On Saturday, March 27 over 750 people took to the streets of Fort Lee, New Jersey for a peaceful march to protest the March 16 murders of eight people, including six Asian women, in the metropolitan area of Atlanta, Georgia.
The march, which included remarks from Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, was organized by TCNJ junior Gabriella Son, an elementary education and English double major and Fort Lee native. Son, who identifies as Korean American, has engaged in activism since she was in high school and co-founded the Youth Council of Fort Lee, a non-profit organization to promote civic engagement amongst local high school students
Son first heard about the Atlanta spa hate crimes when she woke up the following morning.
“News of the deaths hurt so badly that I couldn’t get out of bed,” she recalled. “As an Asian American, it just hurts when one of us dies. I don’t know how else to explain it — maybe I feel an interconnectedness with them, knowing we fight some of the same battles in America, because of the way we look. I couldn’t help but worry about my own family, knowing ‘it could have been us.’”
Several weeks prior to the murders in Georgia, Son contemplated revisiting her activism efforts after viewing a PBS docuseries as part of her Asian American Literature course taught by Professor Harriet Hustis.
“I learned about Asian Americans and other students of color at San Francisco State University who successfully protested for a School of Ethnic Studies — to the point of arrest — and that was the first time I saw activists who looked like me,” Son said
A few days after Son watched the docuseries in class, Pak Ho, a 75-year-old Korean American in Oakland, California, was assaulted and robbed during a morning walk around his neighborhood. Ho died from his injuries two days after the assault — the week prior to the Atlanta spa hate crimes.
“That’s when I first thought about going back home to organize a march after remembering what I saw in the PBS documentary, but I worried that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off successfully and what other people would think of me if I failed,” Son said.
When she heard the news of the Atlanta shootings the following week, Son says she realized she “didn’t even have a right to be scared when six Asian American women were just murdered.”
“What finally got me out of bed that Wednesday morning was when I texted my mom about coming home that weekend to hold a march. She gave me her okay — no questions asked.”
Son hopes those that attended the rally left knowing they are not alone and that groups like the Youth Council of Fort Lee will support them.
“I hope they walked away with a sense of security and belonging,” Son said. “From seeing the crowd of over 750 protestors, I hope they come to know that despite the ongoing hate crimes and discrimination, there is a community out there not just standing, but fighting with us.”
— Luke Sacks