GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — People from all backgrounds stood in solidarity with the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in West Michigan on Saturday.
The rally, held at Rosa Parks Circle in Grand Rapids, was organized by the Grand Rapids Asian Pacific Foundation in light of a shooting in Atlanta earlier this week that killed eight people, six of them women of Asian descent. It was one of several rallies held across the country today.
The murders left a mix of emotions among attendees, ranging from anger to fear.
“This is just the beginning. We saw the Black community, the Latino community come out here because that’s important to us. We need to be able to communicate with them… their grievances, so we can stand in solidarity in a stronger way,” said Ace Marasign, executive director of the organization. “We can also express our pain. I feel like when people can listen to us, then they can relate and they can see, ‘Hey, we’re not that different. The pain is there. What can we do to remove that?’”
“It is a critical time… for us to create a fusion movement that not only involves Black individuals but individuals in communities that identify with communities of color, poor, white… and stand up,” said Cle Jackson, president of the Grand Rapids NAACP.
Organizers honored the victims with a moment of silence and a candlelight vigil, but also called for an end to the violence and discrimination experienced by Asians during the coronavirus pandemic.
New research from “Stop AAPI Hate” reported roughly 3,800 Asian American hate incidents this past year, which is up from the 2,600 reported the year before. A California State University San Bernardino study found hate crimes in total dropped seven percent last year, but hate crimes against Asians skyrocketed 150 percent in 16 U.S. cities during that time frame.
“No matter what the reason, you cannot take a person’s life easily,” said RJ Liu, who lives in Grand Rapids.
Liu attended Saturday’s rally with his wife and children. He immigrated 15 years ago from China but says hearing about incidents within the past year makes him question if he wants to stay in the country.
“We do want to raise our kids here, contribute to the community, but with this fear, yeah, I’m not sure,” said Liu.
Huei Lan Yen, a professor at Grand Valley State University, moved to West Michigan in 2012, after immigrating to the United States in 2004.
The mom of two says she’s limited her movement since the pandemic’s start due to hostilities.
“When I go out, I will just try to focus on my task,” said Yen. “So if I go to the supermarket, I will just do what I need to do and then go back home without going anywhere else.”
Yen hopes for a brighter future as more people are vaccinated for COVID-19 and restrictions are lifted.
“We’re all human beings, and we’re in this together,” said Yen. “It’s not fair to blame us and scapegoating [sic] us as the source of the problem. We’ll stay fighting. We’re in this together.”