‘Six Generations, and We Ended Up in the Same Place 150 Years Later’

AAPI Rally Against Hate at Columbus Park on March 21. Photo: Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao

The Sunday after eight people, six of them Asian women, were killed in Atlanta, hundreds of New Yorkers descended on Columbus Park in Manhattan’s Chinatown. In the crowd were Vivian Li, 59, and her daughter Megan, 29.

Megan: I was born here in the city, but our family has been back and forth between here and China since the 1850s, 1860s. We had an ancestor who was part of the railroad Chinese, and after finishing the railroad, he took it across the country to New York and lived in the Five Points.

Vivian: I was born in northern China and came here in 1982. I worked at a factory at the beginning and studied English at night and on weekends.

Megan: My mom lived in Flatbush when she first arrived and now lives in Bensonhurst with my grandparents. It’s an enclave that’s becoming more Asian populated. A lot of the attacks that happened recently happened there.

Vivian: In 1982, that was the first time I experienced racial discrimination. I have been here 40 years, and it was getting better the past 20 years, then it got worse last year. So when my daughter said, “Mom, we have a rally,” I said, “I’m going to join you.” That day, I had gotten the second dosage of the vaccine, and I wasn’t feeling well. But, you know, we Asians are normally very quiet; we don’t shout. So that Sunday, I went to the rally and shouted.

Megan: I hadn’t been in such an overwhelmingly Asian crowd in a long time. I didn’t realize how much I missed that. Columbus Park is central to our family’s story. That’s where the Five Points was originally located, so I’m just imagining my great-great-great-grandfather probably lived near that spot. And we recently found this photo of my great-grandfather spiking a volleyball right at that spot where the podium at the rally was set. That great-grandfather enlisted for WWII at 70 Mulberry Street, in the northeast corner of the park. He Anglicized his name there and enlisted without being a citizen, probably facing discrimination in the Army. And I grew up going to that park after school. It’s a place where you can have joy in this country one day and the next day you’re reminded that you still don’t belong.

Vivian: Six generations, and we ended up in the same place 150 years later.

Megan: For more than a year, my mom and I haven’t seen each other regularly, and knowing these attacks were happening so close to where she lives added a second layer of anxiety.

I was heartened to see so many older people from our community there. Some of them probably didn’t understand what the speakers were saying — they were asking each other in Chinese and Korean and a bunch of other languages what was going on, but they understood what we were fighting for.

‘Six Generations, and We Ended Up in the Same Place’