Large Crowd Rallies in Solidarity With Asian American Community
By Donald Gilpin
More than 500 people, overflowing Hinds Plaza outside the library and the Witherspoon and Hulfish streets area, gathered in Princeton on Saturday afternoon, March 27, to rally in solidarity with the Asian American community.
“We are outraged by the racism and misogynistic dehumanization toward Asians,“ said Pastor Mia Chang of the NextGen Church in West Windsor in her opening prayer. “We can no longer be silenced.”
David Chao, director of the Asian American Program at Princeton Theological Seminary, followed the opening prayer by repeating the names and brief descriptions of the eight people killed by a gunman in Atlanta on March 16, then calling for a moment of silence.
The diverse crowd of demonstrators of all ages and races, all wearing masks, most at least attempting to retain social distance, carried a variety of signs proclaiming “Stop Asian Hate,” “Stop Anti-Asian Violence,” “Not Your Model Minority,” “We are Not a Virus,” “Hate is a Virus,” and more.
Sponsored by the Princeton Chinese Community and supported by about 20 different organizations, the rally featured 18 speakers, most of Asian descent but from a wide range of ages and backgrounds, including African Americans, Caucasians, and Latinx.
The mood of the two-hour event was at times reverent and mournful, at times angry, loud, and determined. There were frequent chants of “Enough is enough” and others, and history lessons, including many personal examples and chronicling the legacy of racism in the United States and prejudice and violence against Asians. Many impassioned expressions of support and solidarity came from all quarters of the Princeton community.
“The rally was really successful,” said Princeton Chinese Community organizer and activist Cecilia Birge in a March 29 phone conversation. “That speaks volumes about how Asian Americans and others have been feeling over the years. The Atlanta killings touched a nerve, evident here and in all the vigils and rallies around the country.”
Birge, former mayor of Montgomery Township and currently assistant principal at Princeton High School (PHS), went on, “I hope we can continue to build a strong coalition, and continue to work with each other, continue to fight alongside each other. Nobody is safe until everybody is safe.”
Emphasizing the importance of this moment in history, for Asian Americans and the whole country, Birge discussed the changing nature of the battle against racism, the coming together of many different groups, the key role of education, and the challenges ahead. “People so appreciated the diversity offered by the speakers,” she said, “many different voices and perspectives.”
She added, “That speaks volumes about the message that Asian Americans are no longer silent. We will not be stereotyped. We are beginning to change the narrative of racism, no longer just a Black-White perspective. We are all in this together. We are building a coalition with Black, LGBTQ, and the immigrant community.”
She noted the work being done at PHS to expand racial literacy throughout the schools and the wider community. “The hard work is about to begin,” she said. “This is where it gets difficult. We need boots on the ground.”
In her closing remarks at the rally Birge, a third generation immigrant, told the story of her grandfather and the racism he faced before his return to China. She emphasized the deadly consequences of “silence” and the destructiveness of the “model minority” myth “trivializing our pain and suffering and justifying the systemic oppression of Black and Latino people.”
She added, “We can no longer afford to be silent and be silenced. We ask for solidarity from all as we demand action and change. We stand together today with 18 different community organizations to say that we will no longer be silent, about ourselves and about each other. Let the entire country hear us: silence no more!”
The themes of visibility and speaking up; of solidarity; of combating stereotyping, bias and racism; and of facing the truths of history and moving forward together were reiterated throughout the afternoon.
The Rev. Robert Moore, executive director of the Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action, stated, “We are in solidarity with the Asian American community as they face the epidemic of hatred, and we will overcome this.”
He described the large diverse rally crowd as an example of “the beloved community” and added, “We stand up for each other. We stand in solidarity with each other. And we stand for the love that will always overcome and triumph over hate.”
In a follow-up phone conversation on March 29, Moore emphasized the large turnout, the strong messages, and above all the importance of the solidarity manifested at Saturday’s rally. “We always want to stand in solidarity with any group that is suffering from that kind of hate, discrimination, and violence,” he said. “Whoever is suffering is not standing alone. There are a lot of people of good will who want to stand in their corner.”
Princeton Public Schools were well represented at the rally. In addition to Birge as leading organizer and speaker and a number of PUMS and PHS students, teachers, administrators, and Board of Education members, Zoey Nuland, Chinese American Princeton Unified Middle School eighth grader, presented an original poem.
Recent PHS graduate Yingying Zhao talked about growing up with an ethnic name and the ridicule and abuse she has faced through her years in school. In the aftermath of the Atlanta killings, she wondered “What will kill me first in America, being a woman or being Asian?” Commenting on the implications of her name, Zhao concluded, “Yingying means listen to me, America. This is your reckoning.”
PHS science teacher Joy Barnes-Johnson described herself as “part of a collective of PHS racial literacy educators.” She continued, “I stand here as a Black woman in solidarity with the Asian community.” Echoing the chant “enough is enough,” she added, “It is important that we disrupt this hate, that we disrupt this violence. It starts with creating environments where education matters more than anything else we do on any given day.”
Speakers from the Princeton University community included undergraduates Jennifer Lee and Kesavan Srivilliputhur, co-presidents of the University’s Asian American Students Association; Neuroscience Professor Sam Wang; Associate History Professor Beth Lew-Williams, historian of race and migration in the United States; and Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Professor Yiguang Ju, representing the University Chinese American Scholar Forum.
Other speakers included local clinical psychologist Jasmine Ueng-McHale, who led the crowd in a meditation; Sadat Jaffer, chair of Montgomery Township Diversity and Equity Committee and former mayor of Montgomery Township; Van Le, vice chair of the New Jersey Vietnamese American Community Association; Valeria Torres-Olivares, board member of Not In Our Town Princeton; Leighton Newlin, co-chair of Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Association; and Ana from Unidad Latina en Accion.