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Reno Community Members Protest Against Anti-Asian Racism

A crowd is gathered at the Reno City Plaza, facing away. On the back of one man’s shirt reads “JUSTICE FIRST ALWAYS.” A woman in a grey jacket holds a sign which reads, “Stop Anti-Asian Violence! Smash White Supremacy.”
Isaac Hoops
KUNR Public Radio
A Stop Asian Hate protest was held at Reno City Plaza in Reno, Nev., on Saturday, March 27.

Over the weekend, Stop Asian Hate rallies were held nationwide, including in Reno, to denounce violence and racism toward Asian Americans. KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck talked to people there.

About 50 community members demonstrated in front of the BELIEVE sign downtown. They mourned the victims of the Atlanta, Georgia, spa shootings. Eight people were killed, including six Asian women.

A photo of Phuong Tran, a woman wearing a burgundy sweater and white surgical mask with red hearts. She is holding a microphone and looking at a piece of paper as she speaks to a crowd.
Credit Isaac Hoops / KUNR Public Radio
KUNR Public Radio
Phuong Tran speaks at the Stop Asian Hate rally held at Reno City Plaza in Reno, Nev., on Saturday, March 27.

Demonstrators heard from several speakers.

“My name is Phuong Tran, and I am an artist and former organizer here in Reno. And I am also a first-generation Vietnamese American, meaning both of my parents immigrated to the U.S. as refugees,” Tran said.

Tran said the recent violence showed her that people of Asian descent are being targeted.

“What surprises me about these attacks is how they occur in broad daylight, in heavy crowds like this one, and in small businesses. And what surprises me is that people aren’t just targeting any old Asian or Pacific Islander persons. They’re targeting the elderly and women,” Tran said.

Another speaker, Niki Heintz Johnstone, said it was tough for her to grow up in a predominantly white community in Southern California.

A photo of Nikki Heintz-Johnstone, a woman wearing a grey jacket. She is holding a microphone as she speaks to a crowd.
Credit Isaac Hoops / KUNR Public Radio
KUNR Public Radio
Nikki Heintz Johnstone speaks at the Stop Asian Hate rally held at Reno City Plaza in Reno, Nev., on Saturday, March 27.

“I’ve grown up my whole life thinking I wasn’t white enough, Asian enough, Hawaiian enough. I never felt like I was enough of something because of how people would treat me and what they would say. I never felt like I was enough,” Heintz Johnstone said.

But she said it’s more than feeling different.

“You’re always on guard. You’re always on guard, and you’re always having to kind of prepare yourself for an unfortunate situation if you go to a place that is predominantly white and you're the minority,” Heintz Johnstone said.

Stop AAPI Hate received nearly 3,300 reports of hate incidents against people of Asian descent across the U.S. in 2020, and nearly 70% of the respondents were women. But they say the number of hate crimes is likely higher due to underreporting.

Heintz Johnstone says she too has had to bear the burden of racist attitudes against her, like when she was traveling through Northern Nevada.

“Just this past year, driving up to see my family, I was pretty much told to leave a gas station because of my ethnicity, but they were okay with my white husband using their facilities, even though I was a paying customer. And it’s just little things like that, little comments, little digs,” Heintz Johnstone said.

Ting Hammond, a woman wearing a pink baseball cap, sunglasses and a mask poses for a photo. In the background is a statue of a whale made up of multicolored glass panes.
Credit Lucia Starbuck / KUNR Public Radio
KUNR Public Radio
Ting Hammond at the Stop Asian Hate rally held at Reno City Plaza in Reno, Nev., on Saturday, March 27.

Ting Hammond, an immigrant from Taiwan, was also in the crowd. She said she was galvanized to participate in an event like this after her mom was accosted.

“She was actually picking up some medication at the local drug store. She lives in Chicago and had a woman just kind of breach her comfort zone, with COVID and all that, and just started yelling profanity at her. It’s pretty disturbing to know someone could just do that, someone would do that, to an elderly person,” Hammond said.

Hammond said it hasn’t always been easy to speak out.

“We’re taught not to really talk about those kinds of things, so it’s just, you know, ‘Oh, it happened, move on,’ and that’s kind of that generation and mine as well,” Hammond said.

But she feels differently now, and so do many other Asian Americans who feel they have been particularly targeted during the pandemic.

At press conferences and in speeches over the last year, former President Donald Trump used racist terms to describe the virus, which has ramped up discrimination against people perceived to be Chinese.

It’s also tough for Asian business owners who have faced anti-Asian sentiments on top of existing economic challenges due to shutdowns over the last year.

Down in Southern Nevada, the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce President Sonny Vinuya said Asian American business owners can be hesitant to report hate crimes.

“Well, for one, I think it’s [cultural]. A lot of, especially the business owners, are immigrants that have come here, and from what we gather, most of them believe that reporting it will not do anything because that’s how it is where they came from. You report it, nothing happens. So to them, why bother? There’s also a part of some business owners, or some property owners, where they’re scared that if they report, people will stop coming to their establishments because they think they don't want to get a bad name or bad stigma,” Vinuya said.

Vinuya said there are roughly 21,000 Asian American-owned businesses in Nevada. Some business owners have told him they’re scared of copycats after the Atlanta spa shootings.

He encourages people in the community to not be silent bystanders.

“Right now, the first one is truly ‘let’s unite.’ Let’s be united. Let’s spread the word of ‘we will not tolerate Asian hate crimes’ together. So that’s number one and foremost. We have to watch out with one another. We need to build a cultural unity,” Vinuya said.

In 2019, the Associated Press reported Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in Clark County. After Hawaii and California, Nevada is tied with two other states for the third-highest number of Asian Americans.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning journalist covering politics, focusing on democracy and solutions for KUNR Public Radio. Her goal is to provide helpful and informative coverage for everyday Nevadans.
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