Members of Asheville’s Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and supporters gathered downtown Saturday evening to remember victims of last week’s shooting in Atlanta. Mourners brought flowers, candles and flags to the steps of Pack Square.
Local chef and community activist J Chong helped organize the gathering. Chong says she hopes the tragedy is a wake up call to the reality of discrimination toward Asians in the US.
“Hopefully it just brings awareness, and I think hopefully this empowers those who aren’t used to hearing these things, or discrimination of any sort, to speak up, for whoever. It doesn’t have to be your loved ones, it doesn’t have to be your friends, just speak up, for humans,” Chong said.
Chong was the target of an Anti-Asian attack last year when her virtual cooking class was “Zoom-bombed” by commenters posting racist slurs. Reports of violence against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have risen in the US since the start of the pandemic. The nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate says they’ve received reports of more than 2,800 hate incidents across the country since the pandemic began.
While Asheville's AAPI population is relatively small, about 1.8 percent, Chong says she hopes this emboldens members of the community to continue organizing and speaking out.
"At times, it's traumatizing. It triggers. But at times, it can be therapeutic," Chong said. "It's very hard for some to be vulnerable, so those that feel they can be strong and have a voice, like myself, I think we need to be the ones to continue."