Hate crimes against people of Asian American and Pacific Islander descent, which were already up significantly in the last year, became a topic of urgent national discussion after eight people were shot in Atlanta a few weeks ago. As a response, some people felt as though they needed to show public solidarity for the AAPI community in Denver, where a white mob terrorized and burned the city’s downtown Chinatown a century ago, and organized a rally at the Capitol on Saturday.
But the shooting in Boulder complicated things. Pasha Eve told us the tragedy overshadowed the local effort to raise awareness on AAPI hate crimes.
“The hashtag has gone from Asian hate to gun control,” she said from under a tent on the Capitol steps Saturday. “It’s the same thing. We’re tired of this. We’re tired of living in fear.”
The killings in King Soopers reignited fears of Islamophobic violence. The man standing trial for the murders immigrated from Syria, and local Muslim groups quickly expressed concern that hate crimes against their communities could tick up.
“It just hurts so much because I didn’t even have time to grieve the lives that were lost before I was being inundated with questions about how my religion could be responsible for this,” Nadeen Ibrahim, a representative of the Colorado Muslim Leadership Council, said.
She addressed the crowd on Saturday, linking challenges facing AAPI and Muslim communities. She told us it would be incorrect to assume these are two distinct groups.
“A large portion of the Muslim community here in Colorado is largely part of the AAPI community, so their cause is also our cause and there’s a huge intersection,” she said.
Ibrahim added that people who fit into this cross-section now have to deal with “double injustices” as they try to navigate a world she feels is dangerous.
Rep. Jason Crow, who represents Aurora in Congress, was at the rally Saturday. He told us he’s been busy making phone calls to victims, families and students related to all of these issues.
“On Monday, I was calling a lot of folks in the AAPI community to express my support. And then, obviously, the shooting happened, and I started calling folks in Boulder,” he said, “and now I’m also reaching out to the Muslim community.”
Events of the last few weeks weighed heavily on people we spoke to at the rally, but attendees also said they felt encouraged by an outpouring of community support.
Crow described the last weeks, and year, as a “mass trauma.” His said his job makes him intimately aware of the human toll of manmade tragedies.
“The bottom line is I’m extremely frustrated and mad as are many folks, not just as a representative but as a father of kids that now have to live in this environment,” he said.
Angelica Prisciliano, a volunteer who helped usher people onto the Capitol steps Saturday, said she felt “disheartened” in this moment. Beyond the shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, she lamented how often she’s felt the need to respond to hatred and killings.
“I’m angry that we have to gather again to fight against something that is very ridiculous,” she said. “Every week we have to mourn and every week is something different and every week we have to show up. Not that I don’t want to be here, but why can’t we just show up to do other things rather than demand basic human rights?”
But Prisciliano, like others we spoke to, said the act of showing up also helps her take care of herself.
“I try to stay connected with community as much as I can, because that’s the only way that we’re going to get through this and be better and do better,” she said. “That’s what gives me hope and keeps me going.”
Kristen Lowe, who said she’s fifth-generation Chinese-American, remembered a boy on a bus spit on her “and told me to go back to my own country” when she was very young. Though it took decades, she’s heartened that American society is discussing racism toward Asian Americans. She was also glad to see people coming together in Denver.
“It really finally feels like we’re starting to be heard,” she said. “Our experiences and our stories are just as valid and need to be told, and we deserve a platform to speak out and feel safe in doing so.”
Ibrahim, who said she was deeply affected by both the killings in Atlanta and Boulder, also said she was grateful that people in Colorado are banding together.
“It makes it seem like I have other people that are in this with me, and it makes it very comforting to know that I’m not alone going through this,” she said.
She added that her religion, which she fears will make her a target, also provides a blueprint to face this challenging moment.
“The tenets of my religion just remind me to always keep hope,” she said. “At the end of every trial, there is something to be learned and gained from it, and that things will get better.”