An estimated 200 citizens turned out at Snohomish County’s Esperance Park on Saturday morning to share experiences, hear speakers and show support for the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community.
Organized by Edmonds resident Will Chen, the event featured an array of speakers including U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen and other elected officials, community and youth leaders, business owners, and even the Honorary Consel of the Republic of Ireland John Keanu.
“I am doing this as a citizen and member of the community, and it has nothing to do with any political campaign,” explained Chen, an Edmonds business owner who is also running for city council. “Today’s event provides the opportunity for citizens directly impacted by Asian hate crimes to come together. We need to all come together and denounce hate.”
Chen related a recent incident when his mother-in-law, who has been in the U.S. for 53 years, was walking down 76th Avenue West in Edmonds to her home when a passerby accosted her and told her to “go back to your own country.”
“I continue to have faith that Edmonds is a tolerant and welcoming community, and that this is an isolated event,” said Chen, “but it is especially disturbing when it touches one’s own family. This is a loving community, and I believe love is the way to cure hate. I embrace our system of democracy and free speech, the opportunity to pursue the American Dream. As we treasure these values, we all need to promote love and denounce hate.”
The event kicked off with a welcome by emcee John Kim, an invocation by Pastor Barry Crane of Edmonds’ North Sound Church, a land acknowledgement, and singing of the National Anthem.
Kim then welcomed Second District Congressman Larsen to provide his perspectives.
“I stand with you as we stand against hate,” Larsen began. “I am saddened and disgusted by the news out of Atlanta, which is sadly just one example of racism and violence directed against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.”
Larsen went on to cite figures compiled by Stop AAPI Hate, which has tracked more than 2,800 first-hand accounts of anti-Asian hate crimes in the past year nationwide — and noted sadly that Washington state ranks third in these incidents.
“This is wrong,” he continued. “Today hateful rhetoric from elected officials, especially the former president, sows division across our country. It is abhorrent. I am working with my colleagues in Congress to address inequities and ensure that everyone can participate freely in our democracy and communities. Every Washingtonian has a stake in equality and justice. I stand with you and others who work against racism, bigotry and xenophobia.”
Larsen was followed by John Keane, the Honorary Consul of Ireland to Washington State, who expressed the strong support of the Irish community.
“I’m an immigrant myself,” he said. “I left Ireland in 1967. I want you to know that the Irish community shares your disgust, anger, sorrow and sense of helplessness. This is simply un-American. It’s not who we are. Violence driven by toxic racism has no place in our city or in our country.”
Subsequent speakers included Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson, who noted how that city’s current council is “the most diverse in our history,” and the efforts now underway to increase the diversity of city staff.
Then Mukilteo City Councilmember Riaz Kahn spoke, stating that as a Muslim he has directly experienced ethnic- and religious-based discrimination, and that it has no place in society. He was followed by Mukilteo City Councilmember Louis Harris, who also serves as first vice-president of the Snohomish County NAACP.
Mountlake Terrace mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright also spoke, underscoring both her personal stake and commitment to fighting the current upsurge of hate against Asian Americans and offered the support of the City of Mountlake Terrace in condemning it.
Subsequent speakers included an array of community leaders, activists, elected officials and others, many of whom shared both personal experiences and their outrage around the events in Atlanta and the wave of violence against Asian Americans. Several decried the view of Asian Americans as ‘perpetual foreigners” no matter how long they’ve been in this country or even if they were born here – often expressed as the seemingly innocent question “where are you from,” which automatically assumes “not from here.” Many went on to point out the connection of this with the “model minority” view of Asian Americans as equally racist and demeaning.
“Chinese Americans are just as American as African Americans, European Americans, Korean Americans,” Chen concluded. “Regardless of ethnicity, we are all Americans in one body. Today we come together to support each other and denounce hate.”
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel