Opinion | The March 21 vigil through the eyes of an Asian American woman

The vigil that took place in Iowa City was not only a time to mourn for the AAPI community, but it is also a wakeup call for the world.


Kate Heston

Eight buckets of flowers, each with their respective names, are seen during a vigil on Sunday, March 21 to honor the eight victims of the Atlanta shootings and advocate for Asian-American rights and equality.

Hannah Pinski, Opinions Editor

For the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and myself, the recent vigil in Iowa City was a time for us to mourn Asian lives lost. For the rest of the world, it was a wakeup call.

I sat in front of the Old Capitol building, where eight sets of bright-colored flowers were laid with the names of the victims in front of them. It started with a moment of silence, and I noticed the girl in front of me wrapped her arms around her body as the names began to be read.

As the moments of silence stretched onward, she wrapped her arms tighter around her body. It was almost as if she was trying to hold herself together.

I could tell that was probably what she was feeling because I have felt the exact same way this past week.

I was surrounded by mostly students at the vigil, but a handful of adults attended, too. However, what stood out to me was the family that sat beside me.

They were one of maybe four on the Pentacrest. A mom, dad, son, and daughter sat together. Both of the children didn’t look to be more than 7 or 8 years old.

As organizers invited people to speak about their experiences, I noticed the dad held on tighter to his daughter as she sat in his lap. She was the textbook definition of an innocent child, wearing her hair in two pigtails and donning a coat with hearts printed on it.

Yet, she heard raw stories about people like her. She heard how people were terrified for their families every time they left the house for the grocery store. She heard how women like her grew up in a world of sexualization and dehumanization and begged for the world to listen.

It was almost as if the dad tried to protect her from reality, but knew he couldn’t because this is the world that she has to live in.

I’m all too familiar with this reality because I grew up in it. When I attended elementary school, I was made fun of for my eyes. In middle school, other kids told me my Korean name wasn’t pretty. When I reached high school, other students viewed me as “exotic” and submissive.

Now, in my early adulthood, I realize that we are setting the next generation up for the same experience.

For the AAPI community, this vigil was a time to grieve and begin the healing process. But for others, they finally saw the result of ignoring our calls for help.

We need to recognize the loss of life that the AAPI community experienced on March 16 was the price we had to pay for the silence of others.

One of the speakers said they felt like they were living in the same fearful and violent world that their family was trying to escape by coming to America. I couldn’t help but feel heartbroken that we speak out against this violence in other countries, yet we turned a blind eye when it’s happening on our land.

If we don’t start changing anti-Asian American ideals and racism, that little girl is going to grow up in the same world the AAPI community and myself have; a world where she will feel invisible, no matter how loud she screams, and where she doesn’t feel protected or validated.

If people don’t listen and speak out, we could be setting the stage for her to possibly pay the same price that some had to pay in Atlanta.

I want nothing more than to stop that from happening.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.