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At 'Stop Asian Hate' Rally, Demonstrators Say 'We Cannot Be Silent Anymore'

Hundreds stood in solidarity with people of Asian descent during the Stop Asian Hate gathering at the Freedome Center in downtown Cincinnati Sunday. There wasn't enough time for everyone who wanted to share their experience with anti-Asian racism to speak at the podium. But those who made it to the microphone said their children are mocked for having Asian features, they're blamed for the global spread of the COVID-19 virus, and they're sexualized or minimized by the "model minority" stereotype.

The racism and stereotypes faced by Asian Americans, experts say, played a role in the Atlanta shootings that left eight people dead, including six women of Asian descent. The murders happened amid a national increase of hate crimes against Asians.

"Words cannot express the pain and the fear that the Asian community is experiencing now," Hongmei Li, of Mason, said. "Since silence can lead to more death and more violence, as a community we cannot be silent anymore."

She says she has lived in the United States for 20 years in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Atlanta before moving to Cincinnati. During that time, she's met people who are welcoming and kind. But she and her children have faced their share of xenophobia, racism and bias. 

"I'm especially worried that the attacks on the Asian American community could become worse as children go back to school in person; as we go back to work in person," she said.

She cited slurs former President Donald Trump and his supporters used to describe the COVID-19 virus as normalizing and exemplifying racism.

According to Stop AAPI Hate, nearly 4,000 hate crimes were reported to the organization last year. Ohio is ranked 17th among states with high reports of Asian hate crimes, with 40 reported last year.

"Words matter, words can kill, racism kills," Li said.

'Ignorance Does Not Erase Racism'

Speakers acknowledged that while hate crimes against people of Asian descent have spiked in the past year, there is a long history of racism in the country, dating back to before the building of the transcontinental railroad and Japanese internment camps.

Cincinnati resident Frank Huang said after World War II, however, new racism in the form of the "model minority" stereotype emerged. Asians, he said, were cast as nerdy and compliant. Men were no longer considered dangerous, like before the war, and women were sexually objectified.

"This stereotype of sexual veracity became also sexual availability - the dragon lady became a lotus blossom," he said. "What is especially pernicious about this re-characterization is that it removes sexual agency from Asian woman."

This was especially apparent when, after the Atlanta shooting, people assumed the massage parlors were fronts for sex workers.

"It is possible that the shooter himself is not even self-aware enough to realize his actions were motivated by racial stereotypes about Asian women," Huang said. "His ignorance, however, does not erase the fact that racism played a role in his decision to murder eight people." 

Others at the gathering spoke about calls to prosecute hate crimes and increase education about the role people of Asian descent have played in American history more vigorously.

Correction: Hongmei Li's name was initially misspelled in this article. 

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.