Atlanta-area shooting victims remembered at March for Asian Lives in Arlington Heights
The stories of young people shared Friday afternoon in an Arlington Heights parking lot were similar.
Verbal harassment. Racism. Xenophobia. Discrimination.
Like Kaylyn Ahn's story of the time she was walking down the block and a drunk man hurled a racial slur at her. He started charging toward her; luckily the man's friend stepped in.
"Asian women across the country all have stories like mine," said Ahn, a senior at Elk Grove High School.
Ahn has been thinking of that incident since the violent attacks March 16 near Atlanta that left eight people dead, including six women of Asian descent.
It prompted her to organize a March for Asian Lives, which started and ended at the small Algonquin Road strip mall that's home to a mom-and-pop Japanese bakery, a sushi restaurant and, until it closed a few years ago, a Korean grocery store run by Ahn's aunt.
With megaphone and signs in hand, Ahn and other Elk Grove students led the march of some 50 participants down Algonquin and Arlington Heights roads past Mitsuwa Marketplace - the popular Japanese supermarket and shopping mall - before returning to the parking lot to reflect and say the names of the Atlanta shooting victims.
"The dead cannot cry out for justice," Ahn said. "It is our duty to do so for them."
One by one, about a dozen of the marchers took to the megaphone to share their experiences of discrimination while growing up in the suburbs.
Kian Climaco of Plainfield, a freshman at Loyola University, sympathized with many in the crowd who have been having honest conversations with family, friends and complete strangers.
For Climaco, it was an exchange with a family friend who told him he'll "never belong here in America."
"It's frustrating," Climaco said. "We shouldn't have to explain to people that yes I am Asian, but I am also American."
The march and rally organized by Ahn and her classmates got the attention of a number of local politicians who walked the streets with them.
"It's dismaying that some of the things that we fought against 30 years ago are still at the top of the table," said state Rep. Mark Walker, an Arlington Heights Democrat. "Speaking for myself, it's the white Americans that did not live up to the standards of America. It is the immigrant populations that for the most part are the most patriotic and the most supportive of American values."
Others at the event included Cook County Commissioner Kevin Morrison, Northwest Suburban High School District 214 board member Mark Hineman, Arlington Heights trustee candidate Nicolle Grasse and Elk Grove Township trustee candidate Julee Mortensen.
Those from different backgrounds said they were there to support the Asian American community.
"When I see hate, it does not matter to me if you're religious or not, if you're Asian, African American, anything whatsoever. If I see it, I am your ally 100%," said Joaquin Garcia of Chicago, who works in Rolling Meadows. "We all need to be equal. We all have to love each other. ... This is America. We're a melting pot. We're all immigrants from everywhere across the board."