WASHINGTON — A large crowd of Asian Americans gathered at the National Mall in the sweltering heat Saturday for a multicultural march in support of racial justice and reproductive health rights.
The Unity March included more than 50 Asian American nonprofit organizations and other diverse groups, including YWCA of Queens, a group empowering Asian American women in Flushing, OCA Greater Houston and the Hamkae Center in Virginia.
As a participant held a brightly colored sign that read “AAPI Women 4 Abortion Rights,” advocates demanded an end to the wave of violence targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Those in the crowd, which was mostly comprised of Asian American women and young people, shouted, “A people united will never be defeated!”
While initial estimates released by organizers anticipated a crowd of 15,000, what appeared to be around 500 people gathered for the event as the nation’s capital became a focal point over the weekend of a number of protests and counter-protests. Organizers estimated 2,000 attended the Unity March.
“While the continued extreme heat as well as ongoing flight cancellations and delays hindered the size of our in-person crowd, it does not reduce the power of our collective voices,” Unity March spokesperson Tiffany Chang said in a statement. “This is the start of our renewed Asian American movement and Unity March will continue to fight.”
Organizers urged participants to increase their civic engagement, including mobilizing for elections and promoting education that is inclusive of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
“Our communities are under attack, essentially every day,” Christine Chen, the 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’s important for all groups to stand against anti-Asian hate.
“We’re here to be in solidarity with not only the Asian community, but with our Black brothers and sisters, our Indigenous brothers and sisters, and so many more who have been underrepresented,” Nguyen said while holding signs that read “Proud to be Asian” and “Climate Justice = Reproductive Justice.”
Bhumi Peer, 21, of South Brunswick, New Jersey, said she feared embracing her South Asian identity when she was younger because of the bullying and racism her parents faced.
“Growing up, I had always been scared to show my true self as an Indian person,” said Peer, who is Indian American and a volunteer at the march, adding that Saturday’s event was a moment for the community to stand together. “We’re American, no matter what we look like, and we belong here.”
The rally also comes a day after the nation’s highest court overturned Roe v. Wade, wiping out constitutional protections for abortion rights in the United States. Outside the Supreme Court, a small but growing group of abortion rights advocates encountered anti-abortion protesters, who, elated by the decision, shouted “abortion is racist” and “abortion is oppression.”
At the Unity March, however, several participants expressed dismay at the ruling, and there were no visible signs or chants celebrating it.
Lyric Amodia, 21, an attendee who is Black and Filipino, said she is still reeling from the news of the court’s decision.
“I’m enraged … 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 are regulating what we do with our bodies.”
Nguyen said that she was in shock after the court’s decision, but added that people are standing to condemn it.
“We were heartbroken,” Nguyen said. “We’re fighting for abortion. We’re fighting for the reduction of anti-Asian violence, protection for our communities.”
Paul Cheung, a spokesperson for the march, said that the overturn of Roe v. Wade will hit Asian American communities especially hard.
“This is another example of how historically marginalized communities like Asian Americans are having their rights diminished,” Cheung said in an email to NBC News. “This is not the end. The Unity March is a call to action to advance meaningful change for Asian American and other historically excluded communities to ensure the safety, security, and prosperity for all of our communities.”
Corky Siemaszko and Doha Madani contributed.