The scream of yellow whistles echoed through the Boston Common on Monday afternoon as community leaders, organizers, and allies pledged their solidarity to combat hate toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
The color yellow, once weaponized against Asian people in xenophobic rhetoric, took on a powerful new meaning with the whistles, which have been distributed across the country this spring through The Yellow Whistle campaign.
“We should not be silent,” said speaker Esther Lee, who encouraged everyone to blow their whistles together.
Monday’s rally, organized by the Chinese American Citizens Alliance Boston Lodge, was the Boston gathering for the National Day of Solidarity Against AAPI Hate, which coincided with the last day of AAPI Heritage Month. A flagship rally was planned in Washington, D.C., and others in cities across the country.
The rallies come amid a wave in anti-Asian racism and violence — a surge that some have attributed to the rhetoric used by former president Donald Trump and others in blaming China for the coronavirus pandemic. But anti-Asian hate is also “part of a long, dark history in our country’s treatment of the AAPI community,” Acting Mayor Kim Janey told those gathered on the Common.
Janey presented a proclamation during the rally naming Monday “Day of Solidarity Against AAPI Hate” in Boston.
“The fires of racism have been burning in our country for far too long, 400 years in fact, and we will not let this stand in Boston,” she said.
Though sparked by the somber recognition of violence against Asian Americans, the Boston Common rally was also filled with joy, including impassioned remarks, songs and poems written by children, and a traditional lion dance performance.
Many wore shirts or held signs with the words “Stop Asian Hate.”
Susan, of East Boston, who asked to be identified by just her first name, attended the rally with her 10-year-old son. She held a sign that said “BlacKoreans for Unity.”
“We do live in fear,” she said. “We’re here to show him and other youth that there are adults behind him.”
City Councilor Michelle Wu, the first Asian American woman to serve on the council and a candidate for mayor, gave the crowd a handful of concrete steps they can take, including supporting Asian American-owned businesses and pushing for language access to government services so all communities can reach the resources they need.
Schools should also be teaching ethnic studies, Wu added, so the curriculum reflects the contributions of every community.
“Now is the moment... to ensure that we are laying the groundwork starting from the very, very beginning in our education system,” she said.
Several elected officials and City Council candidates who attended Monday’s rally were called to the stage and asked to pledge to work with the AAPI community to end hate.
John Barros, the city’s former economic development chief who is also running for mayor, reiterated the importance of standing together in solidarity against hate.
“Hate on any one of us is hate on every one of us, and we can’t take it,” he said.
City Councilor Ed Flynn, a US Navy veteran, in acknowledging the Memorial Day holiday, expressed concern about the disrespect many Asian American veterans face when they return home from service.
“I served side-by-side with so many Asians and Asian Americans and immigrants,” he said. “They worked incredibly hard, and then when they came back to the United States, they were treated with disrespect and their families were victims of intimidation and bullying and hate crimes.”
Many children were in attendance Monday, and some participated in the rally, a point of pride among many community organizers. Lily Li-Nagy, 6, wrote a poem that she read aloud at the rally. Her mother, Helen Li, said she wants her daughter to learn at a young age how to speak up against wrongdoing.
“Love doesn’t have a shape. She follows her own design. Love may walk in a circle, or in a straight line,” Li-Nagy read. “Love may trip and stumble. In fact love often will fall. But love is never alone. Love is awaiting your call.”