As a Korean American, Amber Reed didn’t have much education about her culture in her youth. She had to seek information about Asian American history on her own.
Now as president of AAPI Montclair, a New Jersey community organization with over 300 people dedicated to the culture of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Reed is leading an effort to raise awareness about Asian American history.
On Sunday evening, AAPI Montclair hosted its third Lantern Festival for Justice and Remembrance. The event at Edgemont Park drew more than 3,000 people to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and to remember the history of Asians in America. A Wall of History was erected at the park in remembrance of events such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese American incarceration camps during World War II, and the murder of Vincent Chin. Reed, who is a native of Flint, Michigan, angrily shares the story of the murder of Chin. In 1982, the Chinese American was beaten to death by two auto workers in Detroit who blamed Chin for the loss of American auto jobs to the Japanese.
"Vincent Chin is really important," Reed said. "It shows how frenzied the country was and the anti-Japanese sentiment."
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With the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes since the pandemic began in Wuhan, China, more than three years ago, remembering history is crucial, Reed said.
According to the nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate, almost 11,000 incidents of hate incidents have been reported between March of 2020 and December of 2021 against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the first significant law restricting immigration to the United States, impacted generations of Chinese Americans, Reed said. Incarceration camps and removing Japanese Americans from their homes by confiscating their properties during World War II was another page in Asian American history.
"We still have a lot of work to do," Reed said.
The Lantern Festival was launched in May of 2021, after the Atlanta spa shootings that claimed the lives of eight people, including six Asian women.
Coupled with history, the festival is a celebration of culture and how far Asians and Pacific Islanders have come in America.
Winnie Wu, 51, a Chinese American resident of Montclair, New Jersey, showed her support. "I like that it’s a pan-Asian festival so we can celebrate with the entire community," Wu said.
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