ending xenophobia against Asian Americans.