Bergen County Unity Rally Against Racial Violence

About 300 people — several elected officials among them — gathered at Overpeck County Park, in Leonia, on Sunday afternoon for a unity rally denouncing the rising number of violent racists acts against people of Asian descent in our area and in the country.

Cecilia Chang kicks off the rally, old Overpeck County Park, Leonia, NJ, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (Photo: Jimmy Chae)

Masked and dressed for spring, in traditional Korean, Indian, and other warm days attire, participants convened at the old Overpeck County Park for a rally against racial injustice that hit many other people such as the series of Black Lives Matter protests from last year.

Homemade signs seen in the crowd included "Hate the Hate,” “This Is Our Home,” and "Silence is Complicity." Since the beginning of the pandemic last year, people of Asian descent have been the target of attacks and harmful rhetoric blaming them for the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Saloney Ginger Chandra, of Teaneck, had this to say:

“This rally is to promote unity, to promote solidarity, it's a chance to come together for social justice. There is a severe lack of empathy in the nation and the world today when empathy is needed more than ever.

Our Asian brothers and sisters are suffering and need support. This is the time for that.

I am Asian - American, specifically South Asian American.

So this is very much personal as well. However, that’s not my main reason for attending. I have stood and will continue to stand with all my black, brown, Asian brothers and sisters and all who have been marginalized and need support.

We are stronger together and our strength lies in our unified diversity.”

A dozen speakers took turns on the stage to condemn ‘white supremacy’ and share stories of times they or loved ones were mistreated, because of their race or skin color.

Congressman Andy Kim told Sunday's crowd that he remembers his experience running for office, reaching out to different political experts, and they all told him “Look, you seem like a nice kid and all, but there is no way that an Asian-American can win,” pertaining to his district, made up of 85% White, less than 3% Asian-American, who voted for Trump.

The Congressman also added – “what they did say was: Why don’t you move up North Jersey, where there are a lot more people that look like you.” Meanwhile, he just wanted to represent his home.

“And I don’t like other people to tell me what I can or can not accomplish based on my last name, or the color of my skin.” – Congressman Andy Kim

Congressman Andrew ‘Andy’ Kim gives an emotional and sincere speech about racism in New Jersey, at old Overpeck County Park, Leonia, NJ, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (Photo: Jimmy Chae)

The speaker list included:

  • Richard Lee, director of the advancement for the Asian American Christian Collaborative

  • Rev. Reyn Cabinet, Senior Pastor, Uptown Community Church

  • Vivian Louie - Hunter College, Professor of Urban Policy and Planning and Director of Asian American Studies Center and Program - Hunter College

  • MJ Laqui - Teaneck Public School

  • Sahib Singh - Sikh Coalition Youth Representative and Leonia Mayor's GenZ Committee on Racial Equity (GCORE)

  • Yena Choe - Korean American Association of NJ Youth Council and Leonia Mayor's GenZ Committee on Racial Equity

The event was organized by Ceclia Chan, of Tenafly, with Soo-Kyung Chung, Leonia, Darryl Joo, Leonia, Manu Singh, Leonia, who teamed up with a number of local groups along with several social justice activists, educators, and community members. It was held outdoors in the old Overpeck area.

Cecilia Chang, issued the following statement to Pierce:

"The purpose of this multi-town rally is to raise awareness of the rise in anti-Asian hate and to promote solidarity, peace, and understanding among our diverse communities. We are a grassroots group of concerned residents here in Bergen County. In the wake of the horrific shootings in Atlanta and the attacks against Asian Americans across the country, we were the organizers of several rallies and vigils in our local towns of Tenafly and Leonia.

Our mission is to increase participation in democracy for an equitable representation of minorities through civic engagement. We are focused on grassroots, neighborhood organizing efforts aimed at cultivating communities committed to diversity empowerment and working towards the inclusion of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) history and ethnic studies in our New Jersey public school K-12 curriculums."

Recent attacks against Asian Americans include the Atlanta-area shootings last month that left eight people dead, including six women of Asian descent. A Harris County grand jury determined that a brutal attack in March on an Asian American beauty supply store owner was motivated by the victim's racial identity. Prosecutors intend to pursue the assault as a hate crime, which under Texas law could lead to stiffer punishment for the defendant, 24-year-old Keaundra Young.

Stop AAPI Hate, an online reporting system that was started by nonprofits and college professors on the West Coast to keep track of hate-related incidents received over 6,600 reports of incidents against people of Asian descent between March 2020 and March 2021.

In New Jersey, the State recorded an increase in Asian of Pacific Islanders bias incidents of 82%, from 39% in 2019 to 71% in 2020.

Sunday's rally came three weeks after the U.S.Senate passed a bill aimed to address the alarming spike in violent anti-Asian hate crimes, and the Asian community more generally since the pandemic began. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., passed 94-1, an astonishing margin, based on how things stand in the US Senate. Initially, there were six “no” votes in the vote to advance the original iteration of the bill, but the legislation titled – S.937 - COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act – was expanded in some areas to refined in others, to satisfy both, Democrats and Republican Senators, yet they're still was that one Republican Senator who managed to vote “no.”

That Republican Senator is:

  • Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri

When Pierce asked Congressman Kim about the anti-Asian bill that passed the U.S. Senate, Congressman Kim had this to say – “I don’t like to linger on why Senator Hawley voted against it. I want to focus on the good that this would do in our community and around the country. The fact that we got 94 Senators in a bipartisan way right now is remarkable. I can’t imagine any other issue that can get 94 votes right now given the polarization, so I think it shows a lot of unity supporting Asian Americans right now.”

Korean Dancers perform the traditional dance of Choomnoori (KTDOC), old Overpeck County Park, Leonia, NJ, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (Photo: Jimmy Chae)

Protestors brought homemade signs that read ‘We Belong Here,’ ‘Dump Hate,’ and ‘We are American too.’ old Overpeck County Park, Leonia, NJ, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (Photo: Jimmy Chae)

A sign reads ‘Hate is a virus, not nationality,' old Overpeck County Park, Leonia, NJ, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (Photo: Jimmy Chae)

Members of the Asian American Youth Council (AAYC) hold up signs that read ‘Stop Asian Hate,’ old Overpeck County Park, Leonia, NJ, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (Photo: Jimmy Chae)

Organizers of the Bergen County Unity Rally Against Racial Violence pose for a photograph with Congressman Andy Kim,’ old Overpeck County Park, Leonia, NJ, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (Photo: Jimmy Chae)

This article has been amended to add a new photograph.

Additional: Tenafly participates in nationwide solidarity for Asian - Americans after Atlanta spa shootings

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Alie Pierce is a human rights activist and advocate. Follow Alie Pierce on Twitter. Connect with WeekenderNJ on Facebook, Twitter, and IG.