WASHINGTON — A large crowd of Asian Americans gathered on the National Mall on Saturday in the blistering heat for a multicultural march in support of racial justice and reproductive health rights.
The Unity March included more than 50 Asian-American nonprofits and other diverse groups, including YWCA of Queens, a group that empowers Asian-American women in Flushing, OCA Greater Houston and the Hamkae Center in Virginia.
While one participant held a brightly colored sign that read “AAPI Women 4 Abortion Rights,” advocates demanded an end to the wave of violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Those in the crowd, mostly Asian-American women and young people, shouted, “A united people will never be defeated!”
While organizers initially estimated a crowd of 15,000, some 500 people gathered for the event as the country’s capital became the focus of a number of protests and counter-protests over the weekend. According to the organizers, 2,000 attended the Unity March.
“While the ongoing extreme heat and ongoing flight cancellations and delays hampered the size of our personal crowd, it does not diminish the power of our collective voices,” Unity March spokesman Tiffany Chang said in a statement. “This is the beginning of our renewed Asian-American movement and Unity March will continue to fight.”
Organizers urged participants to increase their civic engagement, including by mobilizing for elections and promoting education that is inclusive for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
“Our communities are under attack almost every day,” Christine Chen, executive director of Asian Pacific Islander American Vote, told NBC News in a phone call. “We’re looking at long-term solutions … to really focus on the systematic changes that need to be made to fight white supremacy.”
Anh Nguyen, 17, a member of OCA-Greater Houston, an Asian-American advocacy group, said it is important for all groups to stand up to anti-Asian hatred.
“We are here to stand in solidarity not only with the Asian community, but also with our black brothers and sisters, our indigenous brothers and sisters, and so many more who are underrepresented,” Nguyen said, holding placards that read, “Proud of be Asian” and “Climate Justice = Reproductive Justice.”
Bhumi Peer, 21, of South Brunswick, New Jersey, said she was afraid to embrace her South Asian identity when she was younger because of the bullying and racism her parents faced.
“Growing up, I was always afraid to show my true self as an Indian,” said Peer, who is an Indian-American and volunteer with the march, adding that Saturday’s event was a moment for the community to come together. to stand. “We’re American, whatever we look like, and we belong here.”
The meeting also comes a day after the nation’s highest court overturned Roe v. Wade, overturning constitutional protections for abortion rights in the United States. Outside the Supreme Court, a small but growing group of abortion rights advocates met anti-abortion protesters, who, raving about the decision, shouted “abortion is racist” and “abortion is oppression.”
During the Unity March, however, several participants expressed their dismay at the verdict, and there were no visible signs or chants to celebrate it.
Lyric Amodia, 21, a black and Filipino contestant, said she is still reeling from the news of the court’s decision.
“I’m furious…this is wrong on every level,” said Amodia, a senior at Howard University who serves on her school’s NAACP advisory board and is the founder of The Movement Street Organization. “I can’t believe that people who don’t have vaginas control what we do with our bodies.”
Nguyen said she was in shock after the court ruling, but added that people are standing to condemn it.
“We were devastated,” Nguyen said. “We are fighting for abortion. We fight for the reduction of anti-Asian violence, protection for our communities.”
Paul Cheung, a spokesman for the march, said the overthrow of Roe v. Wade will hit Asian American communities especially hard.
“This is another example of how historically marginalized communities such as Asian Americans are being reduced their rights,” Cheung said in an email to NBC News. “This is not the end. The Unity March is a call to action to bring about meaningful change for Asian-American and other historically excluded communities to ensure safety, security and prosperity for all of our communities.”
Corky Siemaszko and Doha Madani contributed†