- MARY TABLANTE
First Asian American-led national unity march held in Washington, D.C.
WASHINGTON — On June 25, a large crowd gathered at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for the first multicultural march led by Asian American and Pacific Islander community members that aimed to advance socioeconomic and cultural equity, racial justice, solidarity, and civic engagement.
More than 80 Asian American nonprofit organizations and partners from other diverse groups attended the Unity March in response to the rise of anti-Asian racism during the pandemic. Among the speakers were trans rights advocate Geena Rocero, activist Kalaya’an Mendoza, Aquilina Soriano Versoza of the Pilipino Workers Center, and Gareth and Fe Hall — parents of Christian Hall, who was killed by Pennsylvania state police in 2020.
“As organizers, we wanted to show up, claim our space and bring people into the movement,” said Joy De Guzman, Manager of Community Engagement at Asian Americans Advancing Justice–AAJC.
Bridging connections among people from different communities, ethnic groups, and religions was an important aspect of the Unity March. According to De Guzman, organizers created a coalition of organizations across the country to demand a better future.
Sisters Angela and Remi Melgar from Arlington, Va., first learned about the march on social media. The Unity March was the first mobilization they had attended since the beginning of the pandemic.
“We wanted to actively do something and be part of the change in some way,” Angela said.
Poet and activist TJ Simba-Medel and Krystle Canare of the National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association talked about how community safety was a big reason why they joined the rally.
“It’s extremely dangerous for someone like me to be in the South right now because I speak up and speak out. I wanted to go out and be among people I thought I could be safe with,” Simba-Medel said.
From March 2020 to December 2021, people of AAPI descent reported 10,905 incidents of verbal harassment, physical violence, and bullying to Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition based in California. According to the national report, two-thirds of hate incidents were against women.
Gage Javier, incoming president of the National Filipino American Lawyers Association, reflected on an incident she experienced at the onset of the pandemic. A person at a fast-food restaurant remarked that she had brought the coronavirus. She said it was isolating when no one spoke up for her and that having visibility was a motivating factor as to why she attended the Unity March.
“[Filipinos] have been part of the fabric of America since the 1500s. It’s time for us to be comfortable using our voice for things that have gone unremedied,” Javier said. “Coming out today means I’m here to help speak out and raise awareness of our issues as part of the AAPI community because we matter.”
Leading up to the Unity March, De Guzman reflected on the year she spent in grief and fear — fear of getting on the metro and for her parents and grandparents.
“I think a lot of people like myself are walking around with that fear of watching people who look like us get attacked and even murdered,” De Guzman said. “Despite everything that has happened, we are spending today in community. This is about solidarity and committing to work in the future.”
To get involved and take further action, you can take the Unity Pledge by visiting unitymarch.com.