Queens elected officials, community organizers and religious leaders joined Bay Terrace residents for a unity rally at Bay Terrace Shopping Center on Friday, March 26, in solidarity with the virtual National Day of Action and Healing.
Queens Congresswoman Grace Meng and California Assembly member Evan Low organized the event, which demands an end of violence against Asian Americans and encourages everyone to share their stories on social media, using the hashtag #StopAsianHate.
Congressman Thomas Suozzi acknowledged that the past year had been challenging for everyone and pointed out that because of the COVID-19 restrictions, hate crimes overall went down by 7 percent in 2020. Yet, hate crimes against Asian Americans went up by a staggering 150 percent the same year, and officials believe that the number of racist attacks against AAPI community members is even higher because many victims are too afraid to come forward.
Suozzi shared an anecdote about his father, an Italian immigrant, who said, “You can’t have a rose without the thorns; you can’t have the beautiful things in life without the suffering.”
“Well, we’ve been through our thorns,” the congressman said. “This past year, this violence and hatred against Asian Americans is an example of those thorns. But you all here tonight, and people throughout the country that are doing the same thing, which is a celebration of the roses of life. The best part of life is when people from all different backgrounds, all different nationalities and races and religions come together to say we are one. We are united against Asian hate.”
Suozzi introduced Rabbi Yossi Blesofsky of Chabad Lubavitch of Northeast Queens, who recalled the Crown Heights riots in 1991 and the words his spiritual mentor Rabbi Schneerson shared with then New York City Mayor Dinkins. The Rabbi told Dinkins that they were one people.
“Who would think a Hasidic Rabbi identifying so closely with members of a completely different culture?” Rabbi Yossi asked. “Because the truth is, we are one people. We are all God’s creatures, and we are all one family. And we are here today to make a protest. You might ask what difference does it make? What sort of impact does it have? But the reality is that if you don’t protest when something hurtful and painful happens to your fellow citizens, then, apparently, it doesn’t bother you enough.”
He reminded the crowd that Passover, which began on March 27, celebrates freedom from oppression, freedom from bigotry and freedom from hate, before reciting a prayer.
Queens State Senator John Liu, who has attended many rallies in the last several weeks protesting the rise in hate crimes against the AAPI community, recognized that the past year had been difficult for everyone, but even more so for Asian Americans.
“Everybody has their own perspective, and the perspective of Asian Americans is not spoken of enough or written about enough. And that’s why it is so heartening for me, personally, to see this kind of rally take place,” Liu said.
He recalled a bias attack in Bay Terrace decades ago when an Asian American teenager was beaten by a gang called The Master Race.
“I thought I had kind of seen the worst of those days a long time ago. But this past year reminds me and reminds all of us that we have to stay on top of it. And that we have to stay united. This is a community not of Asian Americans. This is a community that includes Asian Americans. This is a community that includes everybody. That’s what makes Bay Terrace such a special place,” the state senator emphasized.
Queens Borough President Donavan Richards demanded that the mass shooting in Atlanta, which killed eight people — six of whom were Asian American women — was labeled a hate crime.
“It was domestic terrorism. That individual must be held accountable,” Richards said. “Silence is complicity.”
He also thanked the Asian community for standing with the African American community during last year’s protests, demanding justice for the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
“So we must continue to see each other, to love one another. That’s the premise of what this country was founded on. That’s the beauty of Queens County. So I love you, and we should all say that,” Richards said. “And we should not wait for these moments to see each other and recognize who we are as a people because there’s only one race, and that is the human race.”
Assemblyman Edward Braunstein reminded the crowd that there is strength in numbers and to call out racism whenever they see it.
“If we see someone on social media who is making racist statements, we need to call them out. If we’re at the grocery store, and someone’s mumbling something under their breath that is racist, we need to let them know that we heard it, and it’s not acceptable. And I think together, the more and more people who take that determination, who are not afraid to be a little bit confrontational sometimes, who are not going to be silent,” Braunstein said. “We’re going to continue to push until we eradicate this virus of hate from our country.”
Councilman Paul Vallone stressed that Queens is one community and that hate doesn’t have a place in the “World’s Borough” while pointing to the crowd made up of children, parents and students of different ethnic backgrounds.
“This is the message for anyone who wants to toss any hate in this community. We are standing together. And that’s what tonight is for,” said Vallone, who thanked the kids in the crowd for holding up signs decrying racism and hate.
“You are what’s going to change everything,” he told the children.