Claremonters say ‘Stop Asian Hate’

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Sunday evening at dusk, a large crowd gathered outside the Claremont United Church of Christ to show solidarity with the Asian American and Pacific Islander community by calling on all Americans to “Stop Asian Hate.”

As people began to gather on the steps and plaza immediately in front of the sanctuary, a volunteer handed out candles. The church’s co-pastor Rev. Jen Strickland was the first to speak.

“My name is Reverend Dr. Jennifer Strickland and I am honored to stand before you tonight as a proud Asian American,” she said, pausing for a moment as she was briefly overtaken by emotion. 

“Like every Asian woman in America, I have had a hard time sleeping or thinking clearly since Wednesday morning when my husband told me about the Atlanta shooting. ‘Eight people have died’ he said ‘six of them were Asian women.’ I froze, letting that information sink in. I had the mental image of my spirit collapsing to the ground, curling into the fetal position and shaking with fear and disbelief.”

Rev. Strickland then read the victims’ names aloud: Xiaojie Tan, 49; Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Daoyou Feng, 44; Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69 and Yong Ae Yue, 63.

“These victims were working long hours to support their families. They were entrepreneurs and business owners. They were women with dreams and plans and hopes for the future. A newlywed bride who was enjoying a couples massage with her husband. They were women with children and grandchildren and now their families are grieving an unimaginable loss,” Rev. Strickland shared

“And we continue to pray for Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, the sole survivor who is still fighting for his life,” she said.

The shootings have inspired candlelight vigils and protests across the nation, giving new energy to a movement that aims to stop hate crimes and violence against Asian Americans, which have increased substantially during the coronavirus pandemic.

Frustration and anger intensified after a police spokesman, Capt. Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, initially gave a seemingly sympathetic account of the suspected shooter Robert Aaron Long’s motives saying, in part, that Long was having “a really bad day.”

 “Having a bad day does not lead to a mass shooting, but white supremacy and racism do. We need to call this what it is: a terrorist who has committed a hate crime against Asian women. Our healing cannot begin until we can acknowledge this as a community and as a country,” Rev. Strickland said. “The true mental illness of our nation is that we have long justified killing innocent people for simply being themselves in the world.”

Stop AAPI Hate, a group that collects and reports firsthand accounts of discrimination and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, reported nearly 3,795 hate-related incidents from March 2020 through February 2021.

Rev. Strickland described a recent conversation with her mother, Kim Strickland, who was so concerned about being accosted on the street that she planned to wear a hat and sunglasses along with her mask to conceal her appearance.

“The absurdity of that conversation floored me. The fact that my mother would feel the need to disguise herself from what she is, who she is, a beautiful, powerful, resilient Asian woman, was devastating and sobered me to the reality of what it means to be Asian in America right now,” Rev. Strickland said.

Citing federal policy such as the Chinese Exclusion Act and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, Rev. Strickland said that racism against Asians has been a part of the United States since its beginning.

“It would be easy to point fingers at Donald Trump and the hateful racist rhetoric that he used ad nauseam during the pandemic,” she said. The former president frequently called the coronavirus the Wuhan virus, Chinese virus and the kung-flu. “But we cannot simply blame the nightmare that was the Trump administration for this uptick in violence against Asian Americans, because, as I said, this has been happening since our country was born.”

After a pause she added, “But it ends now, are you with me?” which elicited cheers from the crowd.

As darkness fell, the crowd lit the candles, with light filling the plaza and spilling out onto Harvard Avenue below. With COVID-19 still very much a concern, people wore masks and tried to make room for everyone. Some stood alone but others embraced as they listened to the speakers.

After Rev. Strickland concluded, former Mayor Peter Yao spoke, followed by Mayor Pro Tem Jed Leano, Claremont Police corporal Jeff Ting, Filipino American Community of Claremont and Southern California leader Ding Wicker, North America for the United Religions Initiative regional coordinator Tahil Sharma, and religious affiliate at The Claremont Colleges, Lorraine Wu Harry.

Mr. Leano began his remarks by admitting how difficult this week has been. He related throughout his life being asked to prove to white people “How American I am.” He cited his mother, a nurse who worked long hours at a hospital and his father, a Navy veteran who was called to respond to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and asked rhetorically “is that American enough for you?”

 “In leadership I have learned something very quickly. The most difficult challenges are the ones you don’t get to prepare for. And this month I had to explain to my six-year-old son that there are people in this country who don’t like you and wish to harm you because of where your father and where your grandparents were born,” Mr. Leano said. “It is frustrating and it is sad but at the same time I feel tremendous hope because I look into this crowd tonight and I see an ocean of allies from Claremont and beyond here to have my back and here to have my family’s back.”

Corporal Jeff Ting in his brief remarks stated that the Claremont Police Department condemns any act of violence based on hate or racism and said any person who is the victim of a hate crime in Claremont will have the support of the department.

What can you do to be an ally to Asian Americans? According to the speakers here are a few ideas. Hold racists accountable when you see it in action; get to know a person before asking about ethnicity; support Asian Americans by shopping at their businesses; ask Asians you know how they are doing, how they are feeling; use you body to protect Asian who feel very vulnerable right now; educate yourself on anti-Asian racism.

California was the first in the country to pass hate crime laws, according to Mr. Leano. California is one of the only states that collects data and produces an annual report on hate crimes and has the most expansive lists of protected classes, with some of the harshest penalties for hate crimes themselves. However, make sure your elected officials know that these crimes should be prosecuted to the fullest extent.

“Racism against Asians is another deep rooted sin that needs to be pulled out from the soil of our society if we are ever going to heal and grow,” Rev. Strickland said.

 

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