Students organize vigil against anti-Asian racism

Speaking to a crowd of nearly 100 people on the State Capitol steps, Boise’s North Junior High student Yvonne Shen asked what people think the American dream is.

It’s not the fear of losing your life if you’re Asian American, Shen said, or worrying about your parents and grandparents when they leave the house. She pointed to the sidewalk on West Jefferson Street, where two security officers were standing: “It’s not the need for extra security for our own safety tonight.”

Saturday night’s gathering at the Capitol was a candlelight vigil in honor of Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Soon Park, Hyun Grant, Suncha Kim and Yong Yue, who were shot to death on March 16 at spas in Atlanta, Ga.

The event was also a rally against a surge of anti-Asian discrimination in America.

Six of the eight people killed in the Georgia shootings were Asian. The attack in Atlanta was the latest in a growing number of incidents of violence against Asian people in the United States. According to the group Stop AAPI Hate, there have been 3,795 reported incidents of discrimination against Asians in the last year, a figure that was referenced multiple times at Saturday’s vigil.

Wency Suo, a sophomore at Boise High, coordinated the vigil. She was inspired to organize the event after spending Friday researching the shootings and other instances of discrimination against Asians.

I read a few articles. I got so mad that I ended up somehow organizing this event that same day,” she said. 

Suo was overjoyed with the turnout.

“I’m really proud of my community,” Suo said. “I feel so happy that I was able to get so many people to come out and …. actually speak up on their own experiences.”

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Asians make up 1.2 percent of Idaho students. Many of the speakers at Saturday’s vigil were Treasure Valley students, who spoke out about the myth of Asians as “model minorities,” their being made to feel ashamed of their own cultures and how more should speak out against injustice.

“Asians are supposed to be quiet and shy,” Shen said. “But that time is up.”

The model-minority myth is the misconception that Asian Americans are not being discriminated against because of common stereotypes rooted in beliefs that they automatically have financially secure, two-parent households or that they are well-educated.

In the final speech of the night, Suo spoke about how she hides her culture in public, including not speaking Chinese and not wearing her jade jewelry.

“By definition, I’m Asian American, but I’ve only ever felt Asian and othered in America,” Suo said. “Society makes it obvious here that I have to be white to succeed — and clearly I am not that.”

State Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise, also spoke at the vigil. Chew, who is originally from Oakland, Calif., came to Boise in 1986 and said she felt welcomed in the Treasure Valley. But Chew also spoke about an incident where she was walking to her car one night in Boise and a man made her fear for her safety.

“The kind of thing that could have happened to me that day, that’s the kind of thing that is happening to Asian people across the country,” Chew said, adding that Idaho is not immune to the problem of anti-Asian discrimination.

“It’s already here,” she said.

Having faced anti-Asian discrimination all of her life, Chew said it’s taken her some time to find her real thoughts on the March 16 shootings.

“I’m older generation and this has been happening to us a long long time, so it takes me a little while for it to penetrate,” Chew said. “And when I get quiet, and when I hear the stories like these young people shared for me, it’s my time to really grieve.”

In seeing the response to the vigil, Chew said she was hopeful for the future of the Asian community in Idaho. As many older Asian families carry fear about speaking up, Chew said the younger generation is instrumental in creating a stronger Asian community.

“When people spoke up, they got killed,” Chew said. “Our houses got burned down.”

Suo said she’s unsure about what someone in high school can do, but she wants to continue to create community events and stay connected with Chew in the future.

I think that while I’m still kind of young, I want to do as much as I can for my own community to make the change in the world that I want to see,” she said. 

Nik Streng

About Nik Streng

Nik Streng graduated with his bachelors degree in creative writing from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore., in 2013 and graduated with his master’s in journalism from the University of Oregon. 

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