Community members gather together, holding signs of support for the Asian American community, in front of Troy City Hall April 11 during a Stop Asian Hate rally.

Community members gather together, holding signs of support for the Asian American community, in front of Troy City Hall April 11 during a Stop Asian Hate rally.

Photo provided by APIA Vote Michigan


Organizations gather for Stop Asian Hate rally

By: Jonathan Shead | Metro | Published April 22, 2021

 APIA Vote Michigan Executive Director Rebeka Islam, left, and Whenever We’re Needed founder Vinceena Vang lead a group of community members on a march through Troy.

APIA Vote Michigan Executive Director Rebeka Islam, left, and Whenever We’re Needed founder Vinceena Vang lead a group of community members on a march through Troy.

Photo provided by APIA Vote Michigan

TROY — A group of organizers and community members joined forces April 11 in front of Troy City Hall to show support for the Asian American community in southeast Michigan and across the nation.

Whenever We’re Needed co-founder Vinceena Vang and Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote Michigan Executive Director Rebeka Islam, as well as members from Detroit Will Breathe, a Black Lives Matter organization that blossomed in Detroit last year after the death of George Floyd, co-hosted a rally 2-5 p.m. in Troy.

The rally was organized to show support and grieve the lives of Asian Americans lost to tragedy, including the March 16 Atlanta spa mass shooting that led to the deaths of six Asian American women.

“As an organization that is so tightly interwoven into the fabric of this state, we simply couldn’t stand by and not give our community space in which we can express our anger and dismay of the recent events that have been involving Asian Americans,” Islam said.

The Troy rally comes as the fifth rally Vang’s Whenever We’re Needed has hosted or co-hosted alongside APIA Vote Michigan and Detroit Will Breathe. Whenever We’re Needed held a rally March 21 in downtown Detroit in front of the Patrick V. McNamara Federal Building. Two more rallies were co-hosted with APIA Vote Michigan, March 27 at Spirit Plaza in Detroit and at Royal Oak City Hall with Power Detroit. A fifth rally was hosted April 17 in Clark Park in Detroit.

Detroit resident and Whenever We’re Needed activist Allison Zhuang said the rally in Troy was held with permission from the city, with City Council members participating.

 

Strength in numbers
As a Troy native, Vang was motivated to organize the local rally as a way to open a safe, healing space for Asian Americans in the community. She also hoped the rally brought the community closer together.

According to 2019 U.S. Census data, 26% of Troy’s population is made up of Asian residents. The number of hate crimes or racist incidents against Asian Americans nationally has increased dramatically, with 3,800 new reports since March 2020. Twenty-five of those reports were from Michigan, according to data from Stop Asian American Pacific Islander  Hate.

“Although Troy is mostly populated by a large demographic of Asians, I have always felt seen as an outsider,” Vang said. “I think many or all Asians could also attest to feeling that way. Even the Asian community didn’t seem to have a sense of unity; it still felt divided. With this movement, I felt very called to bring some closure and hold a safe, healing space (for) the Asian community in Troy, to show that someone who understands their struggles, cares and knows how it feels to not feel seen or heard.”

As attendees and organizers gathered to listen to speakers, including state Sen. Padma Kuppa, Troy Mayor Pro Tem Theresa Brooks and Troy Councilwoman Rebecca Chamberlain Creanga, among others, a resounding theme began to make itself clear to those in attendance.

“The support we’ve been seeing at the rallies, it means that we’re waking up. People who usually stay silent, for whatever reason, are now raising their voices because they are outraged; they’ve just had enough,” Islam said. “Honestly, I’m very encouraged by what we’re seeing at the rallies because I believe it will take every single one of us to stop the violent acts on APIAs, and all people of color.

“It’s a shame it would take the loss of so many lives for us to wake up, but I would hope we can take advantage of this moment and the momentum we’ve gathered,” she added.

While Vang acknowledged that construction along Big Beaver Road and a potential for rain may have kept some people home, she was still pleased and was even inspired to see the motivation of those who did attend.

“The highlight of the rally was seeing high school students from Athens and Troy High School be present and so proactive in wanting to help Whenever We’re Needed, as well as be loud when it came to chanting and marching,” Vang said. “It gives me so much satisfaction that I was able to help inspire teenagers in my city to do better and want more for the future of mankind.”

For Zhuang, the number of non-Asian people showing up to support her and others in the Asian American community made an impression.

“I was really moved, because I saw a lot of fellow Asian Americans who I felt I could share some common experiences (with), but there was also a very broad diversity of people across ages and races,” she said. “So many people from all over the community, not just Asian Americans, showing support for us and showing us love — showing us they see us and that they care about us. It meant a lot to me.”

Zhuang realized from the rally how important it is to show up for other, especially minority, communities in their time of need.

“I hope I can see more of that in the future, just everyday people demonstrating what they care about through their actions and words.”

 

Speaking up, speaking out
“I hope nothing but for bystanders to really take away from the fact that there is a reason why myself, attendees and other organizers are out here fighting. It isn’t to complain. It isn’t because we’re bored, but it’s the fact that racism is alive and well,” Vang said.

“We must continue to shake up every space we’re able to take up and be loud. We must grab attention. We must fight and advocate. Because if not us, then who? To those who attended, I hope that they felt like they have a place to heal and grieve.”

Islam echoed Vang’s statements about stepping up to say Asian Americans have had enough.

“Through all the rallies we’ve been doing in Detroit and Troy, it’s No. 1 to pay our respects to those individuals who died in metro Atlanta, and to express our collective sadness and anger, but also to gain strength from the community in Troy and really just to say, ‘enough is enough,’” Islam said. “We wanted people to know that, although we’re in an unprecedented wave of violence against APIAs, this is not something that’s new. It’s been happening all along.”

Vang said she’s felt it especially important to speak up since the Atlanta spa shootings because her mother and sister both work as nail technicians.

“Asian women in general are the foundation of the beauty industry and (an) industry that provides pampering and care. It is unacceptable to have our women fetishized and massacred as if their lives do not matter,” she said. “I think this hits home for a lot of Asians. Asian women are nothing but caretakers and providers for their families. We do not exist to be seen as subservient and disposable.”

As organizers continue to partner in a battle for greater advocacy and voice among minority populations, Islam believes civic engagement, more specifically voting, can be one of the most powerful ways to support change.

“We hope all APIAs will continue to be engaged in public policies that affect their lives and exercise their right to vote in every single election. That’s one of the most powerful and simple ways to fight back against racism and make sure that the lives of those we lost in metro Atlanta weren’t just lost in vain.”

Visit www.apiavotemi.org or Whenever We’re Needed on Facebook or Instagram at @WWNDETROIT for updates and more information.