By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
How do you start a movement? The youth leaders of the newly formed organization, AAPI Against Hate, are finding out. Spurred by the recent rise in anti-Asian crime across the nation, several local young people have come together to lend a hand and make a difference.
“If you feel really impassioned about something that’s going on, you’ve got to get involved, especially with issues like this concerning human rights and human wellness. There’s nothing that’s going to change if nobody gets involved,” stated Nathan Duong, one of the five founding members of the group. “We all get involved in different ways, but we all have to get involved nonetheless.”
Co-founder, Madeleine Magana, added, “What helps me is knowing that when AAPIs do feel the need to speak out on something that has happened to them, they know that their voices will be uplifted by their community. Even as #StopAsianHate is a trend right now.
Organizations, we are doing more…they are willing to reach out to people that want to be heard. If anything, I hope that people … know there is a community that is really wanting to hear from them.”
Along with Anson Huang, Debra Erdenemandakh, and Ben Yan, these five college and high school students came together in early March of this year to combat racism and hate. After contributing to their establishment, Yan had to step out, and the group was joined by Alicia Ying, who helps with their virtual rallies and designing weekly posters. None of the leaders claim a position higher than another—they are all on equal footing for the cause.
“After the Atlanta shootings, I experienced a lot of anxiety and waiting for the push back,” Magana shared. “The police officers in Atlanta said he was ‘just having a bad day’—the most infamous phrase. I was expecting white supremacist groups to come out and come face to face with us at the rallies. Every time I go with a little bit of hesitancy that we might be facing people that disagree.” Undeterred by the possibility of confrontation, AAPI Against Hate joined with other community groups to form the rally at Hing Hay Park in the International District on March 13. They also quickly began online “action rallies” every Monday and corner rallies on weekends in person, in locations around the area, including Maple Valley and Burien.
The group met each other through other activities going on in the community and reaching out to local activist leaders such as Michael Itti, Kim-Khanh Van, and Tanya Woo.
“Without their help, we would not have been able to do that within a week,” Magana said of the successful rally at Hing Hay Park. When asked what AAPI Against Hate is hoping for, Magana stated, “Our goal is to open a safe space to come up with solutions.”
“I got involved by contacting Tanya Woo through the CID night watch and from them, the group organically came together over shared interests,” Duong explained. Van helped Magana meet Erdenemandakh.
“We’re both from Maple Valley. We went to the same high school. There are not too many Asian Americans in Maple Valley. I met Anson and Ben through a fellowship we did earlier in the quarter, People Power Washington. Nathan is from pretty far away, in Monroe. He was starting his own virtual event and Kim heard about his event and connected him with us,” Magana said.
All of the youth were already active in their own ways. Magana, who is going for a degree in Public Affairs at Seattle University, has been working on creating an AAPI student association there, and last year, she organized a Black Lives Matter protest in her hometown. All were spurred by watching anti-Asian crimes unfold nation-wide.
“When we came together, it was March 7,” Duong recalled. “I know that we were all really impassioned long before that. For me personally, what caused me to get involved … was the murder of Vicha Ratanapakdee. Seeing that video was really traumatic. I’ve been involved in other social justice work, but that caused me to spring to action.”
In terms of being the victims of racism themselves, the students’ experiences have been mixed. Magana feels her life in Maple Valley has been relatively safe. However, in response to an increased feeling of insecurity in Renton, her grandparents have relocated to her neighborhood. Duong told of racism his parents experienced since emigrating from Vietnam, and of being called racist slurs himself.
“It’s something that, as we’re experiencing the surge in hate and violent incidents…it’s not like it’s anything new, and it’s also frustrating that it’s not anything new. My dad used to get beat up on his way to school. My mom got screamed at, at her job making sandwiches because the guy couldn’t stand that a Chinese person was making his food.”
As a group, AAPI Against Hate has already been targeted during their street-side protests. Neither their youth nor a special religious holiday has deterred attackers.
“Easter Sunday, we were doing an AAPI Against Hate corner rally in Maple Valley and there was this man who drove past really fast,” Duong said. “He shouted something out of his car and I kind of heard him, I wasn’t sure I heard him right, but I checked with the other people around me and they heard him, loud and clear. He shouted ‘Whites are better! Go kill yourselves!’”
For young adults interested in supporting local action with AAPI Against Hate, contact email@example.com.
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.