Hundreds attend AAPI student-hosted vigil honoring Atlanta shooting victims

Students and community members gathered on Sunday to remember the eight people who died at shootings targeting spas in the Atlanta area. Six of the victims were Asian women, which has sparked a conversation about misogyny, xenophobia and racism.


Kate Heston

The Old Capital in Iowa City is seen during a vigil on Sunday, March 21 to honor the victims of the Atlanta shootings and advocate for Asian American rights and equity.

Natalie Dunlap, Politics Reporter

The American and Iowa flags flew at half-staff at the Old Capitol as people gathered on the Pentacrest. In front of the steps, there were eight bins with flowers inside, and marked with a name: Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant, Soon Chung Park, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Yaun and Paul Andre Michels.

The vigil, organized and hosted by four University of Iowa students on Sunday afternoon, was one of a multitude held across the nation to honor the eight victims killed last week at shootings in Atlanta. Six of the victims were Asian women.

The suspect, a 21-year-old white man, claimed his sex addiction motivated these deadly attacks.

“It seems like everyone has been excusing his behavior with … his sexual addiction, and the fact that he wanted to end his temptations,” Kayla Nguyễn, one of the University of Iowa students who led the vigil, said in an interview with The Daily Iowan. “He didn’t even want to address them as Asian women, he just said, ‘They’re temptations and they’re my addiction, but it is not racist.’ And that’s what we have been seeing lately, and people are just blaming it on that. It’s ultimately dehumanizing Asian women.”

They added that the rhetoric used to associate Asian people with the coronavirus is dangerous.

According to a report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, Anti-Asian hate crimes increased 149 percent in 2020 in 16 of America’s largest cities. The first spike occurred in March and April, when cases of COVID-19 and negative stereotypes about Asian people were on the rise.

Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition dedicated to address anti-Asian hate amid the pandemic, documented 3,795 hate incidents against Asians between March 19, 2020 to February 28 of this year. In the study, Asian women reported incidents 2.3 times more than men.

RELATED: Resources available for UI community impacted by anti-Asian violence

More than 200 Asian and Asian American students, families, and allies attended the vigil. It began with one minute of silence per each victim. After eight minutes of silence, attendants brought up flowers and flameless candles to pay tribute to the victims. Then, speakers took the mic to discuss how the attack in Atlanta and other Anti-Asian experiences have affected them.

“Asian women deserve to feel safe, protected and validated. We all deserve to be here,” UI graduate student Hoang Dang said in a speech to the crowd.

UI student Nikki Chang said in the speech that the violence against Asians was not an accident, but an accumulation of xenophobia and racism.

“The solution to racism is to dismantle white supremacy, not modify it or accommodate it. It is not the responsibility of any people of color to do the work to dismantle the systems that are hurting us,” Chang said.

Nguyễn also told the DI after the event that anti-Asian violence is part of a larger conversation about racism.

“There’s a huge intersectionality with anti-Blackness, white supremacy and anti-Asian violence that is happening,” they said. “… It is important to have that conversation of anti-Blackness and white supremacy because without it you are not solving the problem. White supremacy is the reason why a lot of this happened.”

At the end of the vigil, Nguyễn told non-Asian people in the crowd to ask their Asian friends if they are OK and how they can help. They also said it’s important for non-Asian people to learn to pronounce Asian people’s names correctly.

Nguyễn told people on the Pentacrest who are Asian or Asian American to take the time they needed to heal from the attack. They created an online resource board where students can find resources and links to GoFundMe campaigns.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect that the vigil was hosted by four University of Iowa students, not the Asian Pacific American Cultural Center. In updating the story, the DI corrected the text of the story to include that students were the organizers, but updated the headline to “Hundreds attended vigil honoring the Atlanta shooting victims,” which unintentionally left out who organized the event. The DI has further updated the headline to include that Asian American Pacific Islander students organized the vigil. The DI regrets the error and apologizes for unintentionally misrepresenting who organized the event and any harm that caused.