Vigil gives voice to ‘forgotten minority,’ the Asian and Asian American students at BYU

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“I am an American

Who wonders if she should speak these words out loud

Because by so doing goes against the tradition of what her

Model minority ancestors have done”

– “I am American” by Hannah Rex

BYU multicultural clubs came together to organize an in-person and online vigil for the Asian and Asian American community.

The vigil took place on BYU campus on May 5 in honor of the countless victims of Asian hate crimes, but also specifically in honor of the eight people who were killed in the Atlanta shooting in March — Soon Chung Park (74), Hyun Jung Grant (51), Suncha Kim (69), Yong Ae Yue (63), Delaina Ashley Yaun (33), Paul Andre Michels (54), Xiaojie Tan (49) and Daoyou Feng (44).

Attendees chat after the vigil is done. It consisted of people from many different ethnicities and included both current and recently graduated BYU students. (Kristine Kim)

Most of the vigil attendees were BYU students and recently graduated alumni. There was a total of 40 to 50 participants for the vigil including in-person and online Zoom attendees.

The vigil opened with remarks by BYU sociology alumna Katie Kim, who was also one of the main organizers of the vigil. She said they hoped the vigil would bring awareness and further understanding of the injustices Asians and Asian Americans face every single day for the color of their skin.

Hannah Rex recited her own poem titled “I am American.” Several audience members shed tears as they heard Hannah recite her poem. (Kristine Kim)

The first poem of the night was given by Hannah Rex, a Japanese American BYU elementary education senior.

The audience shed tears as they heard her deliver her powerful five-part poem titled “I am American.”

Rex said one of the goals of delivering her speech was to encourage all who participated to research the issues she brought up so they could take informed action and make America a place where there is truly “liberty and justice for all.”

She prefaced her speech by saying “My hope in sharing today is to dismantle fear of sharing our stories, shed light on the history that was never told by white America, and empower institutions to examine their own biases that contribute to the racial stratification and systemic racism that plague America.”

Hannah Rex recites her five-part poem “I am American” during the vigil.

After Rex’s speech, BYU mechanical engineering graduate student Josh Tsai sang and played a piano piece titled “Light” from the musical “Next to Normal.” He said he hoped performing the song “Light” would be inspiring to people at the vigil.

The last speech of the night was given by Shaamilee Rowland, a senior studying premedical laboratory science at BYU.

Rowland said as a South Asian of Indian descent, she felt it was important to link arms across the diaspora to extend support, raise awareness together with other Asians and reframe conversations about anti-Asian hate and violence.

“Together, we need to demand accountability. We need to fight for the basic humanity of people of color. We should not be treated like perpetual foreigners in our own home and in our own country,” she said.

Rowland invited the participants of the vigil to come together and speak up about the trauma and the hard experiences.

BYU Women of Color Club president and vigil organizer Israel Kyeisha Selway also said they hoped through the vigil, everyone would be able to feel that BYU is a safe place where Asians and Asian Americans can find and access resources.

“We aim to make BYU a safer place, a place where Asian students at BYU can feel a sense of belonging — that they are cared for, supported and appreciated by the members of the BYU community,” Selway said.

For more resources for Asians or Asian Americans at BYU, the racial stress therapy group is available for students on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Zoom.

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