April 5, 2021 Vigil: Readings and Performances
Kevin Chi and Emily Ha: Introduction.
Good evening, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us today, both here and online via livestream, as we come together to process and grieve the acts of hatred and violence that have targeted Asians and Pacific Islanders.
Before we begin, we would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional land of the Wabanaki, The People of the First Light. We extend our gratitude and profound respect to the Indigenous People and their ancestors who have lived here and stewarded these lands and waters for generations.
Today's vigil will comprise poetry, prose, and music, presented by members of our community. Some people will be reading their own words, and some will read words written by others. Each piece will be followed by a short period of silence, which we ask that you use as a time for reflection.
If you need or want to speak with someone during the vigil, there are people in the audience who serve as confidential resources, if you could raise your hands.
After the vigil, there will be spaces set aside for students, faculty, and staff to gather and process things. For those here in person, we will be using the backyard of 30 College, and for those who are joining us remotely, there will be a Zoom space led by Professor Belinda Kong. The link for this Zoom can be found under an event in CampusGroups.
We would like to acknowledge that there may be BPD presence tonight. The BPD cares about our community and may make an appearance as part of Brunswick's policy for gatherings of this size during the pandemic.
Finally, we want to express appreciation for the contributions and work of Benje Douglas, Shu-chi Tsui, Roy Partridge and Sakura Christmas even if their voices are not represented at this vigil.
Now, before we move to our speakers, we will ring a bell eight times to signify the lives lost in Atlanta, and in honor of all who have been hurt or affected by anti-Asian and Pacific Islander hate and violence.
Tonight we grieve for the victims of anti-Asian and Pacific Islander violence and racism in the United States—the Korean and Chinese women gunned down in Atlanta on March 16, the Filipina attacked in Manhattan last week, and the countless other people of Asian ancestry who have endured physical assaults and verbal taunts since the start of the pandemic.
But I also grieve for the thousands of other victims of anti-Asian violence over the past two centuries. I grieve for the nineteen Chinese immigrants in Los Angeles, lynched by a mob in 1871. I grieve for Fermin Tobera, a Filipino farmworker shot through the heart during the Watsonville Riots of 1930. I grieve for James Ito, Katsuji James Kanegawa, James Wakasa, and Shoichi James Okamoto, all shot and killed by military police in Japanese American incarceration camps during World War II. I grieve for Navroze Mody, a South Asian man who was beaten into a coma and later died in 1987. I cannot grieve for one without grieving for the others.
This is because all of these victims are part of the same narrative—a continuum of violence and hatred driven by the idea of the Yellow Peril. Beginning in the nineteenth century, many white Americans came to view Asians as a threat. They were a sexual threat who sullied the racial and moral purity of the nation. They were an economic threat who took away jobs from white workers or posed unwanted competition. They were a health threat who endangered others’ lives. Put bluntly, they were unwanted foreigners, scapegoated and stigmatized as a grave menace.
Clearly, the Yellow Peril echoes throughout current events. And as a historian, I study this continuity between past and present. But there is no reason for these links to remain intact. The past is not a blueprint for the future. As a historian, I also study change over time. And I yearn for a future of substantial change—a future that leaves the Yellow Peril in the past.
How do we get there? Part of the answer lies in reckoning with history—reckoning with the violence, yes, but also reckoning with the sources of that violence: the exclusionary and racist ideologies that created structures that perpetuate white supremacy, render non-whites invisible, and reject their Americanness. Reckoning with the past means having the courage to grapple with these complexities. Only then can we chart a more just, safe, and inclusive future. Studying the past is an exercise in empathy, but it is also an exercise in hope.
My name is Kevin, and I will be reading a poem by a Korean American Poet Margaret Rhee.
When my mentor Beth was pregnant, 10 dollars’ worth satisfied her cravings. She also finished her Stanford dissertation. Mouthful of honey. Her womb. A pit. Was it the baby or the nectarines?
“Whereas contributions of Korean Americans include: the invention of the first beating heart operation for coronary artery disease, a 4-time Olympic gold medalist for diving, and the nectarine.”
The flesh is delicate, easily bruised in some cultivations. It is a peach with plum skin. “A peach without its fur coat.” “Slice them into a salad or serve them with cheese.” This is the way of the nectarines.
“Judging by their achievements over the past 100 years, theirs is an American story that confirms opportunity in these free United States.” The name is from the drink of the Olympic gods called “nektar.”
Julia learned in her freshmen year of college, nectarines were created by two Korean brothers. “The Kim brothers.” “It’s like a peach and a plum, together,” she said, “the nectarine.”
In the article “The Yellow Peril,” Jack London wrote, “the Korean is the perfect type of inefficiency—of utter worthlessness” and “tested thus, the Korean fails.” He probably didn’t know about the nectarines!
Then, Julie tells me later, “you guys can be the nectarine sisters!” I say, “More like she’s a beautiful rosy peach. I’m a lovely purple plum. And together we make a nectarine!” Nectarine family love!
Terry Hong: “I consider myself Korean and American. A Korean American is a hybrid product of both U.S. and Korean countries and cultures.” Beat. I am proud we helped develop the nectarine.
For Javier’s belated birthday, I decide to make him a sundae. Caramel chips. Vanilla ice cream. Lines of poetry as topping. Before we take a bite, I add his favorite: Fresh plump pieces of nectarines!
“The first wave of immigrants from Korea began to arrive in the early 1900s.” “Harry Kim (Kim Hyung-Soon) created history in 1921 with the ‘Fuzzless Peach’ otherwise known as the Sun Grand Nectarine.”
My parents made love sometime in the year of 1983. I was born in the Hollywood hospital. I have dad’s mouth & mom’s eyes. I’m a crossbreed. Or a hybrid. Magnificent mixed breed. Am I a nectarine?
“The truth is, racism toward Asians is treated differently in America than racism toward other ethnic groups. This is a truth all Asian Americans know. While the same racist may hold back terms he sees as off-limits toward other minorities, he will often not hesitate to call an Asian person a chink, as Jeremy Lin was referred to, or talk about that Asian person as if he must know karate, or call him Bruce Lee, or consider him weak or effeminate, or so on. Bullying against Asian Americans continues at the highest rate of any ethnic group.” -Matthew Salesses, "How the Rules of Racism Are Different For Asian Americans" (Good Men Project 8/6/2017)
What is my role as a white American committed to racial justice in this moment?
It pains me to think about what it must be like to be part of a group, Asian Americans, whose daily reality, whose daily experience with racism in the US has been overlooked, ignored, denied, or dismissed. Who are constantly reminded (where are you really from?) that they are not considered really american, but always foreigners, outsiders. Thus I commit, I recommit, myself to keeping a space for, to recognizing, to listening, to *hearing* the voices of Asians in this country.
And as someone who wants racial reckoning, I know that in order to truly move toward that goal, we need to recognize race not as a binary, not as the experience of one or two groups, but a recognition of the very complex histories around race in the US. How it is about the long and horrid experience of slavery, the attempted elimination of indigenous peoples, of immigration laws that have tried to keep the US white. And it is also about US empire building and how US invasions and colonial incursions into Asia, the Pacific, the Middle East and across the world have at their core assumptions about race and ethnicity. That US empire building has been shaped by race and has shaped race in this country. Asians and Pacific Islanders are in this country because we were there.
In order to deal with the deep complexities of race in this country, we need lenses and frameworks that include all of our communities. The experiences of African Americans are different from the experiences of Mexicans. And those are different from the experiences of Koreans, of Vietnamese, of Filipinos. The US has a long and not very pretty history in many countries in Asia and in the Pacific. How many of us know, for example, the history of the US in the Philippines? And what that has meant for Filipinos in the US? Why don’t we learn about, why don’t we teach, that history in our classes? It might help us first, to acknowledge and second, to understand why Filipinos are dying at disproportionately high rates of covid. How they make up 4% of all nurses in the US, but have accounted for 30% of the deaths to nurses during this past year.
We need to learn about, to recognize, to acknowledge those histories. And to incorporate those into our frameworks of race, and into our movements for racial justice. As we think about the US, we need to be inclusive, to include all the stories and the ways that our white system excludes the experiences, the perspectives of many of us. And not just by mistake, but deliberately—that exclusion is part of our nation’s history, our history within the US and outside it. That is what I commit to, I commit to being inclusive in thinking about and acting for racial reckoning and justice.
Anam Shah and Flora Hamilton
This land is your land
This land is your land
You’ve made it clear, now
It sure ain’t my land
As I’m trespassing,
I keep my head down low
Who knows how high the bullets go
I’d love to walk through
That ribbon of highway
But I’m in danger
In my own driveway
Another man yells,
“Go to your country”
Maybe that is the land for me
In the shadow of the steeple
I saw my people
We stand in darkness
Behind bald eagles
And though the birds may
Fight for their liberty
Only the bullets fly free
Only the bullets fly free
My name is Amanda Cassano. On behalf of the Native American Students Association, I would like to express my support for the Asian American and Pacific Islander community by reading an excerpt from a conversation between Cathy Park Hong and Chanel Miller on Making Art Out of Grief: A Conversation. (Glamour 3/24/2021).
In the words of Cathy Park Hong: “I’m also thinking about the victims and the witnesses of this tragic event. Will we ever get their stories? I don’t know about them at all, except for the most superficial details. ‘She was a single mother. She was loving.’ It’s all surface level. Will we ever get to know the deep well of pain and joy of their lives? Even if there are cameras on that spa right now, and there are swarms of reporters, will we ever really get their stories? In some ways it seems so inaccessible.”
Chanel Miller: “Totally. I am so haunted by that untouched depth. Does it just disappear with them, or can we, as younger people, seek to preserve not just their stories, but the stories of our elders? I think there is a feeling of urgency to do that, confusion about how to do that, sadness if we’re not able to do that. That’s very real.”
CPH: “It is very real, and I feel this need to protect them because they’re our mothers. It’s our mothers who are being spat on and it’s our mothers who are being humiliated on the streets. These are our mothers and grandmothers.”
As non-Asian American or Pacific Islanders, it is our responsibility to amplify AAPI voices and stand against legacies of colonial oppression. Only then will our Asian American and Pacific Islander relatives be able to heal.
Dharni Vasudevan (on behalf of Belinda Kong, Kyubin Kim, and Daniel Chi)
My name is Dharni Vasudevan. The narrative that I will read was written by Belinda Kong, Kyubin Kim and Daniel Chi. They cannot be on campus and I am honored to read this on their behalf.
On March 17—the very day after the Atlanta shootings—75-year-old Xiao Zhen Xie was punched in the face while crossing the street in San Francisco. “Another Asian grandmother attacked!” was what ran through our minds immediately, for this story sounds all too familiar with the rise in hate crimes against elderly Asian Americans since the start of this year. Except in this incident, Xiao Zhen Xie fought back. She picked up a piece of wooden board and smacked her white male attacker until he was down and bloodied, and she continued to curse him as the EMTs strapped him onto a stretcher. And not only did she fight back, she also gave back. After raising nearly $1 million on her GoFundMe page, she donated it all back to the Asian American community. As her grandson reports, “She insists on making this decision, saying this issue is bigger than her.”
The Asian grandmother is invisible in our country’s line of vision, and when she does appear, it is often in the light of victimhood. But to us in the younger generations, our Asian grandmothers—and our Asian mothers, aunties, and older women relatives—they are ferocious. They leave their home countries so they can find a better life for their children and their grandchildren. They carry stories of war, poverty, colonial occupation, and American imperialism, but they don’t pass on these stories of trauma to their children and grandchildren; they pass on love in the actions that they speak. They love us the way they know how: in the fruit they cut for us, the money they press in our palms behind our parents’ back, the trips to the park when our parents are busy working, and in their stubborn insistence that they’re doing fine. Our grandparents don’t feel the need to diminish themselves to belong; they come to America not with hope that they’ll be accepted in a country not their own, but with an unwavering pride in their Asian heritage. They come expecting there to be a cost to the freedoms that are promised by America, but that should have never been the case, and most of all, their lives should never be that cost. For all the struggles they have endured, why do they have to suffer more?
Tonight, we honor all those Asian grandmothers and grandparents and older immigrants whose ferocity and devotion and bigheartedness are exemplified by Xiao Zhen Xie. She is not the exception but our norm. She is not a poor faceless victim but a reflection of so many of our own families and forebears—of their strength, their agency, their dignity. At a time when there is so much hate directed at us, in a country that has so often not seen us properly or at all, it is through their eyes that we remember to see ourselves with racial self-love.
My name is Emily Ha, and I will be speaking about the statistics of hate crimes.
On March 16th, 2021, hours before the tragedies in Atlanta, the Stop AAPI Hate coalition released a report stating that in the span of a year, they’d received information of 3795 hate incidents targeting Asians and Pacific Islanders. 3795. Compare this to the FBI’s 2019 statistic of 158 anti-Asian hate incidents. If we take these numbers as fact, anti-Asian hate incidents occurred 24 times more frequently after the pandemic hit the US.
I can’t in good faith take these numbers as fact, though. In reality, these statistics are unfathomably low, representing only a fraction of what the numbers actually are. Each of those numbers represents a story, and many stories go untold. Many stories never get reported to the police. Many that do never get registered or charged as a hate crime, and as a result, never make it to the FBI. At each step of the process, there is an informational chokepoint, so that the numbers we see in reports fail to represent the true picture.
I’d like to present another set of numbers: In 2017, the US Bureau of Justice Services released a report stating that there was an estimated 250,000 total hate crime victimizations every year in the US. Yet in 2019, the FBI reported under 9000 hate crime victimizations. In the space between 9000 and 250,000, you could populate a city like Brunswick 12 times. You have to wonder: what gets lost with these numbers? And If Stop AAPI Hate’s report represents a drastic increase, then where do we stand now?
A story: Whenever I call my parents, they end the call with a quick, “alright, be safe, love you.” They’ve done this ever since I left for college, and the consistency of their goodbye has almost become a running joke. “Be safe,” they’ll say, and I’ll say, “fine,” or “I make no promises,” and my mother will sigh dramatically.
When I last spoke to them, they told me to be safe six times over the course of a twenty-five minute call. “Be safe,” they said, and there was no laughter. Instead, I said, “I will.” “Be safe,” they said, and I said, “I’m trying.” “Be safe,” as if they could speak it true and protect me by conviction alone. “Be safe,” they said, and I said, “You, too.”
There’s a palpable feeling of apprehension amongst my Asian friends on campus. We’ve all heard the stories of people being followed, yelled at, and confronted - stories that have happened to people within our community. In town. On campus. These are the stories that don’t necessarily get reported. You won’t read about these in the security report. One person told me, “I’m so on edge. I feel like I have to be ready to fight someone whenever I go into town, even though I’d probably just cry if something happened.” I told them I felt the same way. Many of us are scared. Many of us feel helpless, or trapped. These numbers - both those that are reported, and the unknown, actual numbers - are not merely numbers, but an emotional landscape.
As individuals and as a community, we have to move towards a point of recognizing and addressing the prevalence of hate incidents in our world today. We have to support friends, colleagues, and peers, those that have weathered the hate and violence, and those who will continue to do so. We must be allies and advocates. We must make change. This is our task.
Kevin Chi and Emily Ha: Close
I want you to take a moment to think about what you want to to hold onto after the vigil. Tonight’s vigil isn’t just a reminder of those who we’ve lost.
We come together as a Bowdoin community to demonstrate our solidarity against hate and fear. Only when we come together and bring our allies, can we make progress.
To conclude today’s vigil, we’ll ring the bell 8 times in honor of the 8 victims in Atlanta, and others who have been harmed or affected by anti-Asian and Pacific Islander violence and hate.
As a reminder, we are holding a gathering space at the backyard of 30 College following this vigil. For those of you who are tuning in via live stream, Professor Belinda Kong will be holding a Zoom gathering space. The link can be found on CampusGroups.
Thank you, everyone, for showing up today. This brings us to the end of our program.