Healdsburg community members gathered at the Healdsburg Plaza on Sunday afternoon, March 28, to denounce Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) hate and racism and to show solidarity with the AAI community following an uptick in Asian American hate crimes, the murder of eight induvial — six of whom were women of Asian descent — last week in Atlanta, and the recent circulation of a threatening and racist letter from Southern California targeted toward the local AAPI business community.

The demonstration, which was organized by the Love and Light organization of Sonoma County, drew a large crowd of families, business owners, community members, students and youth to the Plaza.

Love and Light, which was founded by Healdsburg local Tavy Tornado and is set to become a local nonprofit, announced its plan to hold a solidarity protest following an alarming incident where a Healdsburg business received a racist and hateful anonymous letter from San Bernardino directed toward the AAPI community.

Among the myriad racial epithets, the hateful letter repeatedly tells folks in the AAPI business community to leave the country.

“We will not tolerate the harassment and hate. Enough is enough … Take a stand against racial injustice. We stand for safe spaces, representation and inclusion,” the group wrote in a social media post last week.

Attendees were encouraged to bring their own signs while others wrote messages like “Love comes in all shades, no room for hate,” with chalk on the concrete.

Kids were invited to create their own signs with colorful markers at a sign making station.

A love letter station was also set up so participants could write kind words and messages to those in the community.

The messages, signs and comments from speakers echoed the spirit and sentiments that were shared during last summer’s Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) and George Floyd  protests.

“Today we are showing solidarity for our Asian Pacific Islander community here. What I appreciate about everybody showing up today, is that it’s part of the definition of what solidarity means, it’s showing up,” Tornado said. “But how do we take the next step to actually be there for the community? And not just the Asian American community, but for our Black siblings, our brown siblings and for all of our marginalized communities? In recent events we’ve noticed a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes and we’ve had enough. This is just not this year, this has been a generational trauma that we’ve carried from our elders and we’re here today to represent a new way, a new future for our elders and our youth. We won’t put up with white supremacy.”

Before introducing a series of speakers including Vice Mayor Ozzy Jimenez, Wine Country Young Democrats President and Sonoma County Commission of Human Rights Commissioner Elizabeth Escalante and Miss Sonoma County 2009 Kimberly Stout among others, Tornado shared her story growing up in Santa Rosa as a first-generation Cambodian American.

“I was born and raised in Sonoma County in Santa Rosa. My mother is a refugee from Cambodia, she survived the Killing Fields. America bombed Vietnam and Cambodia during the Vietnam War and about three years ago Cambodia was finally recognized in history as a genocide … It’s OK to use the acronym API, but we’re not a monolith, we come from different experiences, so get to know us individually,” Tornado said. “I grew up on Santa Rosa Avenue in a very poor home and my mother worked three jobs and she was also going to school to learn English. I worked in Healdsburg for most of my 20s. I served your coffee, I was your barista, but more than that, I was a community member here.”

She said Healdsburg was the first place in Sonoma County where she was told that she was too exotic.

“Just a few weeks ago six Asian women were murdered and the media said it was a ‘bad day.’ We are so sick and tired of the false narrative, call it what it was, it was a hate crime and my journey here in Sonoma County and my ongoing message is to create safe spaces, not just for my community. As a community we also need to understand intersectionality, that white supremacy hurts everyone and in order to change that narrative I need you to be that raindrop of change and we need to start being accountable, keep people in check,” Tornado said.

Tornado said those who work in hospitality don’t just do it for service, but they do it because they care about their community. She also stressed that while she cares about the community, people here in Healdsburg need to do better. 

Escalante reminded people that Sonoma County was built on the backs of the BIPOC and of Chinese Americans, Phillipino Americans and Asian American laborers who brought up the vineyards.

“We have to honor those people who have brought us to where we are today. But I’m also here to speak to all of our children, the children who will be our future leaders. We have to pave the way for them, and we have to start right here, right here,” Escalante said. “These past couple of days have been, well it’s a lot to process and we had a lot of time to heal, but today on this glorious day in Healdsburg. I’m celebrating and I’m celebrating because you all are here today with us and standing in solidarity. Thank you.”

Another speaker who is a first-generation Asian American said they were shocked to see the large turnout of people standing in solidarity with the AAPI community. They emphasized that it’s historically significant in the context of Healdsburg and Sonoma County history considering the county once had an Anti-Chinese League and a boycott of Chinese-owned businesses and businesses that employed people who were Chinese.

Vice Mayor Jimenez also shared a few words and said Healdsburg has no room for hate.

“First and foremost, I want to say that the city of Healdsburg stands with our API community. Though we have a lot of work to do in the city of Healdsburg there is one think that I do know of. This community has no space for hate and we denounce it,” Jimenez said. “On a personal level, our BIPOC community is tired, we are tired. Not only do we have generational trauma that we’re overcoming, but we have the trauma from this past year.”

Jimenez said while it is great that people are talking about allyship, what the BIPOC community needs are accomplices, people who can be accomplices and help denounce white supremacy.

He also thanked Love and Light for holding the event and for providing a safe space where people can start to come together to heal.

“I look around today and this is the medicine that we needed, thank you Love and Light for giving us this healing moment,” he said.      

Kimberly Stout, who is a Phillipino Chinese American, has worked in the Sonoma County hospitality industry for the past decade and was Miss Sonoma County in 2009.

Stout urged people to reach out to their AAPI friends to let them know you support and see them.

“I can guarantee you that every single Asian American you know that works in the industry has several stories of being oversexualized, of being discriminated against and overall disrespected. I thank all of you for being here and showing up for all of us today and I hope that your speaking out continues after today when we’re no longer trending, when we’re no longer rallying everybody to come together. I hope that you are all reaching out to your AAPI friends. If you haven’t, trust me they’ve noticed. Acknowledge that you see our Asian and Pacific Islander heritage. Talk to your AAPI friends, let them know that you see them and that you support them,” Stout said.   

In a show of respect for elders in the community, Tornado then opened the mic and allowed for older people in the community to speak up and share their experiences.

Rick Toyota, who works at Francis Ford Coppola Winery and was a member of the Healdsburg Rotary Club, approached the mic to share his experience growing up in Southern California as a Japanese American.

He also shared that it’s the subtle racist and pointed remarks, the ones that tend to build up and are highly offensive.

“I’m coming up to 60 years of age this year and my history and my family’s history as Japanese Americans in this country has been sorted. I say sorted because there are the obvious negative things that happen, but then there are the things that are much more subtle that meant to be compliments that are highly offensive,” he said. “My parents were interned during World War II even though they were American citizens and they lost all of their property and had to start from scratch. When I was growing up in the 1960s in Orange County before I even started kindergarten, peers of mine would stop by the house and say ‘those are the Japs that started the war.’... I have encountered a few brow-raising comments and some of them were prefaced by asking me if I was Japanese or Vietnamese and when I told them I was Japanese they felt they had the liberty to make negative comments about other Asian groups. I have and probably will continue to encounter those (comments).”

He said those types of comments are few and far between, yet the subtle parts of prejudices and how we perceive people “are as damaging as the most obvious ones.”

In wrapping up the event Escalante asked for a moment of silence to remember the eight people who were killed in the Atlanta spa shootings.

Escalante read the names of the Asian Americans who were killed — Delaina Ashley Yaun, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Paul Andre Michels, Hyun Jung Grant, Sucha Kim, Soon Chung Park and Yong Ae Yue.

While a violinist played a selection of music, those in the crowd stood up to gather flowers and lay them at the sign bearing the names of the Asian Americans who died in the shootings.

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