‘It could have been me’: NIU holds vigil for AAPI victims of hate crimes


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By Kierra Frazier

DeKALB – When sophomore nursing major Zoe Bragas became aware of the rise in violence against Asian Americans, her first thought was, “well, I guess it’s okay if I become too white for my family because maybe other people – privileged people –  seeing me as more American than Asian will be the thing that saves me.”

“I feel guilty for having that thought in the first place, but I’m more angry at our society and the institutions that force us to choose between our cultures and our safety,” Bragas said. “I’m angry at the systems that perpetuate racism and contribute to our trauma and pain.”

Bragas was one of many speakers at Friday’s virtual National Day to Speak Out Against Asian Hate vigil in the wake of an Atlanta shooting that killed eight people, including six Asian American women.

Rev. Joe Gastiger held a prayer at the vigil along with a moment of silence.

Yoon Jae Jeon, associate director of the Asian American Resource Center, recited the names of the lives lost in the Atlanta shooting.

Soon Chung Park.

Hyun Jung Grant.

Suncha Kim.

Yong Ae Yue.

Xiaojie Tan.

Daoyou Feng.

Delaina Ashley Yaun.

Paul Andre Michels.

“This is a painful reminder of both the long history of violence against Asians and Asian Americans in the U.S. and the recent increase in violence and xenophobic acts against Asians and Asian Americans nationwide,” said Michelle Bringas, director of the Asian American Resource Center.

Linh Nguyen, president of the League of Women Voters, said she’s still grieving the killing of the eight people in Atlanta.

“This heinous crime was destined to happen when we don’t address the anti-Asian racism in America,” Nguyen said. “Hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have a deep-rooted foundation in the forever stereotypes. We have always been treated as the other.”

The March 16 shooting follows an increase in events of discrimination and violence directed against Asians and Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stop AAPI Hate released a report that found nearly 3,800 instances of discrimination against Asians in the past year.

Nguyen said hate crimes against Asian Americans rose during the pandemic in part of the creation of  “impunity terms,” such as “Chinese virus, China virus, Wuhan virus and Kung flu.”

“I am a Vietnamese American woman but from afar, as a typical American is concerned, I am Chinese,” Nguyen said. “I call on all American residents of Asian descent to unite in educating ourselves and being better allies for one another. Our lives are at stake. It could have been me, in Atlanta. It could have been you, it could have been my children or your children.”

NIU President Lisa Freeman said it’s important for everyone to combat the increase in anti-Asian racism and violence by calling out lies and misinformation and by speaking out in support of our students, colleagues and community members.

“It is also important to acknowledge that anti-Asian racism and discrimination are not new phenomena, inspired by the events of the last week for the past year; we’ve heard from our students, staff and faculty that more must be done to combat bias, eliminate inequity and foster an inclusive community and society,” Freeman said.

Sherry Fang, a family and consumer sciences professor, said as part of the Asian American community, she feels a sense of collective sadness and grief.

“The Chinese have a saying: one chopstick is easily breakable, two or three, we can break down, but when we have thousands of chopsticks, all in alignment, united, we are powerful,” Fang said. “We are in alignment with the NIU spirit; forward, together forward.”