‘Will you hear us?’: Hundreds gather across Bay Area to protest anti-Asian American hate

Hundreds rallied over the weekend in Saratoga, San Francisco, San Jose, Berkeley and elsewhere to yet again protest anti-Asian American hate, publicly sharing grief and rage over local and national attacks that have left multiple people dead and prompted a reckoning over the ways racism manifests in the diverse Bay Area.

In Saratoga, people waved signs such as “We are not a virus” and “Racism is a pandemic” as myriad speakers — representing a wide coalition of political organizations, school districts and advocacy groups — traded stories of racist experiences and called upon the crowd to speak out against hate speech and assaults aimed at the Asian American community with increasing frequency.

“We have righteous, righteous anger. We have righteous pain,” Assemblymember Evan Low told the crowd. “Will you hear us? Will you see us? Will you stand with us? And most importantly, will you love us?”

From March 2020 to February 2021, the group Stop AAPI Hate received reports of 3,795 hate incidents throughout the country, including 1,691 in California and 142 in Santa Clara County. In January, a viral video horrified viewers with footage of an elderly man getting shoved to the ground while walking in Oakland’s Chinatown. In another video, a young man slammed an 84-year-old man into a San Francisco driveway; he later died.

Then on March 16, a shooting rampage at several Atlanta, Georgia, spas killed eight people, six of whom were Asian American women.

The acts have stirred anguish and anger in the Bay Area, a longtime center for various Asian American communities. Alameda and Santa Clara counties both count Asian Americans as their largest ethnic group. Sixty-seven percent of Cupertino residents are Asian American, followed by 48% in Saratoga, 38% in San Jose and 35% in San Francisco.

Still, politicians Saturday underscored the racism that pervades a region often assumed to be a liberal bastion. Three years ago, Saratoga’s now-mayor, Yan Zhao, was passing out fliers door-to-door when a White man opened the door, she recalled Saturday.

He quickly said he would only vote for a White person and slammed the door in her face. Another time, a man shouted that Zhao — a decades-long Saratoga resident who emigrated from China — should move to Cupertino if she wanted to be elected.

“The discrimination against Asian Americans was always there, but I chose to be quiet and hope that one day it would get better,” Zhao said. “Now I realize that being quiet — being a so-called ‘model minority’ — will never get the hate to go away.”

Marico Sayoc, mayor of the town of Los Gatos and a second-generation Filipina American, said she likewise has been consistently told to “go home” over the years.

“Guess what? This is my home!” Sayoc said to mass applause. “Tama na, sobra na — in Tagalog, that’s, ‘Enough is enough.’ “

The Bay Area’s history of Asian American political organizing spans decades. Famed former San Jose mayor Norman Mineta, who is Japanese American, was the first Asian American person to lead a major U.S. city with his 1971 election; Union City’s first-ever mayor, Tom Kitayama, was the first Japanese American person to hold California public office starting in 1959.

Several speakers acknowledged their predecessors while also highlighting the state-sanctioned racism against California’s Asian Americans, like the Chinese Exclusion Act first established in 1882 and later incarceration of about 120,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II.

“We just need to be aware of the tendency to have cycles — bad things happen, we protest, we do a little bit of improvement, people forget, then bad things happen again,” said Cupertino Mayor Darcy Paul. “It’s incumbent upon all of us to cut through the cycle.”

Julie Sim, a Sunnyvale resident in her 50s who emigrated from Singapore almost 30 years ago, said that the Saratoga rally was the second she has ever attended. The first was last week’s in San Jose, which drew more than 1,000 people.

Last month, hundreds poured into San Mateo for a rally led by a 13-year-old student. Thousands more have since gathered in San Jose, Oakland and San Francisco. Sim said she was compelled to join after reading about hateful episodes almost daily in the news.

“I feel like now people are more aware,” Sim said. “They know that it is a problem. Before, it was like nobody cared.”

Staff writer Leonardo Castaneda contributed to this report.

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Author: Fiona Kelliher