It is hard to capture in an article the richness and—even on Zoom—the energy of the recent event hosted by the Asian Community Fund (ACF), We Rise Together: Town Hall on Asian Resilience, Power and Solidarity. The ACF organized the event to honor those killed one year ago in the highly-publicized shootings at two Asian-owned businesses in Atlanta, and to acknowledge the many other victims of racism and hate-driven violence since then—the 10,000+ reported cases of anti-Asian hate, and the countless unreported cases. And yet, in the face of that, to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) strength, hope and solidarity among and beyond the members of that highly diverse group.
The agenda reflected both that energy and diversity, featuring 14 speakers in or introducing keynotes, panels and short Spark Talks; a musical performance; and in the most extensive translation effort ever by the Boston Foundation, live translation of the English presentation into four languages on separate audio channels: Cantonese, Khmer, Mandarin and Vietnamese. The sidebar chat boxes were beautifully peppered with comments in all these languages and scripts.
The speakers’ messages were distinct but coalesced around themes of identity, stereotypes and invisibility; of sharing stories and pushing for education; and of high hopes with solidarity and leadership to match in pursuit of a safer and better world for everyone.
After welcomes and introductions from ACF Chair Paul Lee and Bunker Hill Community College President Pam Eddinger (both Boston Foundation Board members), ACF Director Danielle Kim moderated the program, beginning with a powerful message from Boston Mayor Michelle Wu. Hatred and objectification are not new, she noted, but date back to the Chinese Exclusion Act and remain with us. “Just being here today is an act of resilience, and in resilience is our power,” she said. She urged everyone to share their experience and the wisdom from what they’ve lived through to create solidarity, strengthening partnerships to “build a world where safety isn’t an individual experience but a system for all of us; where you don’t have to choose between being part of your family and part of the larger community.”
Wu was followed by Ai-jen Poo, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. She pointed out the connection between devaluation and violence, and how so often anti-Asian violence is perpetrated against women, especially those in low-valued work, like the women in Atlanta—and like so many home health care and other domestic workers, whose work was essential in keeping things functioning during the worst of the pandemic. Her organization is pushing to “change the way this country values our work and our lives.” She said, “Hope is our superpower, a legacy from our elders.”
After the musical performance from Live Arts Boston 2021 grantees DoYeon Kim and Chase Morrin, the “Spark Talk” series followed with four local women, spanning from high school and college-aged to mature adulthood, briefly sharing their unique but also overlapping perspectives. Some of their sparks:
Vanny Huot, Revere Youth in Action: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
Unmol Easha Gill, Sikh Association of BU: “Education is the only tool we have.”
Stephanie Fan, Chinese Historical Society: “Understanding your own and others’ history is important. We’re [almost] all immigrants—there's no reason to fight each other."
Rebecca Zhang, youth organizer and high school student: “The need for representation is not just a trend.”
Next, John C. Yang, the President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) offered a national perspective and a brighter look at areas of progress, including:
To close out the event, Yang joined a panel discussion moderated by GBH General Manager for Television Liz Cheng, with fellow panelists King Boston Executive Director Imari Paris Jeffries, Southeast Asian Coalition of Central MA Executive Director Anh Vu Sawyer, and Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui. They spoke about the spike in hate crimes, but also highlighted local measures to counter hate and address longer-term issues of inequity.
They spoke of what people could do to get involved in the solutions (hint: you don’t have to run for office). They spoke at length about education and its vital role in increasing solidarity and easing hate. Most of all, they spoke of hope, about the new level of activism among youth and once more reticent adults, about the myriad leaders and influencers in one place at this town hall, about the record (but still inadequate) number of AAPI representatives at the State House, and—with hope and gratitude—about those who have started to put money toward addressing the issues discussed here.