Dozens gathered Saturday afternoon beside the Athens County Courthouse to protest hate and violence against Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and other race-based minority groups.
The Stop Asian American/Pacific Islander, or AAPI, Hate Rally was organized by the Chinese Learners Association of Ohio University in response to last week’s Atlanta spa shootings that targeted people of Asian descent.
The demonstrators held signs that read “Stop Asian Hate,” “Stop Racist Violence” and “Hate is a Virus,” among other things. The crowd also chanted and marched down Court Street to Baker Center before circling around and finishing back in front of the courthouse.
For many, the rally was an acknowledgment of the pain and fear they feel as a result of increased racist and xenophobic views that stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic. The rally was not only meant to call attention to the issue of racism in the U.S. but to also provide a peaceful pathway to share that message.
“We are aware of the violence that's going on … because of Trump accusing that China is the source of the pandemic,” Qiliang Wu, mathematics professor at OU, said. “We're standing here today as the Athens AAPI community to protest against this and call for solidarity and peace and love within the community.”
Sophia Park Neilsen, a freshman studying psychology, said the racism she experiences has been manifested in many ways, including sexual comments and behaviors.
“People have fetishized me my entire life. People have seen me (and) have called me this hot Asian girl, and that's just not normal. It's not a compliment. I feel like I'm an object,” Neilsen said. “I don't see this happening to white people. I don't see this happening to white girls … and this happens to so many other Asian girls.”
For others in the Asian community, racist undertones in conversations with others have caused them to feel uncomfortable and alienated.
Hannah Bernstein, a senior at Athens High School, said her biracial identity has caused others to question where she is from and has made her feel like she must conform to unfair stereotypes about her ethnicity.
“It's just this constant idea that I don't belong here, that I'm a foreigner and I'm expected to understand the entire Asian continent,” Bernstein said. “(Some think) that I'm this person, that I'm supposed to be smart, innocent but also kind of sexy for you, and it's just so many stereotypes. It's exhausting to be around.”
Although the rally was organized by an Athens-based group and took place in Athens, many at the rally acknowledged this is a worldwide phenomenon. The rally was held in Athens, though, to amplify the message and give OU-CLA a larger platform.
“Athens overall is a very peaceful and diverse community. Between racial groups we have very good mutual respect, but the message is just sent out to solidify that idea,” Wu said. “So we're standing here not to say ‘OK, we have privacy since we’re standing here in Athens,’ … We need to say ‘no’ to any violence against any minority group.”
The audience at the rally was diverse, complete with people of all ages, races, genders and backgrounds.
Bernstein said she was happy to see such a diverse group coming together to support a call against racism and race-based mistreatment. To her, it’s a sign of progress and more things to come.
“I appreciate the support because I want to support other communities, and I hope that they support me, and so it was really great to see a couple Black Lives Matter signs because the point of Black Lives Matter and Asian Lives Matter is not that any of our lives matters more than anyone else,” Bernstein said. “If we uplift all of these different communities, then hopefully we can be in a space where eventually my identity is not what I look like.”