Great Neck rally promotes unity in the face of anti-Asian violence

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Great Neck rally promotes unity in the face of anti-Asian violence
Hundred marched from Firefighters Park to Village Green Park in Great Neck to show support for the Asian American community on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the Great Neck Chinese Association)

Hundreds of people gathered at Firefighters Park in Great Neck on Sunday to condemn anti-Asian discrimination and call for solidarity during a “Unity & Love” rally.

The rally, which was organized by the Great Neck Chinese Association (GNCA), featured speeches by local leaders and officials, including U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove),  state Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck), Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and others.

Suozzi opened his speech by addressing the increase in hate crimes against Asian-Americans over the past few years.

“In 2020, hate crimes in the United States of America actually went down by 9 percent,” Suozzi said. “But hate crimes against Asian-Americans went up by 150 percent. New York City saw an increase from three hate crimes in 2019 to 28 hate crimes in 2020 – the biggest increase anywhere in the country. While there have been very few cases reported in Nassau County, we know that many cases are unreported altogether. We need people to stand up.”

The congressman also emphasized the importance of leadership, citing former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric as a factor in the rise in anti-Asian sentiment.

“Why do you think we saw such a dramatic increase in anti-Asian hate crimes? Because the previous president was out there saying things like ‘the Chinese virus.’ Because you heard things like ‘the Hong Kong flu.’ Leadership matters. The things you say matter,” Suozzi said.

Suozzi was followed by Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens), who co-authored the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act that the Senate passed last week. The bill is expected to be voted on by the House in May and would create a position in the Department of Justice to expedite the review of hate crimes and establish more ways to report them. In her speech, Meng discussed the importance of the awareness and support that the GNCA’s rally and similar events aim to raise.

“People are telling their parents and their grandparents to not go outside. People are telling their own kids not to play outside even though it’s nice out,” Meng said. “As a kid born and raised in New York City, I have never in my entire life seen and felt such widespread support from so many people beyond the Asian-American community.”

Meng said that the increased focus on preventing hate crimes is just one part of the solution to anti-Asian discrimination, calling attention to the need for equal access to opportunities and funding. She pointed to solidarity between marginalized communities as an essential vehicle for change. 

“Sometimes I feel like the muscles of advocacy within the Asian community are relatively young, but we’ve learned so much by watching other communities – our allies – fight against hatred, and I want us to remember this solidarity,” she said.

Members of the Great Neck community also spoke during the rally, including local students and members of the GNCA. The GNCA’s secretary, Steve Chen, highlighted the contributions of the Chinese-American community to the United States, from building the country’s transportation infrastructure in the 19th century to supporting 1.3 million jobs through Chinese-American-owned businesses today.

“In this time of inflamed resurgence of racism and bigotry, we must reexamine how diversity has benefited this community and the country as a whole,” Chen said.

“There are 45,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States. That’s more than the number of McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Wendy’s combined,” he said with a chuckle. “One could argue that if the United States had a national cuisine, it could be Chinese food.”

The speeches were followed by a march via Middle Neck Road to Village Green Park, where closing performances were slated to begin at 2 p.m. Demonstrators joined in chants of “stop Asian hate,” “united we stand” and “love is the cure” as they walked the 1.5-mile route.

Young people made up a large part of the crowd, from  members of Great Neck Cub Scouts Pack 178 to teenagers who led rallying calls over megaphones as they marched. Many parents brought their young children for the march, including Great Neck resident Jue Wang. Wang, who is originally from Wuhan, China, said she brought her 9-year-old son to the rally to show him that while the injustice they face is real, they are not alone in fighting it.

“We all watch the news. He sees what’s happening in the world. I know he is just 9 years old, but I think we can start educating him,” Wang said. “The next generation, they were born in the United States. They are part of the United States. We don’t want them to feel alone in this culture.” 

Upon arriving at Village Green Park, organizers handed out sheet music with lyrics for “Love Brings Peace,” composed by Temple Israel of Great Neck’s hazzan, Brian Shamash. The crowd sang along as Shamash performed the song on the Veterans’ Memorial Stage.

Tyler Chang, a junior at Great Neck North High School, said he thought the rally exemplified the power of feeling visible and showing solidarity.

“There are so many people here who also share the same ideals as me, and it’s nice to see that so many people care about this issue right now. Asian people are often glossed over in the media,” Chang said. “In a community like Great Neck, where it’s very secluded and in a bubble, people don’t think that it can affect them, but we need to spread awareness.”

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