Newton residents showed solidarity and mourned the loss of the Atlanta shooting victims with a relay race on March 27 alongside seven other towns on the Boston Marathon route.
During the run, participants could start and stop at six stations set around Newton. The race was followed by a ceremony to display “unity, resilience, and strength of the Asian American community.”
Michelle Luo, co-president of the The Chinese American Association of Newton and speaker at the ceremony, said the run is like the Asian American journey.
“We can run, and we bring people along, and we are not going to stop in the middle — we’re going all the way to the finish line,” she said in an interview.
On March 16, eight people were killed in a shooting targeting Atlanta-area spas. Six of the victims were Asian women.
The New England Chinese American Alliance organized the regional event. The Chinese American Association of Newton, the Newton Chinese Language School and the Greater Boston Chinese Cultural Association organized the Newton section of the race.
Vicki Ni, vice president of the Greater Boston Chinese Cultural Association and retired Mandarin teacher at the Jackson Walnut Park School, said she wants Asian American children and parents to stand up for themselves.
“We are not abrasive, but we’re always kind of quiet,” she said. “Quiet doesn’t mean we don’t need anything. We need our rights too.”
Huaiqin Wu, Newton resident and a runner leading the event, told the crowd the event symbolizes the resolve and endurance of Newton’s Asian American community.
“Let’s run together today for a good fight, to fight the violence and discrimination against Asian Americans,” Wu said.
Chunhua Liu, a co-organizer and president-elect of the BEN Running Club who placed in the top 300 during the 2019 Boston Marathon, led a group through the Newton section on March 27. Liu said running along the Boston Marathon route for this cause was meaningful.
“Everyone in the community supports this, and I’m very appreciative and very thankful for everyone,” she said. “I felt excited. I felt the strength. Boston strong.”
Greer Tan Swiston, a former Newton Board of Alderman and member of the Greater Boston Chinese Cultural Association, cheered on the runners. She said she thinks the people in the city are listening to Asian American voices.
“We’re really lucky here in Newton,” she said. “I do think that there is a lot more willingness to be open.”
Pam Wright, Newton’s City Councilor at Large from Ward 3, said people need to support their neighbors and events like this bring people together.
“It also shows the community and others in the community, the issues in Newton, in Boston, in Mass., and in the world how we need to support our neighbors,” she said.
Tarik Lucas, Newton City Councilor at Large from Ward 2, said he wants to help the Asian community feel safe after recent events.
“This has been a very tough year, and especially a tough week for the Asian community,” he said. “I am also a person of color, I’m an African American, and I was here to show my support for the Asian community.”
Li Zhen, founder of the Chinese American Association of Newton and organizer, said the shooting in Atlanta made her realize how widespread the issue is.
“For the first time in my life, I realized how common the hatred and belittlement is in society.”
Gang Zhao, a Belmont resident, said he ran through all the Newton stations and appreciated the passersby and onlookers.
“I got a lot of support from people walking or running on the street, or just driving by,” he said. “It’s really encouraging to me to know that we’re not alone.”
In her post-run speech, Luo said everyone involved — from the people holding “#STOP ASIAN HATE” signs, and supporting the runners, to the runners themselves, — raised awareness in the fight to end racism against Asians.
“We Asian Americans belong here,” Luo said. “We want to feel safe and welcome. We demand respect and equal treatment.”
Amy Mah Sangiolo, former Newton city councilor and member of the Greater Boston Chinese Cultural Association, said the shootings stirred many emotions and memories. Sangiolo said she grew up in one of the only Asian families in her community. She remembered being bullied in the classroom and having “the entire classroom chant” obscenities as she walked in.
“Those are memories that I think everybody here has something similar that are coming back out,” she said.
Zhao was one of many parents to bring their children to support. He said he wanted his 8-year-old son Gavin to be there.
“So when he grows up, he gets a sense of community, a sense of being part of it, and a sense of standing up for himself,” he said.
Amanda Cappelli and Aaron Velasco can be reached at email@example.com.