In light of recent attacks on Asian Americans across the country, two University of Nebraska-Lincoln students decided it was time to take action.
Diane Choi and Tania Castillo organized the #StopAsianHate protest and march that took place on April 10, beginning and ending in front of the State Capitol in Lincoln.
Choi, whose parents immigrated to the United States from South Korea, said she hopes the event raises awareness about the struggles Asian Americans face in the U.S on a regular basis.
“I just really want to encourage people to open their hearts and really educate themselves, hear our stories [and] hear out the experiences that actually occur here in America,” she said.
Choi cited insecurities she felt growing up in a “predominantly white” community where she has been ridiculed, sexualized and berated for her race and culture.
“I remember my definition of beauty being heavily influenced by my environment. Light hair and rounded eyes were features I sincerely perceived as superior to my dark hair and almond eyes, stemming from social media, TV and films,” she said.
She hopes to inspire younger generations of Asian Americans to embrace their heritage, their looks and their culture.
“Our people belong here. Projecting your sexual fantasies as a form of sincere flattery is dehumanizing. It’s degrading and it’s humiliating,” Choi said. “I am tired of the ignorance and normalized racism that exists within our communities.”
UNL graduate student Tomayo Zhou also spoke to the crowd of more than 100 demonstrators about ways to help fight Asian hate in the U.S. He said change begins with recognizing that Asian hate does exist in Lincoln, despite contradictory beliefs.
“What we are facing is new racism. What that means is people will [judge] our culture, our language, or maybe even just our accent or how we dress. They will discriminate against us on that as well,” he said.
Zhou cited the model minority myth– which characterizes Asian Americans as a polite, law-abiding group who have achieved a higher level of success than the general population through a combination of innate talent and pull-yourselves-up-by-your-bootstraps immigrant mentality- as to why Asian Americans have been excluded when it comes to talking about racial injustices.
“We need to come together with other groups that are marginalized. We need to work on it together. Discrimination doesn’t stop just towards to one group,” he said.
Zhou asked that, if anyone witnesses acts of hate toward Asians in the community, to record, report and intervene.
“It is important to remember when fighting for social justice. It’s not just a sprint. It’s not just something you do in college for four years and burn yourself out. You move on. It’s a marathon,” he said.
Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln also spoke out in support at the rally. Earlier in 2021, he introduced a bill in the Nebraska Legislature that would create a commission on Asian American Affairs. He said commissions already exist for Latino Americans, American Indians and African Americans.
“What it would create is a dedicated Asian American Commission with a permanent staff designed to help advocate at the state level to help coordinate and amplify Asian American voices in the state of Nebraska,” he said.
Before signaling the start of the march, which ran from the Capitol to 27th Street, Y Street, and back through UNL’s campus, Zhou asked the crowd to take action.
“Remember, today could be a start. I hope today is the start of real change in our society. However, you need to decide on what your role is,” he said.