By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
REDONDO BEACH — “Stand Up, Stand Together” was the theme of a rally held at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center in support of the AAPI community.
The April 11 event was organized by Brianna Egan, an MPH nutrition student at Loma Linda University who is working on a project to start a community garden in Redondo Beach; and Jerome Chang, an architect and business owner who recently ran for school board in Redondo Beach and is working to increase voter turnout and engagement for upcoming elections.
“We acknowledge the history of so many Japanese American families who put down roots in the South Bay, especially in Torrance, Palos Verdes and Gardena, in the early 1900s only to be separated from their homes, businesses and farms during the period of internment in World War II,” said Egan. “We carry their resilience with us today.”
Referring to the murder of eight people, six of them Asian women, in the Atlanta area in March, she added, “Our Asian American brothers and sisters have experienced rising levels of racism and hate, which came to a head in such a tragic way … It shouldn’t have to take a mass shooting to bring these issues into the national consciousness. We witnessed the disturbing convergence of misogyny, racism, classism and gun violence. And we continue to see an alarming number of violent attacks directed at our community. We must not be silent and we refuse to be invisible.”
Chang, who has lived in Redondo Beach for 10 years, said, “This is my first rally ever, sad to say, but I felt compelled to not just attend one, but to organize one for the city after the events happening in Atlanta and many other events that’ve happened in San Gabriel Valley, Orange County, everywhere.”
Regarding the choice of Redondo Beach as the venue, he explained, “The obvious choice and the easy choice would have been in Torrance, where there’s 40% Asians. But a lot of us minorities know that the work needs to be done more so in the areas where there’s less awareness, less percentage, and with only 13% in Redondo Beach, that’s a candidate. So we want it to really activate that awareness here.”
Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, whose district includes the beach cities, commented, “This whole pandemic has been so hard for all of us, but for many Asians and Pacific Islanders in America, we feel like we’ve had to deal with not one but two pandemics, the COVID-19 pandemic and this pandemic of hate that has been sweeping across the country … The group Stop AAPI Hate, they have documented more than 3,800 incidents of anti-Asian hate across the country with about half of those incidents being reported in our beautiful state of California.
“We know from those numbers that the haters have been targeting the most vulnerable members of our community, our seniors. And women are being attacked more than twice as (much as) men … When we hear these numbers and we see the images on the evening news, we are constantly reminded that hate crimes are not just a crime against the individual victims, but hate crimes are in a special category because they are crimes against an entire community or in this case, an entire race …
“When I see the 84-year-old Thai American gentleman in San Francisco being shoved to the ground and murdered, I saw my own father, who goes on his daily walk in his neighborhood. When I saw the Japanese woman in Seattle (who was attacked) … I saw my own wife.”
Muratsuchi has introduced AB 557 to establish a toll-free statewide hate crimes hotline.
“We are working with the beautiful diversity that is the state of California to try to pass this hate crimes hotline so that we can make it easier for the victims of hate to report so that we can work together to stand up and stand together as a community,” he said.
Betty Lieu, president of the Torrance Unified School District Board of Education and former deputy attorney general, said that AAPI seniors are not the only ones being targeted. “Even our Asian youths, they have been spat upon, according to a report highlighted by NBC News. One in every four Asian American youths have suffered from racial discrimination and bullying, but this is not the first time there’s been a rise in discrimination for Asian Americans.
“History shows that when America becomes fearful, minorities communities are scapegoated. Back in the 1850s, we had the ‘Yellow Peril.’ Then came the Chinese Exclusion Act. During World War II, over 100,000 Japanese Americans were forced to leave their homes to live in interment camps. In the 1980s, when America was fearing the rise of Japan’s auto making industry, Vincent Chin was murdered by auto workers in Michigan. And now we have the surge of attacks against Asian Americans based on a false belief that Asian somehow are spreading this awful virus ,,,
“I did write a resolution a few weeks ago to denounce xenophobia and anti-Asian American sentiments … Al Muratsuchi and other state legislators have introduced legislation to make it easier to report hate crimes and hate incidents. At the federal level, several bills have been introduced in Congress to provide more resources to investigate hate incidents and help hate crime victims. Another way to fight back is to do what you are doing here today, standing up and standing together to say hate has no place in our community …
“Use social media to inform people and raise awareness against Asian American discrimination. Write a letter to your local newspaper editors or letters to our elected officials. Talk to colleagues at work. Changing hearts and minds is one way, the best way to fight back. In the last several weeks, several rallies across America, just like this one, have been held in support of Asian Americans. This gives me hope.”
Redondo Beach City Councilmember Zein Obagi, Jr. delivered greetings on behalf of Mayor Bill Brand and the City Council. “Hate has no home here in Redondo Beach,” he said. “There is no room for it, and there is no place for it. Redondo Beach and the South Bay is an inclusive community of all races, religions, sexual orientations, national origins, income levels … whatever differences evil people would identify in order to discriminate against another human being … We stand in solidarity with our Asian American brothers and sisters as one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”
Sandy Roxas, whose law firm provides pro bono representation to victims of hate crimes and hate incidents, said, “The faces on the news being victimized are Asian, but we are not the first. We will not be the last … Many of us are feeling cautious, anxious, and even fearful. But what brings us here today is something greater than fear. What brings us here today is stronger than any anxiety or distress. Today we are brought by the power of our hope and unity, hope that we can end hate race attacks against the AAPI community and all other minorities, hope that we can live truly free together and be who we are …
“It is time to shed the stereotypes that keep us silent. We can no longer be passive, sympathetic observers. It is time to stand up. It is time to speak up … Each must choose how we will show up in the face of hate, whether we are the victims of it, the witnesses to it, or the allies that get it … Execute your plan of action.”.
Roxas thanked the non-Asians in attendance. “Your presence says that even though your faces do not look like the faces of Asian Americans, but you will not stand by and let racism win.”
To her fellow Asian Americans, she said, “We will not apologize for our existence and we must defend the right to live free of fear and continue to prosper. because we belong here.”
Speakers discussing advocacy in schools were Cliff Numark, El Camino College Board of Trustees; Jenna Walsh, Redondo Beach Teachers Association; Megan Crawford, Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District Board of Education; and Jason Boxer, Manhattan Beach Unified School District Board of Education.
“This is an issue very close to my heart because my children, their last name is Tsuruta and they are half Japanese,” said Walsh. “So I really hate to see people treating my friends and family in a way that I find reprehensible. So I’m honored to share this on behalf of the teachers association. While there are no words to express the sorrow, we feel the pain and loss in our Asian American communities here in California and across this nation. We stand in strong solidarity condemning these racist, hateful acts of violence, deeply rooted in white supremacy. Ours is a broken society when we can no longer work, live and breathe in peace in our very own neighborhoods and communities.”
“The Redondo Beach Teachers Association encourages everyone to join us in creating spaces, to have conversations, build community and solidarity, to address root causes of hate and violence. We must loudly speak up and stand up to these hate incidents and aggressions. Our community should know that we as educators … are all in this together and that we will not tolerate any violence, hostility, derogatory, or negative attitudes towards our AAPI students, families, staff, or administration.”
“I’m actually part Filipino on my dad’s side and my grandma is from the Philippines,” said Crawford. “I also have a lot of family members, cousins on his side … who are Filipino. So although I haven’t experienced racism myself, every time I see these events on TV and in the news, I think about my family members and how they can be impacted … I’m a teacher in Redondo Beach. I think about my students and how they can be affected every day, as well as their family, in everyday life.”
In the Palos Verdes district, where AAPIs are about 30% of the students, Crawford said she and the board are working “to develop a climate of care, equity, diversity, and inclusion for students and staff” and have adopted a resolution against anti-Asian American hate and xenophobia.
Speakers from community organizations included Reggie Wong of Progressive Asian Network for Action, Save Our Seniors Network and Neighborhood Safety Companions; Katherine Fukuda of Torrance for Justice; Kimberlee Isaacs, a social justice activist who works with anti-racist organizations in the South Bay; and Sara H. Deen of South Coast Interfaith Council.
“We need to acknowledge that historically Asian Americans have faced a spectrum of violence, not just individual attacks on the streets but large-scale violence due to corporate greed today,” said Wong. “Over 120 elders are dead from COVID-19 at Japanese American skilled nursing facilities because the owner, Pacifica Companies, is only interested in profits and failed to protect Japanese American seniors. One of these facilities is in Gardena.
“In Boyle Heights, Pacifica is trying to close down the only bilingual-bicultural intermediate care facility in the country to convert it to market-rate apartments, They’re even proposing to evict 60 Japanese American seniors … to one of the facilities that has had the most COVID-19 deaths west of the Mississippi. If that proposal is approved, then that’s like a death sentence to them.
“But with our allies, we’re fighting back. Assemblymembers Al Muratsuchi and Miguel Santiago wrote AB 279 to keep our seniors from being evicted during the pandemic … Boyle Heights is in support of this effort because they understand that this is part of the fight against gentrification in their community. Other senior rights organizations are also supporting this effort. We hope you do the same by supporting Save Our Seniors Network.”
Fukuda said that her organization was formed last year after the murder of George Floyd. “Since then, we’ve also been trying to … shed light on the anti-Asian American hate crimes that have been going on since the beginning of the pandemic … We also want to remind our community, as every other speaker has reminded us, that it’s important for all of us to come together and stand up for any victims of hate and being not just a bystander.”
“I think it’s really important to understand that it’s to white supremacy’s advantage for Black people and Asian people to fight each other,” Isaacs said. “It’s to their advantage for us to not come together … The model minority myth was created in the ’60s to keep us separate when they were trying to mitigate the effects of the Black Power movement and the other anti-racist movements … It was created so that we would hate each other.
“We have to remember that the moment that you think something in your mind that’s not anti-racist or that’s anti-Black, think about why that thought is in your head … We’re fighting each other because they want us to fight. We need to come together. We’re stronger when we’re together. That’s why I’m here … The Black community is here for the Asian community. When you are hurting, it might as well be our community. We’ve got to eject the media’s notion that we are separate … They’ll cover the small problems between our communities, which is not what we need to focus on.”
Noting that Frederick Douglass opposed the Chinese Exclusion Act in the 1800s, Isaacs said, “We have so much shared history that we need to make sure that we’re educating our children and ourselves about history so that we know that we are our best team. We are our best community … We are not going to destroy white supremacy alone. We are not going to do it without coming together.”
Recalling the feeling of being different as a child of immigrants and a Muslim, Deen said, “My heart breaks. It breaks for the victims in Georgia and their families. Those women — long before they were murdered, we failed them every time we didn’t object to fetishizing … of the AAPI community … It’s only when a community is reduced by a joke, a trope, a taunt to being slightly less than human do some people become blinded by fear and hate to the point of taking the life of another …
“But we are lying to ourselves if we think that the only racists are out there … The anti-Semites, the Islamophobes, the homophobes, they live within us. Until we start taking a good, hard look at ourselves, we are going to be running around in a circle like a cat chasing its own tail. It’s really easy to point out anti-blackness or homophobia in someone else, but the other’s racism wouldn’t be possible without our complicity.
“Really think about it. Think about those moments when you silently hope that your kid won’t play with another kid on the playground because she’s a little bit weird, or every time you avoid that person in the lunchroom because he dresses a little bit odd … We need to learn to honor the divine, every single human being, even the ones we don’t understand or really get on our nerves …
“We’re here to affirm to the AAPI community that we love and cherish them, but why do we keep waiting until blood is spilled? I’m asking each one of you … to think about someone in your neighborhood, your school, your workplace, that you just don’t get. Somebody that you don’t understand … Make a commitment to love that person because they carry the divine spirit … You don’t have to understand someone to love or welcome them, but love and welcome can lead to understanding.”
The program included performances by the band Joker’s Hand, Ohana Dance Company, and singer/songwriter Raye Zaragosa, who is of Japanese, Mexican and Indigenous descent.
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo