‘To some I’ll never be seen as a local’: Hundreds gather to honor Atlanta victims, support AAPI cause
Anti-Asian hate crime was the impetus for local members of the AAPI community to gather Saturday and share their stories of encountering racism, as people of all ages gathered around the county building in Santa Cruz.
Hundreds of members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities and allies gathered in front of the county administration building on Saturday for a vigil to honor the victims of the shootings in Atlanta and other AAPI hate crime victims across the country.
The victims of the shooting were remembered, and honored by a moment of silence. Then local members of the AAPI community shared their stories of encountering racism, while people of all ages gathered around the building, with families sitting on picnic blankets on the lawn and others spilling over into the parking lot. The space was decorated with flowers, and chalk for the many children present.
About half a dozen AAPI women shared emotional stories of being targeted by hatred and racism in Santa Cruz and surrounding communities, both before and after the pandemic, which many of them shared has exacerbated racism directed at AAPI groups, with racist terms like “Kung Flu,” proliferating.
Vickie Nam, a second generation Korean-American who has lived in Santa Cruz for 18 years, said she has “always felt very conspicuous” as an Asian-American in Santa Cruz, even before the pandemic.
Last July, Nam said she was walking with her 2-year-old daughter near her home on the Westside, when two young men in a car drove by. One of the men yelled a racial epithet, while the other pulled the corners of his eyes back. “They laughed and drove off flashing shaka signs at us through the window,” Nam said.
She shared another story of being in front of Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Downtown, when a white man yelled at her from across the street to “go back to San Jose.”
“It doesn’t matter that I’ve lived here for 18 years,” Nam said. “To some I’ll never be seen as a local.” Since the pandemic, and after the shootings, Nam said she has been feeling especially vulnerable.
Nam and others said the event was a bright spot in a dark time. Jacquie Benetua-Rolens, who grew up in Santa Cruz and is a first-generation, biracial Filipina, helped organize the vigil and attended with her husband and two children.
Working together to organize the vigil was “cathartic,” she said. When she was growing up, she didn’t have a huge AAPI community to turn to. After meeting so many people through organizing and attending Saturday’s vigil, she’s hopeful the Santa Cruz experience will be different for her own children.
Stephanie Cheung, who started Asian Americans in Santa Cruz, the group that hosted the event, said she was “in shock” that so many people came out, and that watching the vigil unfold, and a community come together for healing was “just really beautiful.”