As four percussionists raised their drumsticks at various speeds, the sound of rhythmic folk drumming overlapped to echo around Global Wordsmiths’ industrial interior in Larimer Saturday afternoon.
The featured Japanese drums, played by Pittsburgh Taiko members, opened Saturday’s peaceful rally to denounce violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.
Organized by the East Coast Asian American Student Union and the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance Pittsburgh chapter along with more than 20 other community partners, “PGH Rally for Solidarity” came in the wake of two separate mass shootings in California, where 18 people were killed, many of whom were Asian.
On Jan. 21, a gunman opened fire in a dance studio, killing 11 people and wounding nine others in Monterey Park, Calif., a city known for its Asian population. The shooting took place on the eve of the Lunar New Year, one of the biggest celebrations in Asian culture.
Less than 17 hours later, seven people were killed and one was critically injured after a man attacked two mushroom farms in Half Moon Bay, Calif. The victims were all Asian or Hispanic adults.
Phoebe Balascio, ECAASU board member, told the Pittsburgh Union Progress earlier that week that the space is meant for “big feelings — capital B, capital F.”
The event welcomes feelings of grief, loneliness, anger and numbness while also being open to “remembrance, the healing care with community and hope for our future,” she said.
A moment of silence for victims at the start of the event on Saturday and the over 50 attendees were led in a series of Reiki, a Japanese form of energy healing, grounding meditations and song by Lauren Nakamura before speakers took to the microphone.
Marian Lien, Organization of Chinese Americans Pittsburgh president, shared that she is originally from Monterey Park. Lien said her parents’ house is up the street from Star Ballroom Dance Studio, where the shooting occurred.
She shared fond memories of growing up there, studying and dreaming in the community’s library as well as trips she now takes with her daughter to Monterey Park where they can stock up on Lunar New Year decorations, house slippers and oolong tea.
“I’m not the first to make this pilgrimage back to our Asian Mecca, so you see, Monterey Park holds a lot of cultural value for Asian American kids like me because it reflects a lot of my life, our lives, unapologetically and without embarrassment,” Lien said.
Lien noted that many of the victims in Monterey Park were older Asian American immigrants in their 50s and 70s and that the victims in Half Moon Bay were Chinese and Latino laborers.
“I’ve often been asked, ‘What do our Asian American community members want?’ and I will say this: We want the opportunity to see our full potential,” Lien said. “We want our families to be safe. We want our children to be treated like who they are as Americans.”
Many speakers emphasized the importance of protecting workers’ rights, stricter gun legislation, access to safe mental health care, holding police accountable and rejecting white supremacy.
Jessica Ríos Viner, president of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement Pittsburgh chapter, spoke of how the seven killed and one injured in Half Moon Bay were attacked in their workplace.
Serious issues in the workplace such as wage theft and violence have been a long-standing fight for Asian and Latino workers, both of whom have been an integral part of the U.S. labor movement since the 1800s, Viner said.
“Immigrants and refugees need unions,” she explained. “They need to organize even more than U.S.-born workers because they face exploitation more as workers and as immigrants …. It is not that immigrants have built this country, it is that this country has been built on the back of slavery and exploitation and there is no dignified life if we aren’t treated with dignity at work.”
Instead of asking for change, Farooq Al-Said, 1HoodMedia director of operations, said he demands it because, “Our communities are thoughts-and-prayers-ed out.
“The Trump administration did not create Asian hate,” he said. “They did not create this scheme that we see on the media, but they did brand it, they did popularize it and then have the audacity to run for presidential office again in the next election cycle. So, when you make sure that you get out to the voting polls, know that all voting and all politics is local ….”
Additional speakers represented Rangoli Pittsburgh, JADED, Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, Casa San José, Take Action Advocacy Group, CeaseFirePA and the Alliance for Police Accountability.
People were also encouraged to pen letters and signs that could then be placed on a small memorial decorated with carnations and rose petals surrounded by small tea lights.
In March 2021, the ECAASU and APALA organized a rally in Oakland to protest violence against the AAPI community. The event came the week after the 2021 Atlanta shootings, in which a gunman targeted Atlanta-area spas and killed eight people, six of whom were of Asian descent.
“It was really powerful to see what can happen when we all work together in solidarity, and we all denounce things like white supremacy, the cis-hetero patriarchy, imperialism, sexism, racism, all those things,” Balascio said of the 2021 march.
“In the wake of the two shootings in California, we decided that we wanted to do a similar event this year, particularly for the Asian and Asian American communities in Pittsburgh who otherwise may not have a place to gather and to be in community with one another,” Balascio said.
“We wanted to have this be in person because to be in physical community and in a physical space, to be able to see and touch one another and hug one another and see that there are people around you who are feeling the things you’re feeling that can relate to all of complex thoughts and emotions. Just grappling with what’s happened and how we move forward, I think being able to just share that space is something that is so moving and so powerful.”