About 80 local residents took part in a rally and march around Merced’s downtown area as part of a show of unity in condemning violent attacks against Asian Americans across the United States.
While organizers noted that there are not any currently reported Asian American hate crimes in the local area, they said their call to action was prompted by recent events.
One of those events includes the killing of eight people — six of whom were Asian American women — at three massage parlors in Atlanta in mid-March. Atlanta authorities are still investigating the killings and have said that they have not ruled out bias as a motivating factor. However, the suspect charged with the murders told police while in custody that the attacks were not racially motivated. He claimed to have a sex addiction, and investigators believe the suspect had previously visited at least two of the massage parlors.
Elsewhere, there have been recent reports of violence against Asian Americans in California, Texas and New York. In New York City anti-Asian hate crimes increased nearly nine-fold in 2020 over the year before, and the 20 people arrested in those 2020 cases were from diverse racial backgrounds, including African Americans, Hispanics and Whites, according to New York Police Department data analyzed by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
The local rally and march, organized by the Hmong Culture Camp, Merced County NAACP, Lao Association of Merced and Valley Onward, adhered to common COVID-19 safety protocol, including having participants wear face masks throughout the event.
As the group gathered at City Hall, numerous speakers made their way to the top of the steps to address those in attendance.
“In 2020, the pandemic happened and we had to learn a new way of living,” said Bouasvanh Lor, executive director of the Hmong Culture Camp. “People lost their homes, their jobs, businesses had to be shut down. With that came an ugly unveiling of racism, and in just one year, anti-Asian hate crime has risen 150 percent. That is globally, with the first one happened in Texas, and it has just kept increasing. We don’t want to wait for bloodshed before we make these small changes here in Merced. I love being in Merced because of our diversity here and our small town feel. We can definitely make changes here and we can be the difference here.”
Merced County Supervisor Rodrigo Espinoza echoed these sentiments, saying: “I’m an immigrant, I came to this country when I was 10 years old, and I’ve been hated on. I used to be quiet, but I’m not quiet no more. I’m here to be supportive because there has been racism, and we need to say no to racism and say no to hate. Today we’re here to support Asian Americans. …We are all neighbors and we have to work together and protect and support one another. If someone is being hated on next to you, you have to be supportive and you can be afraid to do that. One thing I have learned from this position is you can’t be afraid, because you will not get anywhere. I understand why people may be afraid… . but we have to accept that if we are afraid we are not going to get anywhere.”
Several Asian-American residents also shared their feelings of what they expected as they made their way to America. They detailed and contrasted how those initial expectations of American life differed with their recent experiences.
Later, participants marched their way down N Street to Main Street before looping around to M Street to make their way to the steps of the Merced County Courthouse Museum, where a group photo was taken.
As they made their way through the route, the Merced Police Department escorted the participants as they held signs reading “Stop Asian Hate,” “Fight Me Not The Elders,” “Proud A. F. To Be Asian,” “Protect Asian Lives,” and “Don’t Pho-King Mess With My Grandma.”
When the protesters made their way through the Main Street area, they were led in numerous chants that garnered the brief attention of those casually enjoying an outdoor meal at a number of street-side restaurants.