Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) citizens have been targeted more than ever in the past year due to the blame they have unjustly received for the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, the Atlanta spa shooting brought national attention to the racism faced by the AAPI community. After watching attacks increase and enter Bay Area communities, Berkeley High School (BHS) juniors Lucia Moratinos-Chu and Abby Lamoreaux decided to take action.
Lamoreaux and Moratinos-Chu spent the past few weeks organizing a protest that took place in Oakland on April 2 to combat racism against AAPI citizens.
“You really see people coming together and saying, ‘I’m terrified, but I’m going to take that and I’m going to turn it into action and have my voice heard,’” said Lamoreaux on what spurred her to organize the march.
America has a long history of exclusion and hostility towards Asian people, often blaming them for issues unrelated to their race and seeing them as a threat, evident from the late 1800s, when a series of laws intended to prevent immigration from China were passed, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Another example is the internment of more than a hundred thousand Japanese Americans, the majority of whom were citizens, in concentration camps during World War II. As long as people of Asian descent have lived in the US, they have been subjected to violence, stereotypes, and unjustified hatred.
Since the pandemic hit, hatred towards Asians has taken a new form. Government officials and media outlets have made Asians the scapegoat for the issues surrounding the coronavirus, resulting in almost 3,800 anti-Asian hate crimes reported by the organization Stop AAPI Hate in the past year.
“I feel like racism in the Asian American community has always been there. There’s just a light shone on that right now because of coronavirus,” said Lamoreaux. Lamoreaux explained that in her experience being part Chinese, in the recent past racism against Asians was mostly microaggressions. However, she noted that people are now comfortable enough to outwardly make racist comments, mostly surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. “Now people aren’t as scared to commit racist acts towards us as they were,” she said.
Even when Lamoreaux and other organizers of the protest were preparing signs to carry, a group of kids across the street yelled racial slurs at them. Lamoreaux said that it saddens her to see young people in her own generation being ignorant enough to think that those jokes are funny, and that it shows the normalization of racism against Asians in our culture.
“With this protest, I want to bring more awareness. We live in Berkeley, which is known as … very progressive, but that doesn’t mean the discrimination goes away,” said Moratinos-Chu.
Moratinos-Chu said that, being part Chinese, she has felt a lot of worry since attacks against AAPI started rising. “Those same people, the same grandparents and elders that are getting knocked down on the street, that could be my grandparents,” she explained.
Moratinos-Chu and Lamoreaux have been friends since they were freshmen, and agree that having similar experiences as Asian American teenagers have helped them bond and create change. When Moratinos-Chu found out about the Atlanta spa shooting, she called Lamoreaux so she could process it with someone who would understand how she was feeling.
Moratinos-Chu explained that she was really angry and sad, and needed to find a way to take action. “After we talked about it, I was just like ‘We need to do something,’ ” Moratinos-Chu said. “It started really quick, because the day after, we already had a group chat with people to help us organize a protest,” she continued.
The protest was organized by a group of eleven teenagers from all across the Bay Area, led by Lamoreaux and Moratinos-Chu. “I have been feeling so helpless for so long, and I think that this was kind of a moment for us to determine that and actually [take] action,” said Lamoreaux.
The teens created an Instagram account (@bayareaaapi) to help get the word out about the protest. They also passed out flyers in multiple languages to strangers on the street, and posted announcements in stores. The effort was evidently successful, as an estimated 300 protestors or more gathered at the Oakland City Hall and marched to the Lake Merritt Amphitheater, where speakers shared their experiences with Asian hate.
To fund supplies for the event, they created a GoFundMe page, with an end goal of nine hundred dollars. However, from donations from the community, that goal was surpassed within two days, and later reached a total of over $2,600. The money was used to purchase masks, hand sanitizer, food, and water for the protest, as well as t-shirts for the organizers, with all surplus donations being given to local Asian-owned businesses and organizations.
“We’re just really grateful that people are showing up, and wanting to help out in any way they can,” said Lamoreaux.
Lamoreaux said the protest’s goal was also to educate attendees, through the gathering and speaker portion at the end of the march. According to Lamoreaux, hearing the stories and feelings from Asian students in person is very valuable, and the experience prompts listeners to reflect on the issues the AAPI community is facing.
Lamoreaux and Moratinos-Chu also think increasing Asian representation in school and teaching people about microaggressions towards Asians could help decrease AAPI hate at BHS.
Both Moratinos-Chu and Lamoreaux have experience as student leaders in social justice. Moratinos-Chu is on the Anti-Racism Task Force for the dance studio Destiny Arts, and Lamoreaux is in the Black, Indiginous, and People of Color (BIPOC) division of Berkeley International High School (BIHS) Leadership. Lamoreaux also spent time in Alaska this past year for a senate election, and worked on the Georgia senate runoffs as well. “I’m really passionate about what we’re doing,” said Moratinos-Chu.
Moratinos-Chu and Lamoreaux agree that managing schoolwork has been the biggest challenge among organizing the protest. “I think that a lot of people forget that we’re students also, like I personally am super behind right now, trying to organize this, said Lamoreaux, “For the past week my brain has just been going nonstop.”
However, she and Moratinos-Chu were determined to see the protest to completion. “Racism doesn’t stop for schoolwork, racism doesn’t stop for stressed out teenagers,” Lamoreaux said. “This is something I’m willing to go through that stress for. I’m just glad I’ve got Lucia to go through it with, and the whole community, everyone on our Instagram, to go through it with.”
For those who couldn’t attend the protest, Lamoreaux said people can help by educating themselves about AAPI issues and violence in America. “It isn’t our job as People of Color to educate you on our own trauma,” she said. “We’re just putting our faith in the community, and hoping that they rise to the call of action.”