‘Asian Americans are Americans’ – rally in Princeton refutes anti-Asian sentiments

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The Stop Asian Hate rally on March 27 was organized by the Princeton Chinese Community and supported by 18 additional groups.LEA KAHN/STAFF
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The Stop Asian Hate rally on March 27 was organized by the Princeton Chinese Community and supported by 18 additional groups.LEA KAHN/STAFF
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Princeton University student Jennifer Lee speaks during the Stop Asian Hate rally in Princeton on March 27.LEA KAHN/STAFF
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Van Le, chairman of the New Jersey Vietnamese American Community Association, speaks during the Stop Asian Hate rally in Princeton on March 27.LEA KAHN/STAFF
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The Stop Asian Hate rally on March 27 was organized by the Princeton Chinese Community and supported by 18 additional groups.LEA KAHN/STAFF
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  1 / 5 
The Stop Asian Hate rally on March 27 was organized by the Princeton Chinese Community and supported by 18 additional groups.LEA KAHN/STAFF
  2 / 5 
The Stop Asian Hate rally on March 27 was organized by the Princeton Chinese Community and supported by 18 additional groups.LEA KAHN/STAFF
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Princeton University student Jennifer Lee speaks during the Stop Asian Hate rally in Princeton on March 27.LEA KAHN/STAFF
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Van Le, chairman of the New Jersey Vietnamese American Community Association, speaks during the Stop Asian Hate rally in Princeton on March 27.LEA KAHN/STAFF
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The Stop Asian Hate rally on March 27 was organized by the Princeton Chinese Community and supported by 18 additional groups.LEA KAHN/STAFF

“Enough is enough” – enough discrimination against Asians and enough displays of violence directed toward Asians.

That was the theme that ran through the remarks of speaker after speaker at the Stop Asian Hate rally on Hinds Plaza in front of the Princeton Public Library on Witherspoon Street on March 27.

The rally, organized by the Princeton Chinese Community and supported by 18 additional groups, was held in the wake of the deaths of eight people who were killed at three massage parlors and spas in Atlanta and Acworth, Georgia, on March 16. Six of the victims were Asian women.

The alleged shooter, who frequented massage parlors and spas, claimed he was motivated to act by a sex addiction and wanted to eliminate the temptation, according to published reports.

Meanwhile, the crowd of several hundred people – some carrying signs that said, “We are not your model minority,” “Proud Filipino American,” and “Asian Americans are Americans” – filled Hinds Plaza and spilled out onto Witherspoon Street and Hulfish Street.

One attendee held aloft a large American flag to convey the message that Asians are Americans.

The Rev. Robert Moore of the Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action welcomed the crowd, setting the stage for the rally and its speakers.

“We stand in solidarity with you as we face an epidemic of hatred,” Moore said.

Moore said there are two foundational beliefs in Christianity and Judaism: all people are created in the image of God, and every person deserves to live in peace. Those are basic human rights, he said.

“We are all precious in God’s eyes. We must say ‘no’ to hate, we must say ‘no’ to violence, and we must say ‘yes’ to peace. We need to stand up for each other,” Moore said.

Pastor Mia Change of NextGen Church in West Windsor said “we will not be silenced” and called on political leaders to adopt policies that support all people.

It is imperative to destroy the myths about Asian Americans, and to “raze the walls that dehumanize” each other, she said. Asian Americans will not be crushed by hardship or persecution. They may be shot down, but not destroyed, she said.

To bring the point home, Dr. David Chao, the director of the Asian American Program at the Princeton Theological Seminary, read the names of the eight victims and provided biographical information about them.

Tan Xiaojie, the owner of one of the spas, was a few days shy of her 50th birthday. Her daughter had just graduated from college.

Feng Daoyou was 44 years old and an employee of Young’s Asian Massage.

Delaina Ashley Yuan Gonzalez, 33, had a 14-year-old son and an eight-month-old daughter. She worked down the street at the Waffle House restaurant, a few doors away from the spa, Chao said.

Paul Andre Michels was a 54-year-old U.S. Army veteran and a local business owner. He had been married for more than 20 years.

Hyun Jung Grant, 51, loved music and dancing. She was shot in the head. She leaves behind two sons.

Park Soon Chung, 74, died of a gunshot wound to the head. She leaves behind a husband.

Kim Suncha was a 69-year-old immigrant from Seoul, South Korea, who wanted to grow old with her husband and watch her children and grandchildren live the life she never got to live, Chao said.

Yue Young Ae was a 63-year-old mother and grandmother who enjoyed singing and cooking. She died of a gunshot wound to the head.

Keynote speakers Kesavan Srivilliputher and Jennifer Lee, co-presidents of Princeton University’s Asian American Students Association, called on the attendees to stand together and fight back against Asian hate.

Kesavan said there has been a “disturbing rise” in anti-Asian hate. The Asian community, which is made up of many subgroups, has faced many vicious attacks – from the 19th-century anti-Chinese riots to the post-Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on South Asians, he said.

The attackers often target the more vulnerable elderly, low-income and immigrant members of the Asian community, he said. The Asian community has suffered those attacks in silence, even “as our history is often erased and suppressed,” he said.

“Despite well over a century of history within the United States, we are still often treated as perpetual foreigners. Growing up in a primarily white suburb in Texas, I often faced this as  my classmates told me that my food smelled weird, or as their parents asked me where I was ‘really from,’ ” Kesavan said.

As with many other children of immigrants, Kesavan said, he often felt that he lived a dual life – one with his family and cultural group, and another with his school friends. His academic success was reduced to being bookish or “just being Asian,” he said.

Kesavan said that as a South Asian American, he knows that the recent wave of anti-Asian sentiment is not aimed directly at him, but it does not make it any less personal to him or to the South Asian community.

“I am proud of our community for standing together in a tidal wave of hate. As our immigrant relatives have shown us, our communities are resilient and strong. We must stand together and fight back to stop anti-Asian hate,” Kesavan said.

Jennifer Lee, the co-president of the Asian American Students Association, questioned why it has taken the deaths of six Asian women for the world to finally pay attention. Asian American women have historically been “neglected, cornered, shamed and discounted from their very seat at the table,” she said.

Asian Americans have been relegated to the status of perpetual foreigner, but they do not have to prove themselves, Jennifer said.

“We are not your model minority. We never have been, and we never will be,” she said.

Asian Americans are not a monolithic group, Jennifer said. They come from all over the globe. They are not all the same, and they do not all look alike – but “right now, in this very moment, our hearts beat as one,” she said.

“Today, we are gathered to pay our respects to the victims of the Atlanta tragedy. But even now, as we speak, elderly Asian Americans are still being targeted in the streets. Enough is enough,” she said.

The Asian American community refuses to be victimized, and it is a force to be reckoned with, she said. Asian Americans need to take up space and to share their stories. They have held their tongues for so long, “but no longer,” she said.

“We must stand united, and we must be seen. Let us be grounded, standing here in a nation where we belong just as much as the next person – Asian American or not,” Jennifer said.