“Ribbons of Remembrance and Hope,” a rally at Draper Park last Sunday, April 18, was the response of the local community to the recent rise in violence against Asian Americans.
The organizers — Hastings residents Amelia Toledo, Christina Leano, Diana Pan, and June Wai — billed the event as “a family-friendly vigil against anti-Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) hate.” It was replete with piano music (courtesy of Louise Chen), poetry, posters, and an art installation.
“We’re tired of being told that we don’t belong, that our voices and stories don’t matter, and we’re tired of hyper-violence,” Toledo said two days before the event. “We don’t know how to end all racism and sexism, but we believe this is our first step.”
During the vigil, Leano stated that the recent violence has “shaken me to the core, created a sense of vulnerability, fear, anger, and isolation.” She urged Asian Americans “to stand together in solidarity and support” and to “create a space” for grieving, empathy, companionship, and commitment “with and for our children.”
Pan alluded to the “shunning, harassment, or pointed attacks” against AAPI people. She held former President Donald Trump responsible for fueling “scapegoating and xenophobia.” She provided a brief history of anti-Asian injustices in America, followed by recent crimes against individuals, particularly the mass murder of six women in Atlanta.
America has engaged in “deliberate exclusion and marginalization” of Asian Americans, she said. “Our kids feel this. Our kids live this.” She concluded on an optimistic note: “We’re here today to bear witness, to inspire hope, to commit to solidarity.”
Following Pan, a trio of Hastings High School students — junior Yumay Lin, sophomore Eesha Chen, and freshman Isabella Weston-Capulong — read the names of recent Asian-American victims of violence. A moment of silence followed, after which Chen recited “Today, I Am A Witness to Change” — a “community poem” compiled by NPR’s resident poet Kwame Alexander from contributions by listeners. The poem was both a lament and a call for action.
Jennifer Ito then read a statement by Kent Hirozawa, a fellow Hastings resident who was the first Asian-American member of the National Labor Relations Board. He served under President Barack Obama. Both Hirozawa and Ito had grandfathers who were imprisoned in Japanese-American internment camps during World War II. Hirozawa pledged solidarity with both AAPI and the Black Lives Matter movement. He praised Hastings (his home of almost 30 years) as a racially tolerant community.
Following Ito was Hastings resident and CUNY law professor Eduardo Capulong, father of Isabella Weston-Capulong. He thanked the organizers for their dedication, made reference to the “misogyny and sexism” they had suffered, “especially in the previous administration,” and urged attendees to mourn, but also to engage and organize.
“Now’s not the time to sit on the sideline,” he said. “Our children are looking at us... and we need to set an example.”
Jeanhee Chung of the new Westchester County Asian-American Advisory Board spoke of the “isolation and invisibility” of Asian-Americans, and announced that hate incidents can be reported on the Westchester District Attorney’s Office multilingual hotline (914-995-TIPS).
“We need your help. We have a lot of work to do,” she said.
Wai then read the poem “Radical Gratitude Spell” by Adrienne Maree Brown, which honors and encourages advocates of social justice. The poem closes with the lines “you are enough/ your work is enough/ you are needed/ your work is sacred/ you are here/ and I am grateful”.
Seventh-grader Siri Rosenberg provided a child’s view of racism. She spoke of fear felt by her peers, and of the public’s general apathy. She concluded with a challenge: “Now, what are you gonna do about it?”
Following speeches, interior and architectural designer Leah Ervi invited attendees to create a “collective story” by writing the name of someone they wanted to honor on a piece of ribbon, and then tying the ribbon to a three-sided trellis adorned with origami cranes representing love, peace, and healing, which would be displayed outside First Reformed Church in Hastings. In addition, attendees were offered colorful posters with statements such as “This is our home too” and “I did not make you sick.”
Attendees were then welcomed to the microphone to share the names of their honorees or simply their thoughts. Hastings Mayor Niki Armacost conveyed empathy with her Asian-American in-laws. Hastings Schools Superintendent Valerie Henning-Piedmont decried the violence and exhorted the audience to “move the needle” in stopping hate crimes. The Rev. Emily Brown of First Reformed Church likewise advocated for speaking up.
Hastings resident Lewis Lin expressed his gratitude for the community, stating that he “feels at home, feels included.” His wife, Chen, the pianist, echoed his words: “We do feel at home here.”