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"We are American, too": Hundreds in New York rally against anti-Asian hate

More than 300 people joined some of New York's top elected officials and community leaders on Saturday afternoon to speak out against the increase in anti-Asian violence in the city and nationwide. 

The Rise Up Against Asian Hate rally, organized by the Asian American Federation (AAF), took place at Foley Square in downtown Manhattan, two blocks from where a 36-year-old Asian man was stabbed on Thursday night.

Among the speakers was a recent victim: 61-year-old Filipino-American Noel Quintana, whose face was slashed on the subway earlier this month. "I called for help, but nobody came to help," he said. "If they took a video of this, the perpetrator would be identified easily." He urged people to be safe and aware, and to record and report incidents. As he walked off the stage, the crowd chanted his name. 

Democratic Congresswoman Grace Meng, who represents New York's 6th District and authored a resolution in the House last September to denounce hatred against Asian-Americans, said, "We need to make sure that we are not fighting racism with more racism. That we are fighting racism with solidarity. That we are not ever, ever pitting one group against the other. It is everyone against racism. We are American, too."

Noel Quintana, whose face was slashed in on the subway in early February, speaks at the Anti-Asian Hate Rally on Saturday, February 27, 2021. Anokha Venugopal / Asian American Federation

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer harshly criticized former President Donald Trump, whose use of terms like "Chinese virus" and "kung flu" for the coronavirus helped fuel anti-Asian sentiment over the past year. "Bigotry against any of us is bigotry against all of us," Schumer said. 

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio promised that "anyone who commits an act of hate against the Asian-American community will be found, will be arrested, will be prosecuted." 

Attorney General Letitia James, who AAF Executive Director Jo-Ann Yoo referred to as an "ally," urged the community to report incidents to authorities. "Come to my office so that we can do something about it. Come to my office, so that we can go after those individuals who hate us, and shut them down," she said.

Representative Grace Meng speaks at Saturday's rally. Anokha Venugopal / Asian American Federation

James and many others shared messages of unity with the AAPI community. They also endorsed Yoo's calls for more directed action, saying, "We need a patrol which is staffed by police officers. A full-time, dedicated bureau ... that patrol the streets, patrol the subways and keep the Asian community safe from harm." The AAF and a larger group of organizations have called for community-based solutions to combat bias incidents and hate crimes against Asian-Americans, including recovery programs, language services, mental health services and more.

According to data collected by AAF, Stop AAPI Hate, the NYPD and the NYC Commission on Human Rights, nearly 500 Asians in New York were targets of bias incidents or hate crimes in 2020, ranging from verbal to physical assaults, including acid attacks. The community has suffered a significant rise in unemployment since the pandemic began. Nationwide, at least half of Asian Americans continued to experience cases of direct racism, nearly 1 in 5 of which were physical assaults.

  Demonstrators at Saturday's rally holding signs. Anokha Venugopal via Asian American Federation

Celebrities have also gotten involved. Actor William Lex Ham, who has been leading marches and rallies across the country since last summer, made an appearance on Saturday. Actress Olivia Munn tweeted out a video of an attack on a woman in Flushing, New York. Daniel Dae Kim and Daniel Wu put up a $25,000 reward for the identification of a suspect who fatally shoved 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee to the ground in Oakland, California.

Governments have made an effort to stand with the community, passing resolutions at the state and federal levels. But these, and President Biden's executive order in February denouncing anti-Asian hate, are largely symbolic, and more concrete action is needed, activists say.

Late last year, the NYPD established an Asian Hate Crimes Task Force. In California, another state that has seen an exponential rise in attacks against the AAPI community, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that will devote nearly $1.5 million to tracking anti-Asian hate crimes.

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