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By Adina Keeling
A vigil on April 1 attracted more than 150 to Lovelace Park and scores more via Zoom to express solidarity with Asian Americans.
The Asian American Caucus sponsored the vigil, and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Josina Morita, State Representative Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, and local elected officials and community organizations served as hosts.
Commissioner Morita, speaking first, discussed the recent Atlanta killings in which 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long murdered eight people, six of them Asian women, at three different spas. She also discussed other instances of violence against Asians such as the beating of a 65-year-old woman in New York City and the attack on a 58-year-old man near Broadway and Argyle in Chicago.
Asayo Horibe from the Buddhist Council of the Midwest led a short prayer and asked audience members to place their hands together in momentary silence.
Rep. Gong-Gershowitz said it is important to teach Asian American history and described her own experiences with non-inclusive history courses. “My own family was subject to discrimination and deportation under the Chinese exclusion act,” she said, “yet the history courses I took didn’t include anything that reflected my own family’s history or the shared experiences of other Asian American families.” She is currently working to pass the Teaching Equitable American Asian Community History (TEAACH) act, which will add Asian American history to the public school curriculum.
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, also attending in person, discussed the nation’s history of violence and racism against Asians, such as the use of Japanese internment camps and the responsibility of citizens to intervene in moments of injustice. She also spoke about Patsy Mink, the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, who wrote the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act.
Rep. Schakowsky reminded listeners that Evanstonians have a responsibility to examine the disparities that exist in the community. “We have a mission now, and it’s a mission of equality and love and a defeat of racism and division,” she said.
A junior from ETHS also spoke about her experience as a Japanese Chinese American. She lived in Evanston all her life and was always one of the few Asian students in her classes. Growing up, she said, she loved discussing her heritage, until she felt her identity was weaponized against her and that she had to hide it. Now, she is tired of hearing about hate and violence against Asian Americans and she has grown to accept her own heritage.
“I’m incredibly proud to be an Asian American woman,” said the ETHS junior.
Maricar Ramos, the executive director of Evanston Cradle to Career, a nonprofit working to make Evanston a more equitable community, spoke next. She said the recent Atlanta killings were shocking for much of the nation, but not for Asian Americans.
“It was my worst nightmare come true,” said Ms. Ramos. “It was the inevitable end of being told to go back to my country, being asked if I spoke English in a loud voice, and regularly being complimented for being obedient, and asked if I know how to give Asian massage.”
Ms. Ramos encouraged the audience to stand up and speak out against violence and racism. After her speech, Commissioner Morita commented that she knows the feeling of feeling invisible, that Ms. Ramos touched on as well. Commissioner Morita said that for the first time she is beginning to feel seen.
Rev. Dr. Michael C.R. Nabors, senior pastor at Second Baptist Church of Evanston, said the violence towards Asians did not begin with the Atlanta killings. Pastor Nabors discussed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prohibited Chinese immigration to the U.S., and the Japanese Relocation Act of 1942, which forced people of Japanese descent living in the U.S. into internment camps.
Pastor Nabors said he believes recent attacks can be traced back to former President Donald Trump and his referring to the coronavirus as “the China virus.” The brutality and violence against Asians is caused by false white superiority, he said.
Commissioner Morita added that the last couple of weeks demonstrate how dangerous silence is. She encouraged audience members to reach out to their Asian friends and family.
“Especially Asian American women – we are not OK,” Commissioner Morita said, “so checking in on us is especially powerful right now.”
The last speaker, Rabbi Andrea London of Beth Emet Synagogue, urged the crowd to support their marginalized friends and unite to defeat xenophobia, then read a prayer.
Ms. Horibe of the Buddhist Council of the Midwest closed out the ceremony by ringing chimes eight times in memory of the lives lost in the Atlanta killings.
Mary Lucas, who attended the event in person, is a member of the Northwestern Community Council for International Students (CCIS), a volunteer group working to support international students.
“I’ve identified with the causes of these students,” said Ms. Lucas. “I read in the press about the terrible attacks that are being perpetrated on Asian people and I just wanted to come out and show my support.”
Kathy Kearns also came to the event to show her support for the community. Ms. Kearns, who learned about the vigil in an email from her representative, is worried about the hate the Asian American community faces.
Attendee John Brownlee learned about the vigil from his wife. A Black man, Mr. Brownlee said he believes it is important for all Black, Indigenous, and people of color members to support each other on issues of inequality.
“I’m glad to be here to show support for the community in addressing this issue, which is so heartbreaking in many ways,” said Mr. Brownlee.