Dozens of San Antonians gathered in Main Plaza on Saturday to decry the recent spate of anti-Asian crimes across the nation, including an act of vandalism at a local restaurant almost a week ago.
U.S. Air Force veteran and first-generation Filipino American Gina Ortiz Jones, who organized the vigil, said the racist graffiti left on the windows and outdoor tables of Noodle Tree, a ramen restaurant located near the University of Texas at San Antonio, and the shootings of eight people at Atlanta-area spas, six of whom were of Asian descent, last week have left local Asian business owners wondering if they are next.
“No one should have to ask those types of questions in the United States of America,” she said. “But here we are.”
Noodle Tree owner Mike Nguyen, who found the racist graffiti March 14, did not attend the vigil because he continues to receive death threats, Jones said. Nguyen criticized Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to lift Texas’ mask mandate on CNN days before the vandalism occurred.
The large crowd in the plaza observed a moment of silence after Jones read the eight names of the victims of the Atlanta shootings: Xiaojie Tan, Delaina Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Daoyou Feng, Yong Ae Yue, Hyun Jung Grant, Soon Chung Park, and Suncha Kim.
“We may not know them, but we know we could have been them,” Jones said.
Brandeis High School senior Kyle Huang, a member of the San Antonio Chinese Alliance, told the crowd in front of the San Fernando Cathedral that the rise in anti-Asian crimes are the results of the “actions and inflammatory language of those in power who espouse bigotry and hatred.”
“Asian Americans are not your punch lines or your scapegoats or your fetishes,” he said. “We’re not a virus, and we’re not – in the words of racists – going back to where we came from. We are humans, and we are Americans. This is our country.”
Huang, 17, pleaded with the members of the crowd to stand up against hate and racism in their own lives. He said that is the only way to stop Asian hate.
“We need to stop racism in its tracks,” he said. “The future is counting on us to take action right now, or racism will plague this country indefinitely. We have a responsibility to our fellow humans and countrymen to fight for their humanity and their lives. That is the task we are faced with, a task we must pursue as hard as we can and a task that we must succeed at. Only then can we truly have liberty and justice for all.”
People in the crowd held signs that read “Stop Asian hate” and “United against racism.” One sign spelled out the names of the eight Atlanta-area victims. Many carried signs designed by local artists that featured bamboo shaped into the number 8 meant to represent strength and resilience, Jones said. Inside the loops of the number 8 the signs read “Stop Asian hate” and “End white supremacy.”
Before Mayor Ron Nirenberg spoke to the crowd, Jones pointed out that he is the only Asian American mayor of any of the top 50 largest U.S. cities. Nirenberg’s mother was an immigrant from Malaysia, and his father’s parents were Jewish immigrants who came to the U.S. before World War II.
“We won’t ever be able to stop that kind of hate, but we can do what San Antonio does. We can stand together. We can show solidarity. We can push back against the hate, but the only way to eradicate that [is with] the uniquely San Antonian love and compassion that we show for one another every single day.”
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus told the crowd that racist graffiti like what was smeared over Noodle Tree’s windows and tables is committed by one type of person – “a bigoted coward.” He promised that if the Noodle Tree graffiti investigation hit a dead end that he would seek reward money to urge witnesses to come forward.
“We may not be able to change what’s in people’s hearts, but we can certainly hold them accountable,” he said.
Former San Antonio Mayor and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro said there have been almost 4,000 reported crimes against members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in the past year “fostered by people dead set on dividing us instead of uniting us during this pandemic.”
“As an ally to the AAPI community here, you don’t have to prove to anybody that you’re an American.”
Asian American Alliance of San Antonio member Kin Hui said he was “Chinese by birth and American by choice” to much applause. He urged the crowd to hold elected officials accountable by encouraging them to adopt legislation that would allow Asian hate crimes to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. He also called on people to report racism and injustice, not just be bystanders recording a video on a cellphone.
“America is our home,” he said. “We’re not going anywhere, so deal with it.”