Nearly 300 people rallied in front of Portland City Hall Saturday afternoon to denounce hate, prejudice and racism directed at Asian Americans in Maine and nationwide.
Organizers of the event called for Mainers to “join members of Maine’s Asian American, Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities for a rally for multiracial solidarity to #StopAsianHate.” Speakers included elected officials, students, nonprofit leaders and business owners.
The event in Portland, like others around the country, was organized after a shooting near Atlanta that left eight people dead. Six of the victims were women of Asian descent.
Many speakers at the event addressed the need for Asian American history to be included in school curricula. They also called for unity among members of marginalized communities most affected by racism and violence.
Organizer Marpheen Chann, a first-generation Asian American, told the roughly 275 people gathered that hatred, bigotry and white supremacy is nothing new. But he said, by “standing up, speaking up, and showing up in solidarity with us, it has met its match.”
Sejong Park, owner of Sun Market in downtown Portland, said he has experienced acts of hate and racism in the Asian grocery that has been in his family for 33 years.
“And, we have been seeing this hatred more and more, especially through the pandemic. But right now is the time that we need more of care and compassion to take care of this — and that’s why we’re here today,” he said. “It’s time that everybody saw each other as an equal, and get rid of this hatred.”
In recent months, Park said the climate has become so tense that customers have offered to stand at the front and back doors of his store to help make sure his family can stay safe while working inside.
Many Asians report increased anti-Asian violence since the start of the pandemic, and a 2020 Pew Research Center poll found that roughly 1 in 4 Asian-Americans nationwide reported fearing that someone might threaten or physically attack them because of their race or ethnicity in the past year.
Portland city councilor Tae Chong, who was born in South Korea, called the current hate crimes against Asian American an epidemic.
“It should not take the death of seven Asian Americans, six of whom were women, for this nation to recognize that anti-Asian hate crimes are real and part of our nation’s history and current reality,” Chong said. “It should not take the massacre of people of color for this nation to start noticing that racism — whether the victims are black, Asian, brown, Latinx, indigenous — racism is not a body count. Racism should not be discussed only when people of color are killed.”
Liz Sinclair of Portland stood in the crowd holding a handmade sign that said ‘White Supremacy Cannot Divide Us!”
“One thing about white supremacy is that it seeks to divide people,” Sinclair said. “There have been a lot of acts of hate crimes against Asians, but it’s really not just that. It’s the whole white supremacist system is allowing this to be happening. This is like the root of the problem, to me.”
“Next time you see us, what will you think? That we’re perpetual foreigners? COVID carriers, the model minority? Or will you see beyond the harmful stereotypes? Will you see our humanity? My yellow-hues skin may look different from yours,” said Zabrina Richards, a high school student at the New School in Kennebunk, “but I’m still made from flesh and bone.”
Another event against Asian violence is planned for Tuesday in Portland’s Payson Park. It is being organized by area nonprofits.