In the wake of a nationwide uptick in discrimination and violence toward Asians and Pacific Islanders, culminating in the shooting deaths of six Asian women in the Atlanta area earlier this month, Johnson Countians rallied Saturday to speak up for these minority communities.
At least 200 people from across Johnson County and the Kansas City metro gathered Saturday evening on the lawn at 119th and Grant in Overland Park. Many carried signs that included messages like, “Stop Asian Hate,” “Racism is a Virus” and “Stand with Asians.”
It was one of dozens of such rallies in American cities over the weekend.
For some time, rally goers in Overland Park stood in a circle, sharing messages of hope, peace and solidarity with each other, especially in the wake of violence against Asian American And Pacific Islander, or AAPI, folks that has ramped up during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first known strain of the coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China, and discrimination toward Chinese and other Asians has become more prevalent in the past year.
White and Black folks also came out in solidarity, as well as local nonprofit Families Blessed with the World’s Children. Cars driving past the rally along 119th also frequently honked in support.
Daniel Xue, a Chinese national living in Overland Park, said he is “so proud and so touched” to see everyone coming out to the rally.
One of the main speakers at the event, Xue said he wants to replace hatred with love for all peoples and bring them together in a common spirit of unity.
Xue added that the rally may be a small step for AAPI people, but it’s an important step because it empowers these often silent groups to speak up for themselves.
“Silence encourages the crimes and the murders,” Xue said. “Whenever you get silence, people just take advantage. So in order to get equal treatment, we’ve got to speak up, unite. Let’s work together.”
Three Johnson County women who have adopted children from Asia organized the Stop Asian Hate rally. Together, Heidi Fenton, Nikki Pauls DeSimone and Casey Skinner connected with Xue, who put the word out to other AAPI groups in the metro area.
“We just felt like we had to use our voices to do something,” said Pauls DeSimone, an Overland Park mother who adopted her daughter, Yiyi Pauls, from China. “This isn’t just about the adopted kids. This is about all of us together showing our kids that this is what we do when we’re faced with injustice. This is what we do when we’re faced with hate. This is what we do, and have the freedom as Americans to do that. This is beautiful, I’m so happy to see this.”
Yiyi Pauls, a 17-year-old student who attends Shawnee Mission East, said this rally is important to raise awareness of discrimination.
“I hope it will help at least a little,” she added.
Siew Lau, an American who immigrated from Malaysia more than three decades ago, said this is the first time she can recall all of the different AAPI groups in the Kansas City area gathering together.
Teresa Chien, an 86-year-old American who immigrated from China, said she’s here today “to show the people of this city that we have no hate.”
“We want to show that we are peaceful people,” Chien said. “We want to be part of this community. We have to learn from each other.”