SAN FRANCISCO—On their last night together, father and daughter watched the news and exchanged goodnight kisses on the cheek. The next morning, Vicha Ratanapakdee was assaulted while out for a walk in San Francisco and died, becoming another Asian victim of violence in America.
On Sunday, Monthanus Ratanapakdee marked the first anniversary of his father’s death with a rally in the San Francisco neighborhood where the 84-year-old woman was killed. She was joined by San Francisco Mayor London Breed, local leaders and several hundred people who came out to say they would no longer be silent.
“It’s traumatic to see this happen over and over again to people who look like you,” said Natassia Kwan, a lawyer and rally organizer. “Today we are going to say that it is not acceptable that our elders and our women are pushed into the subway tracks, killed, beaten. We deserve better.”
Hundreds of people in five other US cities joined the nationwide event, all demanding justice for Asian Americans who have been harassed, assaulted and even killed in alarming numbers since the pandemic began.
Ratanapakdee, who grew up in Thailand, feels compelled to speak out so people don’t forget the sweet, bespectacled man who adored his young grandsons and encouraged her to continue her education in America.
“I really want my dad’s death not to be in vain,” said Ratanapakdee, 49, a San Francisco Unified School District food safety inspector. “I wouldn’t want anyone to feel that pain.”
Asians in America have long been victims of prejudice and discrimination, but the attacks escalated sharply after the outbreak of the coronavirus in late 2019 in Wuhan, China. More than 10,000 hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were reported to the Stop AAPI Hate Coalition from March 2020 to September 2021. The incidents involved avoidance, racial taunting, and physical assault.
In San Francisco and elsewhere, news reports showed videos and photos of Asian elderly people being robbed and run over, bruised and stabbed on public streets. Preliminary data shows that reported hate crimes against Asian Americans in San Francisco rose from 9 victims in 2020 to 60 in 2021. However, crime statistics do not tell the whole story, as many victims are reluctant to report and not all accusations result in hate. improvements in crime.
Among the high profile victims nationwide is Michelle Go, 40, who died after a mentally unstable man pushed her in front of a subway in New York earlier this month. In March, a gunman shot and killed eight people at three Georgia massage spas, including six Asian women between the ages of 44 and 74. see bias.
Organizers say Sunday’s events in San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles should honor victims, show solidarity and demand more attention to anti-Asian discrimination. But organizers say they also want to spark conversation in a community where longtime Americans and new immigrants are often lumped together as forever strangers.
“The little window of visibility that we had with the ‘Stop Asian Hate’ movement, it was really just a glimpse of what Asian Americans feel every day, that kind of pervasive disrespect and occasional contempt. to our parents, our languages, our families,” said Charles Jung, a Los Angeles labor attorney and executive director of the California Asian Pacific American Bar Association.
“What we really want is to encourage Asian Americans to tell their stories,” he said, “and finally break the silence.”
Vicha Ratanapakdee encouraged her eldest daughter to move to the United States more than two decades ago to pursue a master’s degree in business at the University of California, Berkeley. He and his wife lived with Ratanapakdee, her husband and the couple’s two sons, now aged 9 and 12.
He was on his usual morning walk when authorities say Antoine Watson, 19 at the time, charged at him and threw him to the ground. Ratanapakdee’s father died two days later, never regaining consciousness.
“My mom told me that day was the best day for my dad. He was happy to go out,” Ratanapakdee said. “But it was a bad day for us because he never came back.”
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin charged Watson, who is black, with murder and elder abuse, but not a hate crime, frustrating the family. Watson’s attorney, Sliman Nawabi, said his client was not racially motivated and the assault stemmed from a mental health issue.
The brutal attack, caught on surveillance video, galvanized Thai immigrants, said Chanchanit Martorell, executive director of the Thai Community Development Center in Los Angeles, who attended Sunday’s rally. Her murder and the overwhelming support from other Asian American communities made them rethink their place in the United States, she said.
“It really sparked this awareness among Thai immigrants,” she said, “that they are part of something bigger.”
While there’s still a long way to go, the country has come a long way since 1982, when two white Detroit men upset by the loss of auto jobs to Japan fatally beat Vincent Chin, Bonnie says Youn, an Atlanta rally organizer and board member of the Asia-Pacific American Bar Association of Georgia.
A judge sentenced both men to probation, saying they weren’t the kind of people to go to jail.
Compare that to the March 16 shootings in Atlanta and a northern suburb, Youn said, when reporters worked to ensure the Asian names of six women killed were pronounced correctly and their stories were told with sensitivity.
On Sunday in San Francisco, Ratanapakdee and Breed led a short, song-filled walk to the house where her father fell and flowers lined the sidewalk.
He loved the United States, she said, and would like people to “raise their voices.”
“I know people are afraid of anti-Asian hatred in the community, and we need to demand action for justice and all human rights,” she said on Sunday. “Please be strong in memory of my father.”