On March 28, members of the Fremont community gathered in the Central Park Performance Pavilion at Lake Elizabeth to commemorate and mourn the victims of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) violence. The event, titled Heal Our Communities: A Community Care Space for Asian Americans, was hosted by Engage Fremont and Renegade Feedings and was sponsored by the FUSD Alumni Association, Fremont Unified District Teachers Association, and GENup.
The event began with GENup Founder and Executive Director Senior Alvin Lee leading participants in 30 seconds of silence to remember victims of AAPI hate crimes. There were more than 100 socially distanced and masked participants at the pavilion, and the event’s organizers also provided participants with information about mental health aid through the Mental Health Association for Chinese Communities (MHACC), an organization devoted to destigmatizing mental health issues among Chinese Americans. “In order to actually create concrete change, you need the community to agree on what that change is and what you want. And so, I think that was really kind of the intended state, creating that first step [and] that collective community space,” Lee said in an interview with the Smoke Signal.
Many participants held up self-made posters, protesting with the hashtag #StopAsianHate in light of the recent tragic shootings at spas in Atlanta, Georgia on March 16 where eight individuals, six of whom were Asian American women, died. Event organizers also set up murals and a poster to allow participants to express their thoughts about solidarity through art and handwritten messages that student volunteers — MSJ Sophomore Esha Potharaju, Senior Kiran Patel, Senior Hasika Sridhar and, Washington High School Senior Kenneth Ng, and American High School Senior Bella Jiang — read out to the audience before the event’s conclusion.
As the event progressed, 10 speakers — including Harvey Green Elementary School Teacher Julie Oh, Fremont Human Relations Commissioner Sonia Khan, and MHACC Founder, President, and CEO Elaine Peng — addressed the audience about the pervasion of racism in America, delivering impassioned personal anecdotes about their own experiences with racism. Many speakers also called for better acknowledgment of how systemic racism affects minority communities. “We will educate each other until … we can speak truthfully about white supremacy and recognize the many ways it has affected our laws, policies, and social structure,” Speaker Julia Shih said.
As the event drew to a close, the event’s Mandarin translator UC San Francisco Medical Student Leena Yin, American Sign Language Interpreter Christine Nakamura, and Lee thanked the audience for participating in the vigil and uniting against AAPI hate crimes. Lee also mentioned the impact that participants’ presence had on this issue’s visibility and the possibility of initiating legislative change in the future. Before the crowd dispersed, he endorsed the importance of making ethnic studies a graduation requirement and supported legislation that established culturally reciprocal and in-language mental health resources for multilingual students.
With violence against the AAPI community increasing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lee hopes that this event will serve as a start to tangible, community-centered solutions within Fremont. “[The recent AAPI hate crimes] are really a social issue, and the event today serves as an opportunity to educate the community and spark social change,” Lee said.