Stop the hate, speak out and love yourself. These core values were expressed over and over again at a rally in Denver on Saturday to support Asian-American and Pacific islanders who have historically been brutalized and discriminated against and who are now exposed to severe pressure and violence during the pandemic.
Eight people were shot dead in Atlanta on Tuesday, six of them Asian-American women. Hate and racism have increased against Asian American citizens, in part due to political rhetoric and the labeling of COVID-19 as a “Chinese virus,” some rally participants said.
“Hate and racism are a virus!” said Rev. Joseph Dang, Denver Police Department chaplain and executive director of the Vietnamese Senior Citizens Center. “We are here today to say that enough is enough.”
Some of the speakers – there were more than half a dozen – told painful stories of friends, colleagues and family members being verbally abused, spat on and assaulted. Asian-American businesses have been destroyed, windows broken and racist graffiti sprayed on walls. Asian-American children were teased and bullied in schools and playgrounds.
“Attacking Asians is attacking all of us,” said Clarence Low, a board member of the Asian Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers.
More than 200 people attended the late morning rally in Denver near the Pacific Ocean Marketplace on West Alameda Avenue. The speakers stood in front of a Vietnam War Memorial, and the American and South Vietnamese flags fluttered in the wind.
Stop discrimination and hatred
“Hate is un-American,” said US Representative Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat. “We will not tolerate hatred here in Denver, in Colorado, or in our country.”
In January President Joe Biden issued a memorandum “condemning racism, xenophobia and intolerance against Asian-American and Pacific islanders”.
“Congress will act in solidarity to stop discrimination and hatred,” DeGette said.
Alyssa Nilemo, a board member of the Asian Chamber of Commerce of Japanese descent, advocated the fight against sexism. “We’re not a fetish,” Nilemo said of Asian women.
Nilemo told the congregation that she came from a family of “strong and resilient” women and that family members drove across the country to escape internment during World War II.
“I don’t want to be afraid anymore,” she said. “We are people who deserve dignity and security.”
Police Chief Paul Pazen described himself as a Denver-raised Latino who was married to an Asian woman for 28 years. Recently, his mother-in-law expressed concern about going to an area she had been to for a long time because of the molestation. Pazen raised concerns about the well-being of his children.
“What I ask is that we end this now,” said Pazen. For our children “that we live in a world without hatred and racism”.
“I want you to know, I’m as mad as hell.”
Nga Vuong-Sandoval fled South Vietnam with her family and came to America as a refugee. She is now a monument conservator and activist, among other things. “Asian Americans have had a painful history of racism,” she said.
In the mall where the rally was taking place, Vuong-Sandoval saw an elderly couple, Asian-American citizens, push a shopping cart into the parking lot just last week.
“Will they be the next,” said Vuong-Sandoval. “Will my mother be the next? Will someone I know be next? We are faced with this fear. “
And with fear comes anger, she said. “I want you to know, I’m as mad as hell.”
Vuong-Sandoval and others asked Asian Americans to speak up if they were harassed or attacked, inform the police, and seek justice. The speakers urged all Americans to be vigilant, be aware of the problem and help stop hatred and racism whenever and wherever they see it.
“Breaking down the arbitrary differences between us,” said Vuong-Sandoval. “Show yourself to other communities that don’t look like us. We can’t afford to wait. … Hatred turns into violence across the country. “