People of all ages, from throughout the state, stood up for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders at a protest event Friday evening at West Hartford Town Hall.
By Ted Glanzer. Photos by Ronni Newton
Less than a year ago, Conard High senior Natalie DeLaCruz stood in front of the steps of the West Hartford Town Hall at a Black Lives Matter protest to speak about Breonna Taylor, an unarmed Black woman who was shot and killed in her apartment Louisville police officers.
Fast forward to Friday evening, and DeLaCruz, 16, was back at that same spot to speak about another unthinkable atrocity – this time the killing of eight people, including six Asian women, at the hands of a white domestic terrorist at spas in Atlanta, Georgia, on Tuesday.
DeLaCruz, who said she is half-Asian, focused on the exploitation of the Asian women who reportedly worked in the spas.
“The shooter claimed he did this to eliminate the sexual temptation he felt toward the spa workers,” DeLaCruz told the crowd of about 250 people, before quoting a statement made by state Rep. Jillian Gilcrest. “Women of Asian descent have been victimized in illicit massage businesses for far too long. … These women are being sexually exploited by men who demand their services. At any given time there are 150 massage parlors operating in the state of Connecticut. We cannot ignore this injustice any more. … Theses murders must also elevate the issues of misogyny and sexism that run rampant in the U.S. and that allows the trafficking of these women to continue.”
DeLaCruz called on people to act on racism and sexism.
“If you see something, now is the time to say something, because it could be saving lives,” she said.
DeLaCruz, who is one of two high school students from Connecticut selected to participate in the U.S. Senate Youth Recognition program this year, said she has been race conscious since second grade, and she knew from an early age that she didn’t look like most of the kids at Duffy Elementary School.
“I suffered bullying for how I looked in silence for a long time,” she said. “In my pre-teen and early teen years, I was sexualized more than my peers because of my race. I have seen and experienced racism first hand and it has caused me to doubt who I am many times.
“However I now know there’s nothing wrong with who I am. I am not exotic. I am not the C slut and I am not your fetish. I am Natalie DeLaCruz and I am proud to be Asian.”
Others also highlighted the historic racism they’ve experienced as Asian Americans, as well as the spike in violence against that group in the past year.
According to one study, the number of violent incidents against Asian Americans jumped to about 3,800 since the pandemic, up from about 2,600 the year prior.
“I am an Asian American woman, I am angry and I am disgusted at what we’ve seen this week,” Farmington High student Joyce Fang told the crowd. “But with all that, I can’t say that I’m shocked or surprised. I wish I could be shocked or surprised, but that would mean what we saw this week was an isolated incident. But it wasn’t. These horrifying murders were hate crimes. … They didn’t come out of nowhere. Racism and violence against Asian American communities is not a new development. … Time and time again, America has shown us that Asians are perpetual foreigners, that we don’t belong here.”
Fang said what undermines the racism and violence against Asian Americans is that they’re often called “the model minority.”
“That is the history we have to own up to, to fight against the hate and white supremacy that continues to persist and continues to trap Asian Americans in the cycle of violence,” she said, adding it’s more urgent than ever to take a stand against hate crimes such as the ones in Atlanta, echoing the much-derided comments by Cherokee County Sheriff’s Capt. Jay Baker. “I will not pay for my life because someone had a bad day. I will not sit by as people try to make every excuse possible for a white man to get away with murder.”
Fang said she’s seen plenty of statements from people and companies saying they condemn the violence.
“Then prove it to me,” she said. “Show me the conversations you’re having … how are you educating yourself, how are you showing up for your community.”
Fang said Asian Americans are not a “model minority,” nor are they “a monolith.”
“If you are only willing to show up for Asian Americans when we are white adjacent, or when we are successful, if you’re not showing up for … sex workers, working class Asian Americans or incarcerated Asian Americans and many more of our most vulnerable members, you’re not showing up for Asian Americans at all.”
Farmington High senior Mercy Adekola, a member of the Social Justice Club, spoke about solidarity and how white supremacy has divided minority communities.
“Equity is dependent on unification,” Adekola said. “Asian and Black communities have been the strongest when they have fought and to dismantle the system of white supremacy together. White supremacy in its essence functions to divide the oppressed. … White supremacy has and is pitting the Black and Asian communities against each other.”
Prior to the students speaking, Dr. Jason Chang, a historian at UConn who is also a member of the West Hartford Board of Education, called on the passage of a bill that requires the teaching of Asian American and Pacific islander studies in the schools.
“We live together,” he said. “And I want to teach together and I want to dream together. And if we don’t start with equity in our schools then our schools will produce inequity.”
“The violence against our communities goes deep. It goes deep because it’s linked to warfare. All of the racial slurs toward Asians come from war. We have to remember those wars. Those are parts of our stories. Violence against Asian women is a tactic of war. … It’s how victors celebrate war.”
But, Chang said, while his heart is broken, he is hopeful.
“None of this is new. But what is new is everyone here showing up. That gives me strength.”
The event was quickly organized by Mimi Gonzalez, a West Hartford activist who has also organized Black Lives Matter protests and rallies.
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