A rallying call for change

By Jason Shan

“Asian American woman brutally attacked in New York City.” “FBI reports hate crimes at highest level in 12 years.” “8 dead in Atlanta spa shootings, with fears of Anti-Asian bias.”

These headlines, and many others, have been widely broadcasted throughout the past year. During these trying times, trigger words such as “assault” and “hate crimes” have flooded media outlets. It is horrifying, not only as a member of the AAPI community but also fundamentally as a human, to see hate prevailing in a time when unity is needed more than ever.

I, just like everybody else, heard of the alarming reports when scrolling through the news and listening to the television. But to some extent, I felt like an outsider looking in through a window that divided me from the nation’s hate-filled incidents. Living in my bubble in the Silicon Valley, a melting pot of diverse cultures, discrimination and racism emerged not as overt ridicules or aggressions, but in the underlying model minority structure that I was ignorant of. However, when I heard of the Atlanta spa shooting — an egregious act unlike any other that demanded attention — it made me realize just how prevalent the hate boiling in the nation was and incited within me a desire to take action.

Weeks after news broke of the shooting, I, along with high schoolers Amanda Khu and Daisy Kemp, hopped on to a virtual meeting with community leaders including Mountain View Mayor Ellen Kamei and FUHSD board member Rosa Kim to plan a youth-led march and rally in Mountain View. While I didn’t consider myself a vocal activist of any sort, I knew that change was needed, and so I accepted the position of being one of the youth chairs. 

We had three goals for the AAPI MV March and Rally: highlight local history, provide a speaking platform for community members and foster unity. The march began at Centennial Plaza to rewrite Mountain View’s discriminatory history. The plaza had historically been a processing center for Japanese headed to internment camps, but on April 11, 2021, it became a congregation of people from all different backgrounds coming together to fight racism.

I remember the nerves I felt that day as people poured in, hefting a megaphone in one hand and a list of chants in the other. Being a self-described introvert, I doubted my ability to arouse the enthusiasm of hundreds of people. However, I recalled the advice I was given just days earlier by Chris Chiang, one of our adult advisors: don’t be afraid to be loud, since the people who are out here today are here because they want to be and because they want to support this cause.

Marching from the plaza to the city hall, our youth volunteer group led the way with chants and calls. After my first utterance of “silence is violence, we are not a virus” into a megaphone, my nerves were replaced with a new energy. Hearing the echoes from the crowd of each and every chant was an empowering moment. 

The rally was both a call for the remembrance of the past and a promise of a better future. After arriving at the city hall, we dedicated a moment of silence to honor the lives of the victims of the Atlanta shooting. When reading off each name, I looked up into the sea of people that had gathered, and it hit me the magnitude of what we had done. Hundreds of people had crowded the open square to listen to a couple of kids in a rally planned within nine days. I doubted what impression I, as a kid, could imprint upon this multitude of listeners. But when it came for my turn to speak, I left behind these doubts and spoke candidly. 

“I’ve never done something like this, speaking to such a large crowd at a rally, so this is a first for me. But I hope it won’t be my last.

I’ve put a lot of thought into what this speech will be about. After all, I haven’t been attacked or robbed simply because I was Asian. I don’t have that personal experience to draw on. But then I realize that some of you may not have that experience either. But you are not here because you were necessarily personally attacked. You are here because our community was attacked; our community was robbed of its safety; because you saw the headlines on all the different news outlets and thought, this is wrong. Something is wrong when people don’t feel safe going out in their own city, when parents are afraid of bringing their children out in public.

And that’s why I’m here too. 

It’s so amazing to see that the people gathered here are still very diverse. Maybe you’re an Asian American Pacific Islander who is shocked and hurt at all the violence that has happened recently, or maybe you’re not and you’re here to express your support. Underneath it all, what truly connects the people you see standing around you, perhaps holding up signs, who marched with you just a few minutes earlier, is that each of us is a part of this community in the Bay Area and the nation as a whole, and as a community member, it is our duty to stand up when something is wrong. 

Angela Davis, a political activist, said something that I think encaptures everyone’s feelings here today: “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.” So I’m very thankful that you have come out here to be an upstander.

In order to progress as a society, to be an anti-racist society, I think there are some truths we have to face. The truth is that many of us here, myself included, still hold inherent biases and prejudices that are hard to get rid of because they have been ingrained into us by our society and culture. The truth is that even with so many movements of unity across America, there is still a divide and fissure that seems impassable. And the truth…is that I’m not the best with words. So I don’t expect my speech right now to motivate you into a flurry of actions.

But hopefully, what will stay with you, and what will drive you, is the people and potential future for change that you see here today. Maybe my words will merely be carried away in the wind. And maybe I, as a 15-year-old, can’t really say anything new or impactful that you haven’t heard already from local officials and all the rallies that have been organized around the country. What I can do, though, is use my actions to make change. I can help organize a march and rally to ask people to stand in solidarity with the AAPI community, to stand against hate, and to provide testimony about what they have gone through. 

At the end of the day, I hope that there are a couple of things that everyone here can take away.

One: You, especially the youth and students here, have a voice. And there are people who will stand behind you and listen to that voice to make change. 

Two: This community is not perfect, and it never will be. So it’s up to us to make the change that we want to see happen.

Three: I hope that this march and rally today, will not be the end of what you do for the community. While it may be the one with the most publicity and media, there are everyday, smaller actions you can take. And those actions eventually will amount to something incredible.

Fourthly and finally, this nation is our home as much as it is anyone else’s. And when we see our home being set on fire, we don’t just stand by and wait for it to burn down. We do what we can to save this home and then build it up to something better. 

So let’s all stand up to end the flames of hate.”

City and government officials later spoke, but the focus of the rally was on the voice of the people. Community members, some as young as 8-years-old, told their stories and their fears. And those speeches, not the ones from authorities or celebrities, but the ones from the everyday people who have experienced discrimination themselves, stayed with me. Later, when I was sitting down for an interview with NBC, I remember thinking that it shouldn’t be me there, but rather all the incredibly brave people who spoke that day.

Local outlets covered the march and rally, and I was proud to see that the headlines that were once filled with stories of brutalities against people of color were now instead filled with stories of the community coming together. But the true gratification came from knowing that I had made a difference, and so the rally became just the start of something bigger. Change is always needed, and one instance of solidarity wasn’t enough. After seeing the incredible turnout from the march and rally, AAPI Silicon Valley was born, a youth-led team to combat racial injustice by focusing on five spheres of influence: education, legislation, arts and culture, intra-AAPI and inter-POC. As of yet, our organization has done a considerable amount, from helping organize a youth art show, to winning second place in the Civic Leadership Academy project of the year award for our work in ethnic studies, and we still plan to do a lot more. It all began with one decision to join a Zoom meeting.

At the end of the day, I was left with an important notion: we each have the power to make change, no matter our age or circumstance; we only need to get started. 

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