Hundreds of people took to the streets of downtown Mountain View Sunday to show support for the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, as well as to call attention to anti-Asian racism both historically and in the present day.
Protesters gathered at the Mountain View train station and marched to Mountain View City Hall, where speakers, including young people and elected officials, addressed the crowd. High school students spearheaded the event.
Los Altos High School junior Jeannette Wang volunteered to help organize the event after seeing repeated reports of anti-Asian hate incidents. Wang has friends and family members who are afraid to go outside and is fearful for her own grandparents’ safety.
“Having older grandparents who are very insistent on going outside by themselves, and just worrying about them all the time, has really made me realize how important it is to speak out about it, and not just feel the emotions by yourself,” Wang said.
In 2020, anti-Asian hate crimes reported to police increased 149% in 16 of the country’s largest cities, according to an analysis from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino.
Castilleja School senior Amanda Khu was inspired to organize the rally after watching repeated news reports about anti-Asian hate crimes and violence. She was particularly distressed by the mass shooting in Georgia last month, where eight people were killed, six of whom were women of Asian descent.
Khu said she thinks it’s particularly important for people to learn the history of anti-Asian racism, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned all immigration of Chinese laborers. At the time, some local groups celebrated the act’s passage. The Mountain View Anti-Coolie Club was active in the 1800s, and included local leaders. “Coolie” is a derogatory term for Asian laborers.
The route marchers took Sunday, from the train station to city hall, held particular significance both because the Anti-Coolie club met and organized in downtown Mountain View and because the train station was used to process Japanese Americans being sent to internment camps during World War II.
Mountain View Mayor Ellen Kamei’s own grandparents were among those forced to report to the Mountain View train station. Kamei, a third-generation Mountain View resident, said she turned out to Sunday’s rally because she wanted to amplify youth voices and listen to the community.
“What I’m hoping in the rally that we had yesterday, and people hearing these youth voices, is that we can become more cognizant and we can bring a greater recognition, so that we can make things better for the next generation,” Kamei said.
A number of local officials turned out to Sunday’s event, including U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, State Sen. Josh Becker, Assemblymember Mark Berman, County Supervisor Joe Simitian and Mountain View Police Chief Chris Hsiung.
Mountain View Councilmember Margaret Abe-Koga attended the rally and said seeing so many people turn out was touching, adding that she was particularly impressed with the student organizers.
“I was really amazed yesterday and moved by the entire movement,” she said. “It makes me hopeful, especially seeing the young people yesterday – they were incredible. It gave me a lot of hope.”
During her time in elected office, Abe-Koga, who is Japanese American, said she has experienced firsthand the stereotypes people have about Asian women. When she first ran for city council, she said a newspaper called her too “sweet” to be a city leader, and some questioned whether she was strong enough, saying her voice was too soft and suggesting she speak more like a man.
As mayor in 2009, Abe-Koga said she received hate mail on the basis of her race, with emails saying, “your people are taking over downtown Mountain View,” that she didn’t belong here and that she should “go back where you came from.”
Recently, Abe-Koga has been volunteering for a meal distribution program at the senior center and one time had a person start yelling at her, saying she only wanted to listen to someone who speaks “American English.”
Abe-Koga pointed to former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric around the pandemic, calling COVID-19 “kung flu” and the “China virus” as part of why some people felt it was acceptable to attack the Asian community.
“I feel that we as a community need to actually really speak out and say, ‘No, that’s not acceptable,’” Abe-Koga said. “The amount of hate that we’ve seen in our society has been really alarming and disturbing, and we’re trying to change that.”
Student organizer Khu said the “Stop Asian Hate” tagline that has gone viral can be somewhat misleading, because it can imply the problem is about interpersonal relationships, rather than being structural.
“I think people need to understand that anti-Asian racism is part of a larger systemic issue that we need to solve – and white supremacy is the cause for that,” Khu said.
Mountain View High sophomore Krissy Koh similarly said people often don’t realize how destructive stereotypes about Asian people can be, and their connection to white supremacy. She said that starting in middle school, she began to experience microaggressions, which other people would often believe were harmless. One common occurrence was people believing all Asian students are inherently smart and get good grades.
“What if I’m struggling, am I not allowed to get help?” Koh said. “Teachers in general sometimes don’t look to help kids who might look like me, because they assume that we’re doing fine.”
She called on people to educate themselves on the history of anti-Asian racism and then address it head-on when they see friends or peers make racist statements. Wang similarly said the broader community must address anti-Asian hate and added that she was glad to see the rally was attended not just by AAPI people, but the broader community.
“It’s not only the responsibility of Asian people to speak about struggles with anti-Asian hate,” she said. “It’s something that as a society and as a community we need to recognize and we need to actively try to stop.”