Thousands of Asian Americans and members of other communities, including contingents from New York, are gathering at the National Mall on Saturday for the Unity March.
The event in Washington, D.C., is being billed as the first national rally to be led by Asian Americans, while also including members of other historically marginalized groups, including Black, Indigenous, Latino and disability communities. It comes as a growing Asian American and Pacific Islander community in New York has been increasingly engaged in civic affairs, on matters ranging from land-use issues to homelessness and criminal justice, while dealing with an ongoing crisis of anti-Asian violence.
“For far too long, our nation’s leaders have been stalling on long-term, sustainable actions that can advance meaningful change for Asian American and other historically excluded communities,” organizers of the March stated in a press release, while noting that more than 10,300 incidents of anti-Asian hate been recorded nationally between March of 2020 and the end of 2021, according to the group Stop AAPI Hate.
People grieve differently. Some people get angry and want to do everything they can right away. Some people get stuck in this feeling of helplessness. And what we’re trying to do is to provide a space to feel all these things, and an on-ramp to take action.
The event began to take shape last year, in the wake of the Atlanta spa shootings. On March 16, 2021, Robert Aaron Long engaged in a shooting spree at three spas, killing eight people, of whom six were Asian women. Long, a 21-year-old white man, was sentenced to life in prison.
“People grieve differently,” said Tiffany Chang, the director of community engagement at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC and lead organizer of the march. “Some people get angry and want to do everything they can right away. Some people get stuck in this feeling of helplessness. And what we’re trying to do is to provide a space to feel all these things, and an on-ramp to take action.”
Other groups involved in organizing the event include APIAVote, Gold House, Indian American Impact Project, OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates and National Council of Asian Pacific Americans.
Organizers say there are 60 partner organizations and they anticipate 10,000-15,000 attendees, including busloads of participants from New York and New Jersey. Scheduled speakers include the Rev. Al Sharpton, journalist and immigrant rights activist Jose Antonio Vargas, and Muslim activist Linda Sarsour.
Backdrop of hostility
Kiran Gill, the executive director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the event takes place against a backdrop of anti-immigrant hostility and “whether we have the right to be in this country and whether we belong.”
In addition to solidarity, the march is pushing an “Equity Agenda,” which calls for the 11 million people who are in this country and undocumented to get a pathway to citizenship. It also calls for expanded labor protections and economic justice, or “providing equal access to financial empowerment for small businesses, entrepreneurs of color, and women.”
Organizers said that the March fell almost exactly 40 years after Vincent Chin was beaten to death by two white men in Michigan. Chin, a Chinese American, was killed in 1982 by two white men who blamed him for the loss of U.S. automotive jobs to Japan. The incident is widely credited with having sparked the modern Asian American movement.
Neil Makhija, the executive director of Indian American Impact, a national group representing South Asian Americans, said the event would help advocates “come together and recognize the common threads and challenges that face our communities and country as a whole.”
He said that many Asian Americans owe their families’ passage into the U.S. to immigration reforms undertaken at the height of the Civil Rights movement.
“As we fight today to protect voting rights in states like Georgia and Texas where our communities are targeted for voter suppression, we have to remember that it was through coalitions and a commitment to civil rights — through advocacy and organizing like this March — that enabled us to be here, and which gave us a chance to live America’s promise,” said Makhija.