Around 150 people came out to denounce racism against Asians at a rally held at Gyro Park on Sunday afternoon.
Members of the Okanagan Asian community spoke to the crowd about their lived experiences with racism and their hope for hate to end. Most spoke to noticing an uptick in hate against Asians since the pandemic began.
Penticton Catholic priest Father Obi, who is originally from Nigeria, said a prayer for the six Asian women who were killed in the Atlanta shootings. He then read their names and led the crowd in a moving song of ‘Amazing Grace.’ The crowd also sung along.
Students from Holy Cross School opened the rally by singing O Canada.
A Holy Cross student named Christian, who is half Asian, spoke about his concern with the increase of racism and what happened in Atlanta.
“What if that was my mother?” he said to the crowd.
Shu-Li, a front-line health worker, spoke of his experiences with racism as a young child where a rock was thrown at his head and he was told to go home to where he came from. His great-great grandfather had to pay a head tax to the Canadian government for building the railroad here.
“My heart goes out to all the victims who died for no reason. I can feel their pain,” said Shu-Li. “Because of the COVID-19, it has changed all of our daily lives and the world has put the blame on the Asian people.”
“Are we not human? We will stand up against hate. No more hate and no more hurt,” he said.
Mona, who helped organize the rally, said she got messages of hate, denying her lived experience of racism.
“Asian history is barely taught in schools. Our people had to endure internment camps, head tax and the exclusion act. Just like the history of Indigenous peoples, our history has been erased.”
Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel spoke to the crowd in support of the Asian community and how the Indigenous people stand with them in their fight against racism.
A mom, who came to Penticton in 2016, said she worries for her two year old daughter who was born here but may face racism in the future.
“She will grow up here and was born here but of course she looks Asian. She has yellow skin and black hair. I can’t imagine how 10 years later, how would I explain to her why people hate her? Thinking about this is very disturbing.
“A lot of racism comes from lack of understanding and ignorance so I’d like to take this time to ask our Asian Canadians to volunteer, get to know your neighbours, get involved in the community to let others understand us more.”
In Vancouver, police data shows anti-Asian hate crimes have risen by 717 per cent since the start of the pandemic. Anti-racism is highest in B.C., contributing 44 per cent.
Some spoke of how they have been blamed for the pandemic and how we should be fighting the common enemy, COVID-19, not each other.
Yaxin Ma, of the Okanagan Chinese Canadian Association who organized this rally and others, said that despite being a small community Penticton is not immune to racism.
Anti-Asian hate crimes have been on the rise across North America since the start of the pandemic. But it was recent events in Atlanta that became the catalyst behind many rallies to stop anti-Asian hate crimes across the continent.
A series of shootings over nearly an hour on March 16 at three Atlanta-area massage parlours left eight people dead, six of whom were Asian women. Since then, rallies have been held to end anti-Asian hate crimes throughout the U.S.
Penticton mayor John Vassilaki, Summerland mayor Toni Boot, Peachland mayor Cindy Fortin and South Okanagan—West Kootenay MP Richard Cannings also spoke at the rally.