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'Being Asian is not a virus': OU students organize rally protesting anti-Asian violence, discrimination

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A man holds up a sign during a moment of silence the Stop Asian Hate Rally at Legacy Trail Park on March 27.

A trio of OU students organized a rally Saturday evening in response to the March 16 Atlanta, Georgia, shooting. At the rally, speakers shared their experiences with race as Asian Americans and a demonstration was held along Main Street in support of Asian and Pacific Islander communities.

The Atlanta shooting occurred outside the Gold Spa, where eight victims were killed by Robert Aaron Long. Six of the victims were Asian and the other two were white, according to The New York Times. While FBI Director Christopher Wray has expressed doubt the Atlanta shooting was racially motivated, anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States increased by nearly 150 percent in 2020 according to NBC news.

Despite the relentless wind, about one hundred participants attended the rally, creating a chant that overpowered the sound of oncoming traffic and forced drivers to turn their attention to the colorful signs reading “Stop anti-Asian violence” and “Empower Asian voices.”

In an interview with The Daily, rally organizer and sociology graduate student Haifan Xiao said she decided to host the rally because she was “deeply affected” by the Atlanta shooting.

“We know that the Atlanta shooting is not an isolated incident,” Xiao said. “Since the pandemic, there were 3,800 anti-Asian incidents that were reported last year. We cannot live in fear.”

Xiao said she and two other graduate sociology students, Tiffanie Vo and Sally Wiser, created the rally with support from the OU Department of Sociology, with faculty members assisting in the organization of the event and providing disposable masks and microphones.

The rally began with a brief introduction by Vo followed by an 80-second moment of silence — 10 seconds dedicated to each victim of the Atlanta shooting.

During the rally, Xiao said she felt overwhelmed with sorrow and helplessness when she heard the news of the shooting the following morning.

“I sat on the floor and continued to ask myself, with tears, ‘Can’t this world be better,’” Xiao said. “I know that my friends and I have been living in fear since (the) pandemic. We are so fearful of the potential attacks that might happen to us. The Atlanta shooting makes me think that we Asians really cannot keep living this kind of life.”

Xiao said she felt obligated to stand up for the Asian community and to speak out despite having no experience organizing a rally in the United States as an international student.

“Being Asian is not a virus. We are good people,” Xiao said. “Racism is a virus.”

OU law student Myong McClintock said although she was born in Oklahoma and raised in Norman, she feels like a foreigner. She said during her childhood, she was afraid of standing out and even went by the name “Michelle.”

“For lunch, instead of taking rice and kimchi or whatever other Korean food my mom had prepared, I would take sandwiches and bags of chips,” McClintock said. “English is my first language. I do speak Korean, but as an adolescent, no one would have ever known that because I hid that.”

Despite efforts to hide her Asian identity in her youth, McClintock said she was still victim to anti-Asian sentiment in middle school.

“A group of students thought it would be really funny to throw handfuls of dried rice at me and yell, ‘Eat rice bitch,’” McClintock said. “When I was upset my peers looked at me and said, ‘Why are you upset? You have no reason to be crying.’”

There has long been a lack of understanding from other communities on the specific issues that “plague” the Asian American and Pacific Islander Community, McClintock said — like fetishization and being viewed as “sex objects.”

OU administrators attended the rally in support of students, including Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students David Surratt and Dean of the College of International Studies Scott Fritzen.

As the initial feelings following such instances of hate fade, Surratt said, more sustainable, positive ideals will push affected communities forward to facilitate healing and lasting change.

“Once that idea of anger and fear goes away, recognize that love and duty and honor will sustain us and continue to push us forward and allow us to make the changes that we want to continue to make changes with,” Surratt said.

OU Dean of International Studies Scott Fritzen said it’s important for everyone, but especially white people in positions of authority, to use their power to do something different.

“We can't just be outraged, (and) we can't be passive bystanders. We have to do something, and that starts with speaking,” Fritzen said. “It starts with respecting each other in the communities we live in.”

With targeted hate crimes rising exponentially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and a longer history of discrimination in the United States, now is a vital time for Asian Americans to fight against the injustices against their community, Vo said.

“Don’t tell me it’s not (the) Asian American community’s time to fight ... racial injustice, because it’s long overdue,” Vo said.

According to the United States Census Bureau, 4.9 percent of Norman’s 124,880 residents — roughly 6,119 Normanites — identified as “Asian alone” as of 2019. In Oklahoma, 2.4 percent of the population is Asian, with Vietnamese identified as the second-most spoken non-English language in 2018.

After an hour of comments from various speakers, the crowd moved with their signs and lined up down Main Street, chanting “Stop Asian hate” for another hour. Cars drove by honking and waving in support of the cause.

“When the cars passed by and we shouted out loudly, ‘Stop Asian hate,’ I felt so excited,” Xiao said. “We are standing together to bring attention to the discrimination faced by Asian communities throughout the U.S. We want our predicament to be taken seriously."

Alexia Aston joined The Daily in the fall of 2020 as a news reporter. Alexia is a journalism major from Clinton, Oklahoma.

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