CHICAGO — Activists are mobilizing following the recent spate of attacks against Asian Americans around the country. Artists nationwide are stepping up as part of a digital campaign.
“We have to yank out anti-Asian hatred right at the roots,” said Jess Mcleod, who is Korean, Filipino and Scottish American.
In the wake of violent attacks and murders of Asian Americans, prominent artists and leaders are raising their voices.
“The idea of the Asian American community, of keeping your head down, was able to look to our Black brothers and sisters to be able to see what speaking up can actually do,” said Aria Afsar, who is Bangladeshi American.
Launched last week on the #StopAsianHate National Day of Action, the social media campaign gives voice to the victims of anti-Asian hate crimes.
“Asian artists got together and said, 'let's talk to 40 incredible people and see if they're all interested in recording one of the stories of the attack victims,'” explained McLeod on the campaign.
Jess McLeod, Hamilton's first resident director of color, Ari Afsar, an actor and composer who originated the role of Eliza Hamilton in the Chicago production, helped organize the effort in collaboration with Parag Parikh director of South Asians for Biden.
“We need to use the megaphones at our disposal to amplify these stories, amplify these people, make sure that America doesn't do its usual disappearing act on the stories of Asians,” said McLeod.
The fatal shootings of eight people, including six Asian American women in Atlanta last month, they say, was a breaking point.
“We were texting each other. I was like, 'I'm like broken by this. How are you?' And they're like, 'yeah, this one's, this one's just opened a whole other layer,” said Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Connie Lim, professionally known as MILCK, who is Chinese American and the child of immigrants.
“We all felt like this driving force to act,” said Afsar.
According to the Center for Study of Hate & Extremism, the number of hate crimes against Asians rose by 149 percent last year, even though overall hate crimes dropped by 5 percent over that same period.
“I actually encountered somebody who pulled down their mask and shouted at me and spat in my direction, specifically because I was Chinese,” said author and journalist Jeff Yang.
In the last month, there have been more than a half dozen unprovoked violent attacks, many of the victims were elderly Asian Americans.
“It’s just sad they’re targeting older people and targeting people who can't defend themselves,” said 17-year-old Fresh off the Boat star Hudson Yang.
Just this week, there were two more attacks in New York, including one where surveillance video captured a man violently attacking a 65-year-old woman who was on her way to church. Bystanders seen in the video, including a security guard, appear to not offer any aid to the victim following the attack.
In March, 76-year-old Xiao Zhen Xie, boldly fought off her attacker in San Francisco. She’s donating nearly $1 million raised for her medical expenses to combat anti-Asian hate.
“It was so painful to watch. I mean, just multiple people treating this woman, not just as if she was invisible, but like she wasn't even human,” said U.S. Representative Grace Meng of New York’s 6th district.
Earlier this month, representative Meng introduced the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. It calls for greater assistance for law enforcement response to these hate crimes and the creation of a Department of Justice position to fast-track review of such cases.
“We are not going to be treated as invisible anymore,” said Meng. “We are going to speak up and we are going to fight back.”
MILCK said the incident reminded her of the strength of Asian women like her 80-year-old grandmother.
“She's strong and vital,” said MILCK. “I saw my grandma in that woman, and I was heartbroken, but also so proud.”
After decades of abuse, the uptick in violence says activists will no longer be quietly tolerated.
“It's not right and it's not acceptable, and we will not accept it,” said McLeod.
Activists say now is the time to take a stand.
“It is really incredible to see the younger generation stepping up and taking the reins,” said Jeff Yang. “Saying, 'you know what? We got this, guys.' And that, to me, makes me feel like this is a moment, a turning moment for our community."