By Laurie Paolicelli
Members of our community gathered last week on the Chapel Hill Post Office Plaza to remember and honor the victims of the recent shootings at Atlanta-area spas. They held signs that read “Stop Asian Hate” and “Asian is not a virus, racism is.”
The vigil served to remind community members that we all hold and handle loss differently between generations, communities, cultures, and as individuals. These hard times ask much of us, and they take much from us, too. One of the most significant actions we can take is to be graceful with ourselves and with others. Slow down, take a breath, and remember that we are not alone. Now is the time to hold the victims, their families, and one another in our hearts.
North Carolina’s Asian population is the fastest-growing racial/ethnic group in the state. It’s also the fastest-growing group in the nation.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, no other racial or ethnicity group in the state has grown as quickly since 2010. Asian Americans now make up 3.1% of North Carolina’s total population with prominent Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, and Filipino communities concentrated around Greensboro, Charlotte, and the Triangle area. Today, 8.1% of Orange County residents identify as Asian, based on the most current data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
A poll released in October by the Raleigh-based advocacy group North Carolina Asian Americans Together found that more than one in five Asian American and Pacific Islander residents in the state said either they or their families had faced discrimination during the pandemic.
Chapel Hill Town Council member Hongbin Gu attended last week’s gathering, which was organized by North Carolina Asian Americans Together (NCAAT) and the North Carolina Chinese American Friendship Association, on Sunday.
“This is what community is supposed to be,” she said. “I’m just very proud of our Town of Chapel Hill, the Town of Carrboro, Orange County, everyone just coming together and trying to take a clear stance and send the message that this is not tolerable in our community.”
In tandem with a push for legislative change, Asian American community members hope to continue providing spaces for solidarity and healing.
“We acknowledge and support the call to action from the Chinese American Friendship Association for local communities to organize vigils and demonstrations to express condolences to the victims and to voice our strongest condemnation of racial hatred and violence,” said Chapel Hill Town Council Member Tai Huynh.
“My parents were refugees from Vietnam,” Huynh says. “Growing up, we didn’t have much. But I think that shaped a certain sense of community, because we always had a community that supported us. When they first came over, they didn’t have jobs, they didn’t have anything, and the refugee community in America really puffed them up, got them their first jobs, drove them around, helped with groceries, things like that.”
In a letter last week to the UNC Campus community, Chancellor Guskiewicz and Provost Blouin emphasized that “we are committed to supporting the Asian American community and engaging the wider community through the work of Carolina’s Asian American Center and encourage you to access the resources and events that the Center provides. Education and engagement are powerful forces in combating the stereotypes and bias that contribute to these attacks.”
“We are proud to care for one another, provide for each other’s well-being, and build a community where everyone, regardless of identity or background, can enjoy a sense of safety and belonging.”
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.