‘Stop Asian hate’: Portland rally calls for end to wave of violence against AAPI community
“I am fed up.”
That’s how Marpheen Chann, president of the Cambodian Community Association of Maine, began a rally Saturday afternoon at Portland City Hall to call attention to violence and discrimination against Asian American people in Maine and across the country. The event, titled “Stop Asian Hate: Rally for Multiracial Solidarity” drew an estimated 200 people, many of whom held up signs and joined speakers in chants against the recent increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans.
The rally comes in the wake of a shooting in Atlanta earlier this month that took the lives of eight people, six of whom were Asian women. It also comes after anti-Asian hate crimes rose by almost 150% in 2020, with many pointing to the racist language about the coronavirus used by former President Donald Trump as a factor in that increase.
Maine has not been immune from the discrimination against Asian Americans, as earlier this month an Asian woman in Portland reported to police that a man yelled at her to “go back to where she came from” while she was sitting in her car with her children. The man then kicked one of the mirrors on her vehicle, she told police.
Still, multiple speakers noted that despite the recent wave of violence, discrimination against Asian Americans has long been a problem in the U.S.
“This is nothing new,” Chann said. “We are seeing the face of hatred and bigotry and white supremacy again and again and again.”
However, Chann said there is a path forward, calling for people “of all different races and faiths and cultures and creeds coming together in solidarity to stand up, to speak up and to show up.”
A number of other people from Maine’s Asian American community also spoke at the event, with many telling stories of the racism and bigotry they’ve faced.
Anh Thach, a student at Casco Bay High School, said when she was growing up, her race and culture was constantly mocked by classmates. As the only Asian American at her school, Thach felt isolated and lonely and tried to hide her heritage to fit in.
Thach did eventually embrace her culture, a process that was helped along by attending a school that was more diverse. However, she said discrimination against Asian Americans remains a serious problem and is something that is baked into the history of the U.S.
“This hate has existed long before COVID started,” Thach said. “COVID only brought the hate and racism toward Asian Americans to the forefront.”
Ben Chin, deputy director of Maine People’s Alliance (of which Beacon is a project) also spoke at the rally. Chin opened his speech by telling the crowd about how, when he was a high schooler in Pittsburgh, Penn. a man named Richard Baumhammers wrote a Nazi manifesto before going on a racially-motivated shooting spree, targeting neighbors as well as Asian grocery stores and a synagogue.
After that shooting, Chin said no adult at his school asked if he was okay. There were no rallies or protests. That stands in contrast to the event in Portland and those that have happened around the country following the recent wave of anti-Asian violence — rallies Chin said are a direct result of multiracial organizing and coalition building, particularly by the Movement for Black Lives, that has led to a shift in public consciousness when it comes to racial justice.
Chin added that while the events of the last few weeks have been difficult to deal with, “Our people have survived famine and colonialism and genocide and nuclear bombs and every other form of violence people have visted upon anyone in the world. And we are still here and we are not going anywhere.”
Grace Valenzuela, director of the Multilingual and Multicultural Center at Portland Public Schools, was another speaker at the rally. In her remarks, Valenzuela noted that the longstanding history of discrimination against Asian Americans has had a particularly pernicious impact on Asian women.
“Our women are sexualized. The intersection of gender and race in the context of hate and violence is critical for Asian Americans, as we have seen in the Atlanta massacre,” Valenzuela said, noting that the shooter in that massacre referred to the massage parlors where he killed Asian American women as “a temptation” that he wanted to get rid of.
“Asian women are not temptations to eliminate,” Valenzuela said.
Tae Chong, a Portland city councilor, also spoke about the Atlanta shooting. Chong said the massacre was the result of a society that for too long has tolerated racist physical assaults, name calling, threats and discriminatory language. That such actions can and do result in violence isn’t a surprise for many Asian Americans, he said.
“The growing hate crimes against Asian Americans isn’t a surge. It is an epidemic that no one noticed until eight people were killed,” he said. “But it is an epidemic that many Asian Americans know intimately.”
A number of advocates from other communities also spoke at the event in solidarity with the Asian American community. One such speaker was Mufalo Chitam, executive director of the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition.
In her speech, Chitam said organizing across racial lines is essential when responding to hate crimes against any group.
“When you attack one community, you attack all of us. And our response will look just like this,” Chitam said, pointing to the crowd. “In solidarity.”
Top photo: A sign at the Stop Asian Hate rally in Portland, Maine on March 27. | via Cambodian Community Association of Maine