Protestors sat on a hill in Depot Park, folding 1,000 origami cranes — a nod to the ancient Japanese tradition, senbazuru, which is said to grant a holy wish. The cranes will showcase collective strength along with written messages about hate against Asians to create a virtual message garden.
Over 300 miles away from Atlanta, Gainesville came together to mourn the losses of the victims of the Atlanta spa shootings.
“I do not need to know these women directly,” said Jyoti Parmar, a 55-year-old North Central Florida Indivisible organizer, referring to the six Asian American shooting victims. “I do not need to know them personally. They are me. They are all of you out here.”
Racism against Asians has been on the rise with more than 3,700 accounts of hate crimes against Asians nationally in roughly a year reported in March — an increase of about 1,000 incidents from the last Stop AAPI monthly national report in February.
In response to the three Atlanta mass shootings and upward trend in hate crimes, more than 200 protestors marched down Main Street from Bo Diddley Plaza to Depot Park Saturday afternoon to condemn the ongoing violence and stand in solidarity with victims. Another demonstration was held in Gainesville last Saturday by the Chinese American community.
The Anti-Hate Team, an organization Parmar founded consisting of members from activist groups North Central Florida Indivisible, GoDDsville Dream Defenders and Moms Demand Action, collaborated to organize a GoFundMe to host the march. They raised more than $2,000 as of Sunday evening, surpassing their original goal of $1,500.
The funds covered expenses such as shirts that read "Racism is a virus" and "Not your stereotype," candles and signs, Parmar said. Any additional donations will fund future team projects.Mayor Lauren Poe released a statement Tuesday condemning violence against Asians. UF President Kent Fuchs issued a similar statement March 19. Poe, joined by City Commissioner David Arreola, addressed the crowd at the event.
Poe said as a teacher, looking to U.S. history is a powerful way to fix problems in the present.
“I want to let you know that here in the city of Gainesville, we stand on the side of love against hate, regardless of where you came from or how long you've been here,” he said.
Paul Ortiz, president of the United Faculty of Florida at UF, issued an official statement at the demonstration calling for UF to provide more support for AAPI faculty. He said the university should place more emphasis on Asian American scholars in its curriculum.
Ortiz emphasized how the fight for long-term change is never an easy process, but it’s worth withstanding discomfort.
“There’s no way to do this work without at times feeling a little bit uncomfortable,” he said. “Discomfort during these dialogues, by the way, is a precursor to genuine personal change and eventual institutional change.”
Tai Min Tegeder, a 19-year-old Gainesville native who attends Agnes Scott College in the Atlanta area, said she was frightened to learn about the mass shooting in Atlanta. She never considered being killed because of her race a possibility until now.
She read aloud a poem titled “The Game Board: Second Generation Chinese American Female Edition” by Laura Lisa Ng, which uses the metaphor of a board game to describe the female Asian American experience. The poem detailed a process of moving forward on the “game board” when assimilating to American culture and moving backward when Asian culture becomes uncomfortable for white Americans.
“I'm here because I believe that no one should die for someone's bad day,” she said, in reference to one Atlanta police captain’s rationale for the shootings.
Youri Chang, a 20-year-old UF English and telecommunications sophomore, said she’s learned how important it is to speak out against Asian hate because of the complacency of older generations of Asian Americans. She said the fear in her parents’ eyes about how she may be perceived as a queer feminist only makes her angrier at the people who discouraged self-expression in their generation.
“I'm sick and tired of seeing how my parents and my elders have had to repress every beautiful part of themselves and their culture in order to assimilate and survive here,” Chang said. “It makes me vow to never, ever assimilate to this country's violence.”
Young Gainesville activists also took to the stage at Depot Park and shared their experiences as Asian Americans in public schools, where they feel forced to hide their culture.
Tvisha Josha, a 13-year-old Lincoln Middle School student, said she often decides not to talk about her culture around others because of how it’s been perceived by other students in the past.
“In 2020, we were afraid of going outside because of the pandemic,” Josha said. “Now it's 2021 and there are Asians afraid of going outside and being killed.”
She was joined by Flora Xu, another 13-year-old Lincoln Middle School student, who told the crowd she was mortified by continued acts of violence toward Asian Americans, and wonders when non-Asian people will act on their thoughts and prayers for Asian lives.“I'm only 13, and I shouldn't have to question if I'll grow up or not,” she said. “I shouldn't have to question if every day might be my last or the last of my loved one.”
Contact Alan Halaly and Jiselle Lee email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow them on Twitter @AlanHalaly and @jiselle_lee.
Alan Halaly is a first-year journalism and Spanish major and the East Gainesville Beat Reporter. This is his second semester on staff, and he previously worked as a news assistant on the Metro desk. He's excited to use this semester to shine a spotlight on underserved communities in Gainesville.
Jiselle Lee is a freshman journalism student and a news assistant for the Independent Alligator. She loves trying new restaurants around Gainesville in her free time.