Surge in anti-Asian hate engenders peaceful rally in San Mateo


Lexi Goldstein

At the “#StandForAsians” rally on Feb. 27, a participant raises a sign while listening to speaker and organizer Ashlyn So before marching to San Mateo Central Park.

Lexi Goldstein, Editor-In-Chief

On Feb. 27 hundreds of mask-clad Bay Area residents gathered in San Mateo Central Park for the “#StandForAsians” rally to peacefully protest the recent onslaught of anti-Asian hate crimes. 

Hate-fueled harassment and assault against Asian people, especially elders, has been exacerbated since COVID-19 first hit American turf. This instance of Asian scapegoating is in large part due to former U.S. president Donald Trump’s blaming of the pandemic on Chinese people — coining terms “Kung-flu” and “China virus.” Footage of a 91-year-old Asian elder violently pushed to the ground in Oakland and photos of a vandalized storefront in San Francisco’s Chinatown circulated around social media and struck a chord in many viewers, as did numerous other recorded misdemeanors. One viewer in particular, seventh grade student at Burlingame Intermediate School, Ashlyn So, was appalled by this footage and sought to contribute to the movement against hate.

“I saw all those Asians, and Asian elders, getting pushed, and I wanted to do something about it, and I wanted to stop it,” So said.

So organized the event along with support from her mother, Angela Wu, and the Millbrae Anti-Racist Coalition (Millbrae-ARC). While So and her mother took charge of advertising, neither had prior experience with organizing large, social justice functions, no less in a pandemic. For the more technical side of organizing the rally, the Millbrae ARC volunteered to help with audio, signage and the recruitment of speakers. 

The rally attracted over 300 locals — an increase from the expected 250 who signed up, which So credits to word-of-mouth promotion. Burlingame junior Mary-Elizabeth Xia participated in the rally and march was pleasantly surprised by the large turnout. 

“I went to this really tiny Black Lives Matter protest, but it was only like seven or ten people, so to see [so many people] was just insane, and it was insane to see how many people cared,” Xia said. 

From 1-3p.m. speakers from across the Bay Area shared powerful messages encouraging the community to speak up against acts motivated by xenophobia. The speakers included: hate-crime robbery survivor Iona Cheng, Steve Hom and Katie Nolan-Stevaux from the Millbrae ARC, Millbrae City Council member Anders Fung, Vice Mayor of Foster City Richa Awasthi, Belmont Mayor Charles Stone, assembly member Kevin Mullin, California State Sen. Josh Becker, San Mateo Councilwoman Amourence Lee and Dawn Lee from the “@FromHerePodcast.” 

“I hope you hear my voice, because my voice is trembling. It is really scary to be up here and talk about this. I stand with a trembling voice not only because I am angry. I feel despair and I feel frustration for all of the elders and for other Asian Americans who have been harmed. My voice also trembles because when I speak… I am afraid that no one will listen, and no one will care because Asian Americans have been gaslit, have been dismissed for far too long,” Dawn Lee, professor of Asian-American history at San Jose State University said in her speech.

The crowd gathered under the bleachers on 5th Street waving vibrant signs with messages like “Hate is a virus,” “Be an ally” and “Stop hate” before marching into San Mateo Central Park chanting in a call-and-response style: “Who do we protect?… Asian elders! … What do we want?… Stop Asian hate!” Passing cars on El Camino Real and East 5th Avenue honked in solidarity. 

“I am so pleased. This is as much, if not more than we had hoped for,” Millbrae ARC member Michael Kelly said. “It shows how much interest the allied environment and community [has].”

Retired Bay Area school administrator and rally attendee Angela Toy proudly hoisted a sign reading “Respect us” and “Stop hatred,” and sported a mask decorated with the phrases “Be proud” and “Stand up!”

“The history of Chinese [people] in America — it’s very significant. We helped build the railroad, we helped with all the national parks and county parks. So, a lot of what you enjoy on a daily basis was created by a lot of Chinese,” Toy said. “There’s also the Chinese Exclusion Act, we weren’t allowed to buy property until the 1960s. There we are. And we’re still considered a minority. Come on, we helped build this country.”

Xia expressed their discontent with the recent wave of violence and discrimination, rooted in ingnorance, but she remains optimistic upon seeing such strong youth initiaitve. 

“A lot of people just don’t realize how bad it is because, like, Asians are taught to kind of not voice their opinions because it’s kind of a stigma, but the younger generation is getting better, like we’re voicing our opinions. It’s important for everybody, not just Asians, to kind of voice how much pain we’re in right now,” Xia said. 

In the future, mother-daughter duo So and Wu plan to fight for the details of these attacks to be added to school curricula. They also plan to work on a multilingual platform for people to report hate crimes, as So recognizes that the language barrier discourages some Asian Americans from speaking out. So hopes that the rally inspired youth to stand up for what they believe in and fight for the change they want to see.