Over 50,000 Californians have died from the coronavirus in almost a year since the pandemic gripped life in the state and Orange County.

The shutdowns and stay at home orders intended to quell the virus has resulted in financial loss, food insecurity and depression for some. It has also stopped grandparents from seeing their grandchildren and kept some kids out of the classroom.

And for Asians and Asian Americans, many who are essential and health care workers, it has also unleashed an increase in racism and violence against community members. 

Hundreds of luminaries are placed in a field at Fountain Valley Sports Park on March 4, 2021. The luminarias form the phrase, “Stop Asian Hate,” which can be seen from a birds eye view. community members coordinated with a drone pilot to get the lettering correct from above. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Hundreds of luminarias were placed at the Fountain Valley Sports Complex on Thursday to form a message calling to “Stop Asian Hate” to shed light on what some are calling a “virus of bigotry” that is inflicting itself on the Asian community not only locally but nationally.

The luminarias were also to honor and acknowledge the lives lost in the pandemic – something elected officials have largely shied away from doing at public meetings.

Community members, religious leaders, residents and community organizations gather for a moment of silence to commemorate lives lost to coronavirus and the resiliency of Californians. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Tam Nguyen, a co-founder of Nailing It For America, an all volunteer group that organized the event, described it as “peaceful.”

“It was also very beautiful to see the spirit of the community united in grief and sorrow for the lives lost from COVID-19 and also for those that are devastated by the anti-Asian hate,” Nguyen said.

Religious leaders are interviewed in front of the altar prepared by community members. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Buddhists monks attended Thursday’s commemoration to lead a prayer for the people who died from the virus in the last year, as well as for those who are grieving over the loss of loved ones. There was also a Catholic prayer.

“The faith leaders also gave us comfort in knowing that we’re united in spirit together that as one impacts another negatively we can also impact people for the positive,” Nguyen said.

Three sticks of incense are lit during the commemoration part of the evening. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

At one point attendees had a hand up with their palms out signifying stopping Asian hate and began singing the song “Stop! In The Name of Love.”

Nguyen  said that the action symbolized how everyone was feeling and wanting the stark rise in hate and violence against the Asian community to cease.

A photo of the event prompted Bele Nguyen, a volunteer who helped set up the commemoration, to have a talk with her 6-year-old son on racism toward Asian Americans.

“It was just powerful for me to have that conversation with my own child from his perspective and his innocent eyes so I’m glad he’s able to see his mom out there to be able to support and advocate,” she said.

Vele Nguyen, a community member, walks through the luminarias and straightens out any that are out of place. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC
A view of the drone pilots view of the luminaries, spelling out, “Stop Asian Hate.” Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Anti-Asian sentiment is nothing new in Orange County but it is a threat that has grown since the start of the pandemic.

[Read: Orange County Grapples With Wave of Hate Toward Asian Americans Over Coronavirus]

Alison Edwards, CEO of the Orange County Human Relations Council, said in a phone interview a day prior to the event that hate incidents in the county have increased tenfold.

“In 2019, we had four hate incidents targeting Asian Americans reported to us but in 2020 – so far in the data we’ve collected – we have 40 that have been reported to us,” Edwards said. “We’re still very much compiling data.”

A volunteer passes out electric candles quickly before the moment of silence begins. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC
Volunteers placed electric candles in paper-bags filled with sand, to spell out “Stop Asian Hate.” Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Hate crimes in general are on the rise in the county.

More hate crime cases were filed at District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s office in the last two years than in the previous few decades.

To report a hate crime to the Human Relations Council, click on the link provided here.

Turning Sorrow and Pain Into Resiliency and Hope

Tam Nguyen said he is hopeful that with the arrival of the vaccine, the community can heal partially.

He added that it’s not just the resiliency of Asian communities but that of all historically disadvantaged communities that fuels this hope.

“We will never be completely healed and especially we will never be healed if racism, bigotry and hatred continues to exist in our community but we’re hopeful. Hopeful in the spirit of unity, the kindness of humanity, the love that we have for each other and the resiliency of our community.”

Tam Nguyen

Nguyen also said holding events like these are critical in times of turmoil to bring people together even if it is from a social distance and to highlight the similarities of all human beings.

“The threat of the coronavirus is in the rearview mirror but we also hope that the threat of the virus of hatred and bigotry can soon be in the rearview mirror,” Nguyen said.

Middle to right, Joseph Gu, 21, and Ashley Chu, 26, stand in front of the luminaries with other community members. They prepare for a moment of silence led by religious leaders. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

Julie Leopo is the Director of Photography for the Voice of OC. Contact her at jleopo@voiceofoc.org

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