“There is No Vaccine for Racism”: Ventura County Asian American and Pacific Islander Community holds Candlelight Vigil for Atlanta murder victims

Residents+of+Thousands+Oaks+and+surrounding+Areas+gathered+at+Thousand+Oaks+City+Hall+on+March+20.+2021%2C+for+a+candlelight+vigil+for+the+eight+victims+of+the+Atlanta+Mass+shooting.+Photo+credit%3A+Ryan+Bough

Residents of Thousands Oaks and surrounding Areas gathered at Thousand Oaks City Hall on March 20. 2021, for a candlelight vigil for the eight victims of the Atlanta Mass shooting. Photo credit: Ryan Bough

By Aleea Evangelista

The Asian American and Pacific Islander community of Ventura County gathered for a candlelight vigil to commemorate the Atlanta murder victims at sunset on March 20.

On March 16, Robert Aaron Long opened fire at Youngs Asian Massage Parlor and Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa in Georgia’s Atlanta and Cherokee counties. The mass shootings resulted in eight fatalities. Seven of the victims were women; six were Asian and two were White. The mass shootings are among a recent wave of hate crimes against Asian Americans in the pandemic.

Bing Liu, one of the event’s organizers, discussed the community’s response to the violence and learning about the mass shootings mobilized people into action.

“We light (candles) for the victims and we pray for them. We (will) show the support from our Asian communities,” said Liu.

Pam Wang blows out the candles places to remember the eight lives lost
Pam Wang blows out the candles places to remember the eight lives lost in Atlanta from a mass shooting, during the candlelight vigil in Thousand Oaks, CA. on Saturday, March 20, 2021. Photo credit: Ryan Bough

The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office identified four of the victims during a March 17 press conference as Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan and Daoyou Feng.

On March 18, the Fulton County’s Medical Examiner’s Office published a list of the remaining unnamed victims: Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim and Yong Ae Yue.

Gathered at the Thousand Oaks Civic Plaza, residents came in support to spread solidarity and unity within the community. Each attendant was given a flower and a tea light candle. Organized by the Conejo Chinese Cultural Association, more than 100 people came together with signs and masks to mourn the lives lost.

Community member Kevin Ding headed the event as the first speaker and led the community through the hour-long vigil.

“There is no vaccine for racism,” remarked Ding.

Ding also discussed the status of Asian Americans throughout the country’s history. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, enacted by President Chester Arthur, banned all Chinese people from immigrating to the U.S.

Nini Tu, a 6th grader from Oak Park, commented on the longstanding racism against Asian Americans.

“Before it’s always been rooted in the country’s history but it’s been an underlying issue. It has just recently surfaced again during the pandemic,” said Tu. “I’ve noticed some jabs at school directed towards Chinese people and Asian Americans.”

Feng Shen holds up a sign stating "Asians Are not Viruses Racism Is!" in front of candles left out for the eight victims of the Atlanta Mass shooting  during the candle light vigil held in Thousand Oaks, CA. on March 20. 2021.
Feng Shen holds up a sign stating "Asians Are not Viruses Racism Is!" in front of candles left out for the eight victims of the Atlanta Mass shooting during the candlelight vigil held in Thousand Oaks, CA. on March 20. 2021. Photo credit: Ryan Bough

Liu mentioned that Asian American parents wrote to the Conejo Valley Unified School District to discuss the micro-aggressions and racist remarks that their children have endured at school.

On March 19, the CVUSD Superintendent Mark McLaughlin responded with a message of support for the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and linked an online reporting form for occurrences of discrimination.

Asian Americans and allies across different generations shared stories, anecdotes and prepared speeches at the microphone. Elders, middle schoolers and college students spoke on their reactions to the violence and how the community must come together in support.

Evelyn Zhai, a student studying Asian American studies at the University of California San Diego, spoke during the vigil’s open mic portion and called for solidarity with other people of color.

“We need to recognize that we’re being oppressed by the same institutions and systems that oppress other people of color as well,” remarked Zhai. “This means that responding to the attacks with calls for more police, more law enforcement and criminalization doesn’t help the cause of people of color in this entire country.”

As the sun set on Saturday, March 20, 2021, the American flag flew at half-staff at The Lakes at Thousand Oaks in honor of the Atlanta, GA shooting victims. Next door, at the Thousand Oaks Civic Plaza (seen in the background), a candlelight vigil was organized to honor the eight whose lives were taken as well as to spread the message to racism and discrimination of the Asian community.
As the sun set on Saturday, March 20, 2021, the American flag flew at half-staff at The Lakes at Thousand Oaks in honor of the Atlanta, GA shooting victims. Next door, at the Thousand Oaks Civic Plaza (seen in the background), a candlelight vigil was organized to honor the eight whose lives were taken as well as to spread the message to racism and discrimination of Asian Americans. Photo credit: Tara Brown

As the event winded down, community members Eddy Hsu and Bing Feng remarked on how Ventura County can move forward from the mass shootings.

Hsu was “shocked” at the news of the violence in Atlanta and concluded, “Even now, we still have this racism and I think it’s a bigger problem for us all.”

California State University San Bernadino published a report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. With police data, the report concluded that hate crimes against Asian Americans increased 149% during 2020.

“I hope that as a community, we stand up and speak louder to have our words heard,” said Feng.

The event concluded with one minute of silence in reverence for the Georgia victims.