On Saturday, April 3, members of the community — students, staff, faculty, and affiliates — with COVIDPass eligibility were invited to reflect, mourn, and show their solidarity with the MIT Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. A total of 3,795 battery-operated candles were lit up on Kresge Oval to recognize the 3,795 reported — and countless unreported — anti-AAPI hate incidents over the last year alone.
Following recent murders in Georgia and the growing wave of anti-Asian hate incidents across the United States, the installation was intended to contextualize the magnitude of the impact that anti-Asian violence has on the AAPI community. Each candle represents victims who have experienced racism or discrimination during the pandemic and the growing wave of hurt, fear, and anxiety the AAPI community has endured. The number of lit candles reemphasize the work there is left to do to combat racist acts of violence and xenophobia against Asian Americans.
“To see the number of lights on Kresge and realize that each one represents an Asian American enduring a hate incident this past year is incredibly startling,” says Yu Jing Chen, vice president of the Undergraduate Association (UA) and junior in the School of Architecture and Planning. “I hope that this installation speaks to people and helps them realize that even one candle out there is too many.”
Chen, along with Lily Cheng Zedler, Jennifer Leung, Chloe Lim, Nhat Nguyen, Traiwat Trairatvorakul, and other student volunteers, also hosted a Covid-19-safe candlelight vigil that took place on Friday evening on Killian Court as a symbolic and artistic expression opposing the surge of anti-Asian violence across the United States.
“As I’ve learned more about the history of the AAPI community in the United States, the purpose of a hate crime is to instill fear, keep people quiet, and make them feel alone and insignificant,” says Cheng Zedler, a graduate student in the MIT Sloan School of Management. “I hope members of the AAPI community who came to the candlelight installation took away the message that, ‘You are seen. You matter. You belong here.’”
Racism is nothing new to the AAPI community; it existed long before the coronavirus pandemic thrust it into the national spotlight. The installation is just the starting point for community members to stand in solidarity with the AAPI community. MIT community members are encouraged to continue amplifying and supporting AAPI organizations and community groups, to check in on friends and loved ones, and to continue to condemn all acts of hate and violence towards the Asian community.