Oakland’s Chinatown has had its share of violence lately, particularly against older residents, and the reports have made headlines nationally. The spa shootings in Atlanta stunned the country last week, and the Oakland Asian community is still reeling from its own traumas while also wishing to console the families of victims in Atlanta.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris visited Atlanta last Friday, and the Oakland community streamed an event called Illuminate in solidarity with Asians and Asian Americans on Friday night. Also, the regularly scheduled cleanup of Chinatown did not miss a beat on Sunday.
Hoodline went to the cleanup effort on Sunday to catch up with Michael Lok, public affairs officer for the OCA - Asian Pacific American Advocates, East Bay Chapter.
In response to the Atlanta spa shootings, Lok said, “My heart is going out to the families. It's important that we all be sad and we all be angry, any time this happens. And not just based on who the victims are.”
He added, “In Oakland, sometimes folks get numb to it.”
OCA is a volunteer-run organization that is part of a national Asian Pacific American civil rights organization, focused on social justice and leadership. The OCA East Bay Chapter, has represented Oakland for over 30 years.
But at home in Oakland, the Town is facing its own obstacles. It’s been tough on the elderly here, who are known to carry cash with them on the street. There have been several crimes reported in Oakland that have led to severe injuries. Elderly people have been hurt, pushed down for no reason, and there have been deaths — including the death earlier this month of 75-year-old Pak Ho, who died from head injuries sustained during a strong-arm robbery in his neighborhood of Adams Point. It’s something that has made the community angry.
Lok explained that the uptick in assaults might be a result of thieves “knowing that around the time of Lunar New Year, which just passed, folks carry a little bit more cash in their pockets to give red envelopes for the New Year.” Similar warnings have gone out in previous years, around the Lunar New Year.
Recently, a lot of calls to action have occurred. For example, volunteer patrols and police presence is requested in Asian communities like Oakland.
Regarding the President and Vice President’s visit to Atlanta, Lok said, “I appreciate the effort, and also Vice President Harris part identifies South Asian. I think it’s definitely a welcome change from some of the talking points and rhetoric that came out of the last administration, which was stoking the flames of fear and [anti-]Asian racism. That was apparent before but during COVID has gone up.”
Asian American Women Artist Association (AAWAA) and the Oakland Asian Cultural Center (OACC) collaborated to put on the Illuminate event, which was “a night of poetry in solidarity with Asians and Asian American communities”.
Oakland Youth Poet Laureate, Greer Nakadegawa-Lee, was a co-host and also read poetry at the live-streamed event on Friday, March 19.
Lauren Ito of the AAWAA said she and Nakadegawa-Lee were "co-hosting this event in response to the absolutely horrific surge of anti-Asian hate, hate crimes, and violence impacting Asian and Asian American folks during this time. We want to name that anti-Asian hate is nothing new.”
Lok also participated in Illuminate and he shared some insights on Sunday. The backstory is one of the organizers, Ito of AAWAA reached out to Lok of OCA. They had heard about their organizing efforts around racial equity and social justice. Ito asked Lok to speak at Illuminate, and Lok said it's an important time to speak up and not be invisible. He said he thinks they were planning Illuminate before what happened in Atlanta, but that gave them more of an urgent desire "to channel their peoples' energy into something on the artistic side.”
A weekend of activism can spark real change. A few dozen people showed up for the cleanup effort on Sunday. For the past five years, they’ve had this monthly program called “Pick It Up Chinatown” and it focuses on cleaning up garbage and illegal dumping in Oakland Chinatown.
Lok went on to say, “With this group which has been a multi-generational group of anywhere from 60 to 100 volunteers. We focused on issues, not just picking up trash but how to feel ownership of your community.”
OACC Executive Director, Saly Lee was not available for comment but Hoodline spoke to Marvin Lee, Operations Manager at OACC and he referred us to the statement on the website which was posted to their Instagram page.
“Dear friends and supporters," the post begins, "OACC mourns the loss of the victims’ lives in the recent shootings in Atlanta, Georgia.
"This hate crime reflects the escalation, both in frequency and magnitude, of anti-Asian violence, racism, sexism, and discrimination that have been exacerbated since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic."
Americans have this opportunity to join Asian American communities across the country in solidarity and as Lok said, “these traditional boundaries that separate us need to come down.”
MJ Carter is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.