When MaryBeth Cronkleton heard reports of a Chinese man being harassed with racial slurs while walking his dog in the Millard area, it was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” for her.
In response to the Omaha man’s experience and recent crimes against Asian Americans across the U.S., Cronkleton hosted a local event to allow people to educate themselves and stand in solidarity with the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.
Cronkleton said the number of hate crimes against Asian Americans has grown exponentially in the past year, which she believes can be attributed largely to racist rhetoric associated with COVID-19.
“I wanted to have this event to educate people on the fact that Asian American is such an overarching term and so many come from so many different countries, and we have different experiences and backgrounds,” she said. “We shouldn’t just be, like, pigeonholed and scapegoated for the coronavirus pandemic in America.”
Cronkleton estimated that about 100 people attended the two-hour solidarity event, which began at 11 a.m. at Lakeside Hills Park. After listening to speakers, the group walked to 175th Street and West Center Road, where participants held signs to show support for the Asian community.
Among the speakers were Kate Gotsdiner, a City Council candidate in District 5, and Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. They talked about recent crimes against Asian Americans and how to combat racism and microaggressions.
Gotsdiner discussed racial injustices against Asian Americans and told the story of how her grandparents met in a Japanese internment camp during World War II.
“My grandparents, like so many others, deserved better from this country, from their neighbors,” Gotsdiner said. “They needed empathy.”
One of the attendees, Jesi Lee, said the shooting in Atlanta in which six Asian women were killed was a driving force in her attending Saturday’s event.
“It wasn’t easy coming today,” Lee said. “I was nervous. There’s another level to it when you can see your face or the faces of family members in the victims.”
Lee attended with Samantha Johnson, whom she hadn’t met in person until Saturday. They are originally from the Philippines and connected through Instagram.
Johnson and Lee agreed that they don’t want to be silent and hope that the event educates others.
“The biggest struggle is people don’t see the things that are happening to Asian Americans as racism,” Johnson said. “Racism is craftily disguised and meant to deceive, but this city and this event gives me hope.”