Julia Malone, 13, of Royal Oak, center, and her mother, Elaine Jirkans, center right, march and carry signs in downtown Royal Oak during a Stop Asian Hate march March 27.

Julia Malone, 13, of Royal Oak, center, and her mother, Elaine Jirkans, center right, march and carry signs in downtown Royal Oak during a Stop Asian Hate march March 27.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Stop Asian Hate solidarity march speaks out against racism

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published April 5, 2021

 Maria Vue, of Madison Heights, holds a “Stop Asian Hate” sign during a solidarity protest in downtown Royal Oak March 27.

Maria Vue, of Madison Heights, holds a “Stop Asian Hate” sign during a solidarity protest in downtown Royal Oak March 27.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 Unhyo Yi, of Detroit, speaks during a Stop Asian Hate event in downtown Royal Oak March 27.

Unhyo Yi, of Detroit, speaks during a Stop Asian Hate event in downtown Royal Oak March 27.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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ROYAL OAK — Several dozen protesters and activists joined together in downtown Royal Oak to fight racism against Asian Americans and support the Asian American Pacific Islander community March 27.

Co-organized by Power Detroit and Whenever We’re Needed, two local groups established to fight racism, participants gathered outside of Royal Oak City Hall to listen to guest speakers before heading to the streets, chanting and carrying signs along Main Street.

The groups organized the event following the mass shootings and deaths of eight people, including six Asian women, at spas and massage parlors in Atlanta March 16. It follows a national trend of hate crimes against those of Asian descent across America since the start of the pandemic.

Lakeesha Morrison, of Power Detroit, said everyone came out because the Asian community is “hurting, and they’re hurting bad.”

“We’re all the same inside, but we need to be able to acknowledge each other’s race and respect it and love it and find love in each other,” Morrison said. “I’m here in solidarity to join arms and hands with our Asian community. They came out when we did the Black Lives Matter protests, so now I’m here to support them.

“At the end of the day, we’re all human and we’re all striving to love one another and to coexist with one another and to be there for one another,” she continued. “Silence is no longer an option. Speak up.”

She said America is at a point where it is not OK to say hurtful things or joke about race, and to realize that some things previously accepted are not OK anymore.

“We have to be able to stop our ways of thinking and think differently,” Morrison said.

Melissa Do, a new resident of Royal Oak, said that, as a first-generation Vietnamese American, the events leading up to the rally in Royal Oak deeply affected her. Growing up in Minneapolis, she said she was picked on her whole life by peers, as well as relatives.

“It’s really difficult to explain to people because we’re so used to internalizing our feelings and sweeping things under the rug, but I’m not someone who likes to stay silent,” Do said. “(What happened in Atlanta) is horrific and it’s involuntarily opened up wounds that we don’t want ripped open again.”

Despite the pain and rage from an overwhelming week, Do said, she is determined to be an advocate and talk to her non-Asian friends about the importance of being an ally.

Last year, she said, she was living in New York and was a big supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. While she has not experienced blatant racism in Royal Oak, recent events have made her more conscious of microaggressions.

Ngianhormua Yang, of Whenever We’re Needed, said his mother is fearful for her life, no longer feels safe walking around the block in Shelby Township and only feels comfortable grocery shopping accompanied by him.

“We are taught to be patient and respectful to our elders and authoritative figures, but if you push us too much, we’ll fight back,” Yang said. “I’m sick and tired of this. For too long, we’ve been silent.”

Zora Bowens, co-founder of Whenever We’re Needed, said now is the time to eradicate anti-Asian sentiment. As a Black American, she said, beauty supply stores that happened to be owned by Asian immigrants looking for a better life for their families helped her to love her hair and exist comfortably in a world “filled with white supremacy.”

“White supremacy is a virus that is seeping into our community and causing us to fight each other when we should be fighting it together,” Bowens said.

Unhyo Yi, of Whenever We’re Needed, said he and his parents have been subject to racial slurs and destruction of property at their Clinton Township store, Lee Beauty and Barber Supply. Since the pandemic, he said, such incidents have increased to multiple times per day.

“The beauty supply industry gives boys and girls a chance to become their own entrepreneurs, whether you do hair, nails, eyelashes. Just like we help other people out, they help us out,” Yi said. “As a first-generation Asian American, it’s our job to just share and let people know. Awareness is the key for our future generations.”

Somya Prakash, a first generation Indian American and member of Whenever We’re Needed, stressed the importance of dropping stereotypes, which dehumanize groups and give a false sense of comfort while harming others.

She encouraged everyone to stop being bystanders and to say something when they see something, even if it means challenging leaders or figures of authority and getting out of their comfort zones.

“It’s OK to speak up,” Prakash said. “Racism behind closed doors allows for shootings like this to happen and allows for the shooters to get away with it.”

Ceena Vang, co-founder of Whenever We’re Needed, said Asian women, including the murdered workers in Atlanta, do not exist to be subservient, sexual or exotic objects.

“Stop objectifying and fetishizing Asian women. We are people. We are human beings, just like you. We have goals. We have dreams. We have desires. We have aspirations,” Vang said. “We are strong. We are resilient. We are dedicated. We are beautiful. We are hard workers. We’re family oriented. We’re ambitious, and we’re caretakers.“

Royal Oak City Commissioner Melanie Macey also attended the event with her husband and three children. She said they also attended Black Lives Matter protests last summer and lamented the need to protest for racial equality.

“(My kids) have different levels of understanding what this means and what their role in it is, but it’s easier if you can give them some kind of outlet for learning more and taking action,” Macey said.

The group marched two loops through downtown Royal Oak, to the honking of horns and cheers of passersby.

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