DES MOINES, Iowa — Sparked by recent national headlines of violent attacks against the Asian and Pacific Islander community, dozens of Iowans rallied Sunday to take a stance.
The group’s rally follows a series of unprovoked assaults, robberies and harassment against Asians throughout the country. Most prominently, a March shooting in Atlanta when a white male walked into three massage parlors and killed eight people, six of them Asian American women.
A March analysis released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, showed hate crimes against Asians rose by nearly 150 percent. The data is from America’s 16 largest cities.
Chris Lo, one of the hosts at the event, said his community has been historically silent in speaking out about these injustices. A son of immigrants, he said his parents were always told to try and blend in.
“I think that in itself has manifested in what my generation looks like. We just want to blend in. If we just don’t say anything, it’ll be okay. But that’s how we got to where we are now. We kept quiet for too long,” he said.
Lo, along with several others, said throughout the pandemic they have been targets of hateful language and racist slurs.
“These are people that are told ‘go back to your home. Go back to China. You brought the flu over here. You brought corona.’ I’ve been told that personally. I just let it slide. Not anymore. We are done being quiet,” he said.
Amanda Lovan, the civic engagement lead for the Iowa Asian Alliance, said anti-Asian racism is often downplayed by the “model minority myth”, that Asians are often stereotyped as successful and unproblematic.
“Stop perpetuating stereotypes and microaggressions. Stop with the backhanded compliments. Stop with the harmful jokes,” she said.
Many speakers brought up racist jokes that their community often hears. Lo told the story of a man who commented on the group’s Facebook post about this event, saying the man asked if there would be massage tables at the rally.
“Comments like that are extremely hurtful to some people. They are discriminatory,” Lo said. “Did I get a chuckle out of it for a second? Yes. And then I realized that in itself is the problem and I was causing that myself. So I really had to look at myself and say this is enough, no more sly comments anymore.”
Organizers said the most important thing others can do to help is speak up and speak out. Lo said breaking these harmful stereotypes starts with individuals — whether it is intervening when something happens or urging a friend not to use a racist joke anymore.
“We need allies to speak out against hate for our marginalized communities,” Lovan said.
Organizers said they plan to have more peaceful assemblies in hopes of continuing to educate the community about their experiences. You can follow the Iowa Asian Alliance on social media for updates.