More than 100 activists gathered at Boston Common Saturday afternoon, rallying against anti-Asian hate crimes and racism as attacks on Asian Americans rise nationally.
The protest joined a growing list of rallies across the country. Spectators and protesters gathered around the Parkman Bandstand painting cardboard signs with messages such as “Stop Asian Hate” and “I am not a virus.”
Speeches from the gazebo began around 1:15 p.m. with the three lead organizers — Ryan Doan Nguyen, Janet Hernandez and Manny Chong — thanking the crowd for coming out and supporting the cause.
Nguyen, a student at Harvard University, said the story of Vicha Ratanapakdee — an 84-year-old Thai American who was shoved and killed in San Francisco in January — set off his anger and motivation to make change.
“He looked just like my ông nội, my grandfather,” Nguyen said. “For the rest of the week, I couldn’t sit still. I was so angry that I shook with it, and my hands curled into fists that I didn’t know what to do with. My heart was aching.”
Nguyen said he worries about the safety of his relatives, though he should not have to.
“When it comes to making change and pursuing justice, the most dangerous thing is apathy,” he said. “Asian Americans are 100 percent American, and we are not any less deserving of peace and respect.”
Hernandez, also a student at Harvard, opened by discussing her background as a Latina and daughter of immigrants — adding that while she is not Asian, she remains an ally to the community.
“You don’t have to be Asian to care about Asian issues, you just have to be human,” Hernandez said. “This is not an issue of minority versus minority, this is an issue about humans, about people against hate, the virus that is hate.”
Fellow organizer Manny Chong acknowledged that Saturday marked one year since the killing of Breonna Taylor and said the rally wasn’t intended to pit the Asian American community against the Black community.
“It really is about us versus racism,” Chong, a graduate student at Northeastern University, said. “Historically, we’ve seen Asians fighting alongside our minority brothers and sisters, especially the Black civil rights movement, [it] really paved the way for Asian Americans to have a voice in this country.”
Justin Singletary, founder of PRJCT WHY and A Place of Change ministry leader, led a moment of silence for Taylor in between his speech and prayers.
“There must be human revolution, a spiritual revolution in the mind and the heart and the soul,” Singletary said, “and when we choose to love one another, radically, we will see the world change.”
Other speakers also called for an end to anti-Asian hate and violence.
Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, D-Mass., who represents the downtown neighborhoods of Boston — including Chinatown — called for people to stick together in difficult times and report hate crimes to the police and authorities.
“The diversity of this city is what makes this city such a great place to live and be,” Michlewitz said. “We don’t run away from our diversity, we run towards our diversity.”
Another speaker, Nate Shu, a comedian from Melrose, Massachusetts, told the story of his grandmother’s perseverance — living in an internment camp during World War II before becoming Seattle’s first female Japanese American physician.
“She dealt with such injustice and tragedy in her life,” Shu said, “and instead of choosing to drag down others into that darkness, she channeled that energy into building up and supporting her own community.”
After an hour and a half of speeches, the organizers supplied bottled water and barbeque pork buns to the crowd, and the rally transitioned into a march through the streets of Chinatown to the State House.
Actor and activist Will Lex Ham led protestors in a range of chants — “Stop Asian hate, love Asian people,” and “When grandmas get attacked, stand up, fight back; When Asians get attacked, stand up, fight back; When we get attacked, stand up, fight back.”
Marchers made their way through traffic on the streets and were met with car horns and pedestrians filming and chiming in with the chants.
Once they made it to the State House, speakers gave thanks and closing remarks.
“We stand against injustice in our community like this today, stand together,” Chong said. “We have to start looking out for ourselves. We need to stop accepting the abuse, the gaslighting, the manipulations of minimization of our traumas and our hurt and our pain. We need to speak up.”
Thank you for a great write up of this historic event. We all should be so proud that a group of college students got together and garnered the support of communities of all races to speak against hatred and violence. What a great example and inspiration for all to follow.