vigil library

In the Wake of Atlanta Shooting, Student-Organized Vigil Calls Out Asian American Discrimination

Staring at a crowd of students in the damp grass below the steps of McKeldin Library Wednesday evening, Tiffanie Choi put out a call to action. “I want to see you out there taking action. I want to see you fighting for us … Even when it’s not a trend anymore. Even when the public and the news don’t care about us anymore.”

Large portraits of the eight victims killed in the Atlanta spa shootings on March 16 — six of whom were Asian women — sat with flowers under a gray, rainy sky. The mood reflected the weather. Their names were Soon Chung Park, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Hyun Jung Grant, Xiaojie Tan, Delaina Yaun, Daoyou Feng and Paul Andre Michels.

vigil flowers Original photo by Olivia Wolfson

Choi, a daughter of two immigrants, raised her voice as she said, “Right now, we are all afraid to live. We are afraid to walk out that door because there is no system that protects us … On our bad days, we do not point the gun at others, the gun is pointed at us.”

She spoke somberly about the lives and legacies of the eight victims, begging the crowd to remember their stories and all that could’ve been. 

Elizabeth Hsu, Lily Larson and Choi — all sophomores at the University of Maryland — organized a vigil held Wednesday evening to honor the lives lost and take a stand against Asian American discrimination.

“We were so upset how none of the [Asian American] organizations here were holding any physical vigil for the victims of the Atlanta shooting, so we decided that we should do it because no one else is going to do it,” Choi said.

vigil speakers Original photo by Olivia Wolfson

After Choi and Hsu released flyers for the vigil, Larson helped the two connect with various Asian American organizations on campus including the Filipino Cultural Association, the Japanese American Student Association, the Taiwanese American Student Association and the Chinese Student Association, among others.  

The vigil had an array of speakers, including university President Darryll Pines, Asian American Student Union Co-President Jackie Liu and the vigil’s organizers, all expressing their grievances for the victims of the Atlanta shooting as well the need for change.

“All of us must remain vigilant to root out hate wherever it roots its ugly head on our campus,” Pines said. “As president of the University of Maryland, I am here to be a partner in support of how we can respond to these issues and ensure that our environment and communities feel safe and secure.”

Pines also reminded the audience that two of the new residence halls being built on campus will be named after the university’s first Asian American students. However, directly after Pines’ speech, Hsu returned to the microphone to argue that the university’s Asian American and Pacific Islander community needs more action from the administration.

vigil attendees Original photo by Olivia Wolfson

“You say that you stand for our community President Pines, but you need to actually do something for our community. Issuing emails, statements and just naming residence halls after trailblazers isn’t enough for us,” she said.

One of the issues the administration needs to tackle, according to Hsu, is this university’s faculty and staff diversity. As of last semester, only 9.7% of this university’s faculty and staff were Asian. Hsu urged attendees to continue educating themselves on the issue and be an ally.

Freshman Abby Jones said she decided to participate as a volunteer for the vigil because she felt the cause resonated with her being half Asian. While Jones said she doesn’t feel as deeply affected by the rise of hate crimes as people with two Asian parents, it does still hit close to home for her.

“My mother is the one who’s Asian, and she’s been talking with her friends, and she had mentioned to me the other day, ‘Just be careful out there, you know, just because you and I look different, things might happen to us,’” said Jones. “It’s really sad to hear her say that, and I do worry about my mom.”

Jones hopes the support and demand for change for the AAPI community doesn’t become a passing trend, forgotten with a swipe to the next Instagram story post.

“These are our lives, and it's happening everywhere,” Jones said. “It’s really really hard because you feel so disconnected when you just see things in a flash on social media.”

The vigil’s organizers shared similar sentiments. Choi said the hardest part in the fight for racial justice is being seen as more than a trend but as an issue that impacts millions of lives. 

“It’s easy right now for the Asian American communities to gain support because everyone’s really aware of it,” Larson said. “But we can’t stop fighting for racial justice after this vigil because it’s going to take a lot more than one event or one vigil to change anything.”

For more information on ways to get involved and support the AAPI community, the organizers of the vigil created a website directing users to a video of the vigil and a variety of resources and donation opportunities.