On a warm and sunny Saturday evening, hundreds walked from Bo Diddley Plaza to Depot Park to march against racism and anti-Asian violence after six Asian American women were killed in Atlanta on March 16.
Asian American communities across the nation have since honored the lives of Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Paul Andre Michels, Soon Chung Park, Xiaojie Tan, Delaina Ashley Yaun and Yong Ae Yue.
“Racism is a virus,” chanted the crowd of people as they made their way through downtown. “I am not your fetish!”
Txong Moua, who led the Protect Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders march, encouraged people to chant whatever they felt was necessary.
Moua recently wrote a statement regarding the hate Asian Americans in Gainesville and the country have faced.
“AAPI hate and discrimination is alive and well in the South,” Moua said. “From neighbors to businesses and politics, racism resides in Florida. It is not like a snowbird that comes and goes. It is the confederacy that still believes in white supremacy.”
Both the march and a vigil were organized by the Anti-Hate Team, Goddsville Dream Defenders and North Central Florida Indivisible. Candles, flowers and a list of the victims’ names sat underneath a park pavilion.
People of all ages, races and genders poured into Depot Park. The marchers settled in for a night of speeches, first-hand experiences and calls to action.
Rong Zhang, of the Gainesville Chinese Society, read a portion of a statement from UF professor Jiangeng Xue, which was given to the Gainesville Sun on behalf of the Florida Chinese Faculty Association.
“Many of us are first-generation immigrants,” she read. “We cherish diversity, inclusion and equality. We condemn all hate crimes against any group of people in our country. We want to live in a society where we have no fears to be just Asians.”
Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe spoke on the history of systemic racism, specifically against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and called on the community to stand with one another.
He also took a moment to thank Gainesville’s Asian community.
“Regardless of where you came from, or how long you’ve been here, we’re glad that you’re our neighbors,” he said. “We are such a better, more rich and fulfilling community because you are part of it. And with your love, and kindness, we will defeat racism. And we will create a community rooted only in love and never again hate.”
City Commissioner David Arreola was also present at the vigil and indicated that he was there to listen and learn. He added that as a first-generation American, he hopes to make Gainesville the “most inclusive and safe community possible.” With this hope, he asked for the help of those present to make this possible.
“You all have the most difficult job of all,” he said, “which is to go out back to your communities, and share your experience that you had here today with people who weren’t here. It is a big responsibility, but I know you’re up for it because you came here today, and you care very deeply for your brothers and sisters from Asia, from the Pacific Islands, who are in pain who are suffering, but they’re a strong community.”
Throughout the vigil, people were encouraged to write personal notes describing racism they’ve experienced and notes promoting unity and solidarity. The notes will be posted online by the Anti-Hate Team as part of a virtual “healing garden.”
Speakers continued to share their experiences and urge change as the sun began to set and the wind picked up. Paper cranes made by attendees to symbolize hope, fluttered in the breeze.
Moua said she has experienced discrimination in Gainesville, but she also praised members of the community who stand for the Asian Americans and other minority groups.
“The most support I’ve found within the Gainesville community has been through feminists and the downtown punks who have socio-political viewpoints and understand intersectionality,” she said. “Veterans from the Vietnam War who fought alongside the Hmong against communism tell me their stories, conveying sincere appreciation. My ancestry and gender speaks mostly of Asian oppression and white sexualization.”
Moua added Asians have a place in this country and within American society.
“If you need to question that or whether something might be racist, then it is most likely your own insecurity that makes you feel that way.”