A coalition of Asian American organizations led a vigil yesterday to honor Joseph S. Ileto, the Filipino American postal worker slain by a white supremacist in Los Angeles earlier this month. The event was the first of a national series of memorials to be held in cities from New York to Seattle over the next several days to highlight a spate of deadly hate violence targeting Asian Americans.
Several dozen people, some carrying placards, gathered in Freedom Plaza in downtown Washington to listen to speeches decrying a wave of racially motivated slayings that claimed the lives of at least five Asian Americans in the past 10 months. Activists called the killings the most visible part of largely overlooked hatred routinely encountered by Asian Americans.
"Acts of anti-Asian violence are taking place every day and they are largely unnoticed," said Karen Narasaki, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium.
Activists speculated that the violence is driven in part by the pervasive sense that members of the nation's fast-growing Asian American population are all foreigners. Through the years, "we've gone from the invisible minority, to the model minority, to just foreigners," said Irene Natividad, executive director of the Philippine American Foundation. That sense has contributed not only to violence against Asian Americans, activists said, but also to muted coverage of that violence in the national press.
Ileto, 39, a Los Angeles letter carrier, was gunned down Aug. 10 by white supremacist Buford O. Furrow, authorities said, because Ileto worked for the federal government and was not white. Earlier that day, Furrow had opened fire at a Jewish community center, wounding a receptionist and four children. Activists said that while Ileto's death was widely reported, it was overshadowed by the shooting at the community center.
Won Joon Yoon, a Korean graduate student, was shot and killed on July 4 by a white supremacist during a weekend-long shooting rampage that victimized blacks, Jews and Asian Americans.
Other racially motivated slayings have received less national attention, activists said. Among them were the killing last October of two Indian immigrants who were allegedly taunted for their broken English before being slain during a robbery at a Dunkin' Donuts in suburban Washington. Also, a Japanese American shop owner was shot to death in Crystal Lake, Ill., near Chicago, apparently because of his race.