‘From Oakland to Atlanta,’ community members send messages of solidarity, resistance, and healing

This article is cross-published with Oaklandside.

One week after eight people were killed by a mass shooting suspect in Atlanta, including six Asian American women, community members from Oakland and beyond gathered at Madison Park near the Chinatown commercial district to honor the lives that were taken away. The vigil and event, called “From Oakland to Atlanta,” drew hundreds of people of various ages, ethnicities, and races.

The event, which was organized by Oakland Rising, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Anti-Police Terror Project, Oakland Chinatown Coalition, and many more — you can see the full list below — included Korean, Cantonese, and American Sign Language interpreters, Korean drumming, and speakers Liz Suk, poet Michelle “Mush” Lee, and Anti Police-Terror Project co-founder Cat Brooks, and others.

The community gathering gave attendees a chance to show support for the victims, speak out against violence against Asians and women, and participate in a form of collective healing. We spoke to several people about why they showed up last night, and what they’re hoping to see going forward.

Two Asian American women wear face masks and hold signs that say "Protect our Elders" and "Stop AAPI Hate"
Thoa Le and Joanna Au attend a vigil for Asian victims of violence at Madison Park. Photo by Momo Chang.

“We came here today to show solidarity,” said Au, who was born and raised in Oakland. “What happened was fucked up. We just wanted to let the families know they’re not alone and that we feel for them. This amount of people can make a change in the community and the world. We just want the violence against the Asian community to end.” 

Le, who was also raised in Oakland, said to other Asian Americans, “Don’t keep your head down. I don’t want Asians being bullied anymore.”

Image of Korean American woman with long flowy grey hair chanting Korean folk song
Vigil for the victims of Atlanta spa shooting organized by Oakland Rising at Madison Park in Chinatown. Photo of Dohee Lee by Amir Aziz/Oaklandside

“This is not the first time this is happening to our community and especially people of color communities over and over,” said Dohee Lee, who teaches and performs traditional Korean music and dance. Lee said that this event was a way to grieve first instead of jumping to anger, because “this system in this country doesn’t want us to grieve first.”

Lee was born in South Korea and came to Oakland in 2002. She founded her multimedia production company Dohee Lee Puri Arts in 2014. She said that when she first heard the news of the shootings in Atlanta, her heart felt like it was breaking. “I felt nowhere is safe for me. We don’t have a safe space anymore,” adding that this moment feels like a time to pass on tradition and rituals for the younger generation. In this, she finds hope. “We really have to take care of each other and protect each other. And we have allies in other communities. It’s a hard time, but at the same time, I have hope.”

Image of a brown Asian Man wearing a cap near dusk at a park in Chinatown.
Saran, aka “bighead.” Photo by Amir Aziz/Oaklandside

Saran (aka “bighead”), who requested to not use his last name, is involved with a California-based group called Asians With Attitudes and has joined volunteer foot patrols in Oakland Chinatown. Saran said he showed up last night to “show some love to support the community.” When he first heard about the Atlanta shootings, he thought the story was fake. “It was hard to believe it really happened. That’s somebody’s mom. It’s getting too close. Asians are being targeted a lot. We like to keep stuff to ourselves, we don’t want to start trouble. We can’t let it slide or it can keep happening. I hope everybody comes together.” 

AWA is holding a rally at Madison Park on April 3 and will feature speakers from different races and backgrounds.

A white woman and white man wearing surgical masks pose for photo in the evening at Madison Park in Oakland.
Vigil for the victims of Atlanta spa shooting organized by Oakland Rising at Madison Park in Chinatown. Salina Wittmer and Aaron Kirk. Photo by Amir Aziz/Oaklandside.

The Oakland residents said they felt helpless while watching the news, hearing about the Atlanta shootings, and learning about a rise in anti-Asian sentiment in general. “We just felt so devastated about all the hate that’s been happening. We wanted to say a prayer and pay our respects to the victims,” Wittmer said. They brought flowers, candles, and jasmine incense to offer at the altar. “We wanted to show support to the victims. It’s a helpless feeling how much violence is in this country and racism against so many groups. We wanted to be a part of honoring the victims,” Kirk said.

A multiracial family of five stands with signs that say "Protect & Defend Our Elders #StopAsianHate"
Left to right: Laurenzo, Chris Evans, Pilar Kayser, Carmen Kayser, and Ernest Jolly. Photo by Momo Chang

“It’s so heartbreaking and the violence has to stop,” said Chris Evans. “The images of elders being attacked and the murder of so many women in Atlanta. We have to come together and say no.” Evans added that “the Oakland I grew up in is Asian, it’s Black, it’s Latino. We are in each others’ families, we work together, we love together. We have to draw on that strength.” 

She said that drummer Dohee Lee “reminds us to come together, to connect to our ancestors, to connect to this place, to connect to our humanity.” Ernest Jolly said, “We live in Oakland and everybody in Oakland is a part of everybody. We all have suffering and we have to work together to heal one another.” 

Their friends, who are visiting from South Carolina, added that the poster they were holding, which says “Protect & Defend Our Elders #StopAsianHate,” represents how they feel. “Culturally, as a southerner, violence against elders is unthinkable,” Carmen Kayser said. “This is a southern sensibility, and what happened in Atlanta is very close to us. We wanted to show our support as southerners.” Pilar Kayser added, “It’s important to show support for a culture we love.”

A image of Korean drummers' sillouettes
Vigil for the victims of Atlanta spa shooting organized by Oakland Rising at Madison Park in Chinatown. Photo by Amir Aziz/Oaklandside
image of white paper cranes with names of Atlanta shooting victims and candles surround the cranes
Vigil for the victims of Atlanta spa shooting organized by Oakland Rising at Madison Park in Chinatown. Photo by Amir Aziz/Oaklandside
Two young Asian American women offer incense to the victims of the Atlanta shooting.
Vigil for the victims of Atlanta spa shooting organized by Oakland Rising at Madison Park in Chinatown. Photo by Momo Chang.
An African American woman wearing all black speaks at a vigil in Oakland.
Cat Brooks, co-founder of Anti-Police Terror Project, speaks at the vigil to honor the Atlanta shooting victims. Photo by Momo Chang.
A person wearing a black hooding wears surgical mask with
Vigil for the victims of Atlanta spa shooting organized by Oakland Rising at Madison Park in Chinatown. Photo by Amir Aziz/Oaklandside

The full list of vigil organizers included Oakland Rising, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, OCA Asian Pacific American Advocates — East Bay, Whole Story Group, Korean Community Center of the East Bay, Dohee Lee of Puri Project, GoodGoodEatz, Ieumsae-Korean Folk Drumming, Bay Rising, Healing Clinic Collective, Anti-Police Terror Project, Asian Health Services, Oakland Chinatown Coalition, Oakland Rising Collaborative Org: East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, Ella Baker Center, Causa Justa: Just Cause, CURYJ, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, and Parent Voices Oakland.

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Amir Aziz is a visual journalist at The Oaklandside and is a photographer and videographer from Oakland, California. Using photography as his primary medium, Amir documents life and times in his community and the rapid changes in his environment. He’s covered music events and social justice movements in the U.S. and abroad for local and international publications. Before shelter-in-place, he traveled to over 10 countries producing multimedia projects juxtaposing the experiences of locals elsewhere to those in his hometown of Oakland. Amir hopes to continue to bridge the gap between African diaspora communities and oppressed groups in the world through multimedia storytelling.

About Momo Chang

Momo Chang is a freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the Oakland Voices Alumni Coordinator. Her work focuses on healthcare, immigration, education, Asian American communities, food and culture. She is a former staff writer at the Oakland Tribune. Momo has received journalism awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for investigative reporting and the Asian American Journalists Association, among others. Her work has appeared in the East Bay Express, San Francisco Chronicle, Wired, and The New York Times. Momo is primarily a print journalist who also produces audio and visual stories for documentary film and radio. She is a Senior Contributing Editor for Hyphen and formerly the Content Manager at the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM). View all posts by Momo Chang →

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