It was tough to get out of bed, Wednesday July 24th at 9AM and even anxiety-inducing to mentally prepare for the many possibilities that come along with socializing but also publicly advocating for a cause. I’m so glad that I was not alone in these tense feelings as an organizer confessed to me. More importantly though, during and after the rally my joy from our collective organizing far exceeded that doubt and difficulty I faced to align myself with my fellow people in Center City, Philadelphia.
For those that aren’t aware of the situation that requires our collective work this explanation is for you. For months, local organizations in the surrounding area (Philly, New Jersey) have planned and fought for the continuation of local Southeast Asian businesses. However, the external forces of gentrification in South Philly are also fixed to displace immigrant and refugee residents alike in areas that they have lived in for generations. The same areas that have previously been deemed undesirable, a common description of places regionally that are being targeted for gentrification or “development”. Kensington is an example of such a place; tri-state area residents may be familiar with this part of the city and the negative reputation it receives. Now, plans are being proposed to destroy Hoa Bin Plaza, located at 1601 Washington Ave in Philadelphia, and construct condominiums and single family homes that will most certainly displace residents and their vital businesses. That is a rough overview of the prior events.
Here is a summary of the day’s events:
#1 Speakers consisting of the local business owners and Philly leaders (I was not able to make it in time for this portion)
#2 Time spent outside 1515 Arch Street to explain the court proceedings and session from Skyline
#3 Filing into the building (There was only room for a select few in the room. Most of the rally participants were in the lobby holding signs and conversing about the events and how to handle the wait time)
#4 Local business speakers
#5 Food! (The food was so good! I remember having a bowl of cooked rice, egg, and some green vegetables. I was grateful because I didn’t eat beforehand. I honestly saw that cooking as a revolutionary act. For the business owners to have prepped such delicious food for people they hadn’t even met may seem small but struck me as radical.)
The heart of the protest honestly touched me on an unexpected level. Maybe how I felt as we chanted, organized, and came together could be compared to a fan attending a sporting event and they see their fellow fans as deeply connected. However, even as a sports fan I can’t say I ever felt this way cheering for a group of athletes that have no interest in my community. This day and this event was different because I truly believed I came in contact with the heart of many people on behalf of the plaza and Southeast Asian residents and Asian-Americans.
Rhythms led by Viet Lead were plentiful that day and they certainly had a positive emotional and mental impact on the Hoa Bin Plaza supporters. “Development without Displacement! Development without Displacement! Everywhere we go, people wanna know! Who we are, so we tell them! We are the people! The mighty mighty people!” Indeed, the mighty, mighty people we are. It was through our collective patience, self-control, and agreeability that our strength as a unit was really put on display. The age range varied greatly in the crowd that day and I believe all of these accolades are a testament to the work of the organizers who were able to involve, educate, and inform those from their own communities. Anything good I can say about that day was thanks to their efforts beforehand and behind the scenes.
There are a few words I want to share before I close.
What I’m grateful for is the people that have organized now and in the past. What I hope for in the future is even greater accessibility for those like myself with a variety of handicaps and disabilities such as ASL translation and ramps for those needing wheelchairs. I think this is a good time to thank those that did translate the words of some of the foreign language speakers into English. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who greatly appreciated this!
One of the organizers had a great phrase that I found ended that day’s events so succinctly. “The next time we show up, we’ll have twice as many people here.” I found this quote necessary because it captured the need for more support, our potential understanding and solidarity, and the hope that lies within us all. In addition to that sentiment, I want to have the organized investors from Skyline convinced of the intrinsic value of the plaza.
Please follow this ongoing event by connecting with these organizations:
Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival
Asian Americans United
RAAWC – Radical Asian American Womxn’s Collective
Please let me know if I left out any organizations and if you can help with the sources for quotes. Thank you for reading and please feel free to comment and share.