Asian Americans gathered in Times Square this week to mark the second anniversary of a shooting spree in Atlanta that claimed eight lives, including those of six Asian women, as well as losses closer to home.

Speaking at the Midtown rally during rush-hour traffic on Thursday, Rep. Grace Meng referred to the March 2021 shootings in Atlanta, and said it was important to ensure “their legacy remains in our hearts forever.”

But the gathering of some 60 people, “Always With Us: Asian Americans Rise Against Hate,” also reflected on local tragedies, including the death of Michelle Go, who was pushed from a subway platform in Times Square in January 2022, and Christina Yuna Lee, who was fatally stabbed in her Chinatown apartment in February 2022. Months earlier, there was Yao Pan Ma, a former dim sum pastry chef who died on New Year’s Eve 2021, months after being attacked in Harlem while collecting cans.

“The violence can seem like it is never-ending,” said Meng.

Andy Abat Tang of New Jersey visited Times Square on Thursday to remember Asian American victims of violence.

According to the NYPD, there were 134 confirmed anti-Asian incidents in the city in 2021. That figure dropped to 83 in 2022, with 67 arrests made. Nationwide figures were not available from Stop AAPI Hate, a group that has been tracking anti-Asian incidents since early in the pandemic but hasn’t released new data since last summer/fall.

Although there has been a drop-off in local incidents recorded by police, anti-Asian violence has persisted. Earlier this month in Queens, a mother and her son, both Asian Americans, were physically attacked after three people in a passing vehicle first hurled anti-Asian slurs, Spectrum News reported.

In January, a mass shooting at a dance hall frequented by Asians in Monterey Park, California, ended in the deaths of 11 people. The Times Square rally, which coincided with remembrances in Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco and Detroit, took note of those deaths as well.

In recent weeks, Asian American advocacy groups have also sounded alarms over attacks that fall short of violence, including incidents challenging the patriotism of Asian members of Congress and other members of the community. In February, a Texas congressman questioned Rep. Judy Chu’s “loyalty or competence” after Chu, a California Democrat, defended President Biden’s appointment of an Asian American to a trade council.

As we have always said, anti-Asian hate is not simply about interpersonal attacks, but also racist rhetoric and xenophobic and racist policies.
Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of AAPI Equity Alliance

At the same time, Asian American organizations said they’re contending with legislation in several states meant to block citizens of China from owning land in certain states and which critics argue is inspired by anti-Asian sentiment.

“We are concerned that it is leading to bills in TX, GA, MT and VA that are similar to the Alien Land Laws of the early 1900s and even efforts to ban Chinese students (from TX universities),” Manjusha Kulkarni, the executive director of AAPI Equity Alliance, wrote in an email to Gothamist.

“As we have always said, anti-Asian hate is not simply about interpersonal attacks, but also racist rhetoric and xenophobic and racist policies.”

Meng said anti-Asian sentiment needed to be combated in a variety of ways, including with federal funding for community groups as well as including Asian American history in school syllabuses.

“Our history and culture are inextricably linked to American history and culture,” she said, drawing cheers at Times Square.

One attendee at the rally, Andy Abat Tang, arrived from New Jersey and held up a sign that read “I’m from here,” a reference to the perpetual question many Asian Americans say they are forced to field, “Where are you really from?”

Tang said he regularly encountered or witnessed anti-Asian behavior in the suburbs as well as in New York City, and had also seen it during his recent travels in Eastern Europe.

“Because there aren't a lot of Asians in a lot of European countries I think the misinformation they get from the U.S., whether it's the former president, whether it's a politician who spews hate speech publicly, I think it transfers to these countries outside the U.S.,” Tang said.

For filmmaker Jing Wang, anti-Asian hostility resulted in her family’s 2021 departure from Rego Park in Queens. She recounted incidents in which her children were shouted at by the manager of a restaurant and other encounters experienced by Asian friends in her neighborhood. She now lives in Bayside.

'Fight together, live together'

“I would say at least 50% of the reason we moved out of the neighborhood is because we don't feel we belong anymore,” Wang said.

“It’s a shame to say, I cut myself out from the community a lot after I moved to Bayside,” she added. “We have very amazing neighbors, but we don't talk about politics.”

Part of the problem of politics, she said, is that her progressive politics often conflict with those of other Asian New Yorkers, including on issues of public safety and crime, the subject of so many protests and vigils in Asian American communities in the last year.

In Asian-majority neighborhoods such as Flushing, Bensonhurst and Sunset Park, entire districts flipped to the GOP during the 2022 state election, when many Asian voters worried about violence and progressive educational reforms voted for Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin, who made crime a centerpiece of his candidacy.

According to an analysis by the New York Times, the Republican share of the vote in Bensonhurst and Sunset Park increased by 27% from 2018 to 2022, and by 22% in Flushing and Bayside.

Howard Wong, a legislative aide to Democratic Assemblymember Nily Rozic, said a common refrain among conservative-leaning members of the community he’s spoken with is that “Democrats want to defund the police.” Another was, “they don’t care about us.”

One of the speakers at the Times Square rally, Diya Basu-Sen, said that for all the loss that had been experienced by Asian Americans, the community had been here before, and had responded by fighting, whether it was in the years after 9/11 or in response to the Muslim ban during the Trump era.

“Anti-Asian hate is an attack against our communities, but it is also an attack against the entire city,” said Basu-Sen, the executive director of Sapna NYC. “We must organize together, fight together, live together, and only then can we truly thrive together."