Dozens gathered in London, Ont., and hundreds more tuned in online Friday night for an emotional ceremony that honoured lives lost to anti-Asian racism, denounced hate and called on supporters to continue their activism in their daily lives.
The Stop Asian Hate Rally and Vigil was held in the northwest corner of Victoria Park, where supporters wore masks and organizers provided hand sanitizer to those in attendance.
The rally and vigil was also livestreamed on Facebook and Zoom to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions.
The event comes a little more than a week after the deadly shooting in Atlanta that left eight dead, including six Asian women. Organizers said they were driven by the tragedy to organize Friday’s rally and vigil.
The evening opened with a moment of silence for those who died or were assaulted in anti-Asian hate crimes and attacks.
The rally and vigil then heard from number of speakers, including Hae Un (Hayley) Lee, who shared a poem that touched on her personal experiences with racism and internalized fears associated with it.
“I think for most of my life … I’ve suppressed it. I’ve shoved it down really deep into my soul where I don’t want to look at it, I don’t want to feel it, I don’t want to acknowledge it, but I need to,” Lee said.
“I need to understand why I’ve faced this trauma, why I’ve undergone all this horrible and horrific and painful racism and how that’s impacted me as an human being.”
Lee wrote the poem days before the event, inspired by recent news that had brought longstanding issues surrounding anti-Asian racism to light.
The poet’s goal was to be a source of comfort and validation for those who can relate, a sentiment that Lee also gained from the rally and vigil.
“When we have events like this, you physically see that it’s not just you,” Lee said.
“You get to be with people who get it, without you having to explain it, without you having to educate them, and that is really healing.”
Ken Pham delivered a speech that touched on representation in media and discussed issues in the musical Miss Saigon, which centres around the romance of a United States Marine and 17-year-old South Vietnamese girl during the Vietnam War.
Pham highlighted the musical’s history of casting Caucasian people to play characters of other ethnicities, its inaccurate portrayal of Vietnam and the musical’s sexualization of a 17-year-old girl.
“Using my parents’ war trauma to become one of the best-selling musicals, of course that rubs me the wrong way,” Pham said.
“I think representation is so important. There needs to be more Asian writers, more Asian directors, producers, actors, so forth. Just more voices to tell our stories.”
Organizers Teigan Elliott and Ayeza Tahir said they were uplifted to see a show of support for Friday’s rally and vigil, which was forced to change plans days before after city officials denied them access to Victoria Park’s band shell.
On top of the challenges associated with planning a rally during a pandemic, the two also faced racist messages while promoting the event online.
Elliott told Global News about one woman who had sent racist messages and “started off very strong with the hatred.” Elliott conversed with her for about an hour before the woman eventually apologized for her words.
“That give me a bit of a drive because I realized that Londoners don’t really get to hear our side of the story very often,” Elliott said. “I just really wanted to educate people on the issues that go on here.”
“We’re both women of colour, we both know what it’s like to be that one person of colour in a room full of white people, and that’s always fuelled us in every single aspect of our lives,” Tahir added.
Tahir closed off the night by urging Londoners to “continue your activism beyond tonight.”
“Take the time to learn Asian names, call out those who say racist things, support Asian businesses and artists, learn Asian-Canadian history, address your own biases and privileges, and help us make London a place where people feel safe and welcome,” Tahir told the rally.
The Stop Asian Hate Rally and Vigil comes amid a tragic rise in anti-Asian racism and violence amid the pandemic.
A report by the Chinese Canadian National Council’s Toronto chapter has found 1,150 incidents of anti-Asian racism were tallied during the COVID-19 pandemic
Just this week, York police said a man was charged with 6 anti-Asian hate crimes in Markham that took place between January and March 2021.
While London’s rally and vigil has drawn to a close, organizers were quick to inform followers on social “the work is never done and has just barely begun.”