Solano County rally for Asian solidarity touches on pain, determination – Times-Herald

The feeling at the Filipino Community Center on Saturday morning was a mixture of joy, sadness, and defiance.

The joy was to see friends and members of the community. Sadness was for generations of Asian Americans who have faced hate. Defiance was toward those who think they can get away with harming them.

The event was the Asian Solidarity Prayer Rally — a time to come together to address the marked increase in hate crimes perpetrated against people of Asian descent in this country.

An NBC News report this week clocked a 169 percent increase in crimes against Asian Americans since the beginning of this year. Some can draw a direct line between the attacks and the falsehoods put out by the previous administration, which called COVID-19 “The Chinese Virus” and refused to back down even after the first reports of anti-Asian hate began to spike.

Though there have not been any officially-reported crimes in Vallejo, that doesn’t mean that none are occurring. Nearly everyone in the room had experiences with racism, either first-hand or carried down from the stories of their immigrant forefathers.

The large hall was filled with several dozen people, each masked and respectfully sitting 6 feet from one another. It was a veritable who’s who of prominent Filipino and Filipina members of the Vallejo community, from Vice Mayor Rozzana Verder-Aliga to former Vice Mayors Hermie Sunga and Cris P. Villanueva (who is now the President of the Filipino Community of Solano County, Inc.), and former FCSCI President Norma Placido. Also in attendance were educator Luchi Marte, School Board Trustee Tony Ubalde, and rally organizer Eloise Escano Scott.

The invocation was led by Pastor Rey Bernardes of the Vallejo Lord’s Fellowship and the first Executive Director of the Christian Help Center shelter.

“We are a community of diverse people and cultures,” he told the crowd, urging them to love one another regardless of skin color or station in life. He asked God to bring wisdom and courage so that the community can “build a bridge over troubled water.”

The first speaker was Villanueva, who spoke of how his family felt that America would be a “welcoming country,” but that they were “challenged in that we were not fully accepted as a part of the community” in Vallejo.

Vallejo was once a place where neighborhoods had racial covenants written into the law, and people of color were only allowed to live in certain areas.

Villanueva shared a particularly upsetting story about his first run for Vallejo City Council. He arrived at a candidate event, he said, and was “escorted out,” as if he didn’t belong among the others. He also said one person grabbed his campaign fliers, threw them up in the air, and said, “How could I vote for you? You don’t even speak the way I speak.”

“Those Americans that hated us converted our dreams into nightmares,” he said. He said he turned his pain into three values — patience, boldness, and persistence.

Verder-Aliga then addressed the assembly.

“I am a proud Filipina American!” she said. “I am a proud Vallejoan!”

Verder-Aliga spoke about the dramatic increase in hate crimes against people of Asian descent and said she was heartbroken over it. She thanked the more than 2 million front-line workers during the pandemic that are Asian Americans and even mentioned concern for the “lost souls” that are causing harm and fear against fellow Americans.

As a member of local government, she condemned any expressions of racism and said stands united in denouncing any and all attacks on the community.

But the real fire came from the younger generation, who took turns at the podium to denounce the hatred. One man said that his 80-year-old father had recently been struck from behind on the head. Though it frightened him, he kicked and fought back and the man fled.

“Here is why they do this,” Rey Edpao told the crowd. “There is a stereotype of Asian Men… that we aren’t going to do anything… I want to change that narrative!”

Another woman, Chris de Asis, spoke about being surrounded by men on bikes and one on foot in Jack London Square in Oakland. She said she felt threatened but refused to be intimidated.

“People think Asians are docile,” she said. “We need to be vocal and assertive.”

Though short in stature, de Asis said she locked eyes with one of the perpetrators and returned his gaze, refusing to stand down. He then turned and walked away, head hung low.

“Do not be afraid, look people in the eye,” she said. “It shows your humanity.”

Other elected officials in attendance were Mayor Robert McConnell, who gave a short speech acknowledging Asian American and Pacific Island Heritage Month, as well as all the council members (except Hakeem Brown). Supervisors Erin Hannigan and Monica Brown also said a few words, as well as American Canyon Mayor Leon Garcia.

Brown delivered some plain words of encouragement — stand tall.

“If you see it, call it out,” she said. “This is happening because of the lies.”

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