On May 27, 2021, TaskForce and the City of Los Angeles unveiled a mural by queer comic artist MariNaomi. Addresssing the recent spate of anti-Asian American and Pacific Islanders violence, it was erected to spread the word about calling 2-1-1 to report hate incidents in the Los Angeles area. The project was funded by LA Care Health Plan as part of the LA vs. Hate campaign. It is located at Garvey Park Gym, 7954 Dorothy St., Rosemead, CA 91770. Below TaskForce and MariNaomi share the artwork and their thoughts on the project.
"For the past 16 months, a troubling increase in COVID-related hate backlash has targeted the Asian American/Pacific Islander community," TaskForce explains to Out Traveler. "Today, our AAPI community is suffering from acute fear, a fear that is paralyzing to some; and empowering others to find ways to cope, whether it is seniors taking self-defense classes, to volunteers walking community members to shop or to temple or church, or our local students who are seeking out wellness services."
TaskForce adds, "The optimal community is one where individuals are welcomed, valued, respected. LA vs Hate is an art-driven approach to provide awareness of the dangers of hate and the importance of reporting it. The public health perspective of the LA vs Hate goals is why L.A. Care Health Plan is a strong supporter of this LA County program. [This] powerful illustration, by artist MariNaomi, is a key part of the LA vs Hate framework which sees the artist as society’s changemakers and leaders in confronting our most perplexing issues.
"When I was approached to design a comics mural that would end racism, I knew it was a tall order," MariNaomi reflects. "How do you convince someone who irrationally hates you to embrace your humanity? I’m not sure it can be done, but if it can, sharing our stories is probably a step in the right direction. So I focused on expressing my fear and frustration and hope in a piece that I hoped would speak not only to bigots, but also to folks who are going through what I’m going through, to let them know they’re not alone."
MariNaomi says, "I was given only a few weeks to design this artwork. We didn’t know until the last minute what wall it was going to end up on, so the format was tricky. The mural was ultimately wheat pasted onto the Garvey Park Gym at 2 in the morning, the night before the 9 A.M. press conference, which featured many prominent members of the community including Supervisor Hilda Solis of the LA vs HATE campaign. The press conference was my reintroduction into society. I’d seen very few people over the past year due to the pandemic, so to be surrounded by so many people — so much warmth and love and community after being starved of it for so long — was overwhelming and beautiful!"
Below is a panel-by-panel breakdown of the comic by the artist:
In this scene I’m doom scrolling on my phone in my dark home, with the vibrant Los Angeles skyline and palm trees outside my windows. On my desk is a Totoro doll, a Ring light for Zoom calls, and a laptop opened up to a video of Supervisor Hilda Solis. On the wall are posters for the Dodgers and a “hang in there” poster of Hello Kitty hanging from a branch. A series of failed (and one successful!) avocado pits sits on the window sills. An air purifier is running beside me. Also beside me is a book, Summer Of The Big Bachi, by local author and community pillar Naomi Hirahara, and a cup of tea in a cat cup. Behind me, my alter ego, Lucky Kitty (modeled after my bossy cat, Batface—RIP!), keeps me company. My feet are covered with kitty slippers since I live in a shoeless household.
Staring at my phone, I say: “Ugh. How could they just stand there and watch while that lady got attacked?”
This panel represents my mindset when I was approached to make this comic. I was in a dark place, feeling hopeless about humanity, wondering how people could just stand by and watch while our elderly were attacked for no reason.
I read a disturbing statistic on Stop AAPI Hate’s Twitter feed: “Our latest report is out. In the thirteen months leading up to March 31, 2021, Stop AAPI Hate received 6,603 reports of hate crime incidents directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.”
I say to Lucky Kitty: “There’s got to be more than that, cuz I never reported what happened to me!”
I’m referring to the anti-Asian incidents that have happened to me, as well as the ones I’ve witnessed. After a number of these, I stopped leaving the house alone over a year prior, except to shop at Asian grocery stores, the only places I felt safe during the less intense swells of the pandemic.
My cat speaks: “You know…”
The background of this red panel is littered with pink cherry blossoms. My parents, who live in Japan, tell me that cherry blossom season happened unnaturally early this year.
Lucky Kitty continues: “This country has a history of scapegoating Asian Americans.”
Here we see three incidents of this:
1) A portrait of Vincent Chin, rest in peace. Chin was the Chinese American draftsman who was beaten and killed following his bachelor party in 1982 by two racist white auto workers. The workers blamed the Japanese for their being laid off and took it out on Chin. The attackers served no jail time and were fined only $3,000 for Chin’s murder.
2) Internment Camps. A Japanese American family stands before the internment camp in Manzanar, California. The man says, “We lost everything.”
During World War II, about 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were incarcerated in these concentration camps for no other reason than their race. Many of those that survived the camps went home to find that everything they had (possessions, businesses, homes) were lost to them.
3) 1871 Chinese Massacre in Los Angeles. This was the largest mass lynching in American history when, after hearing that a policeman and a rancher had been killed as a result of a conflict between rival tongs, a mob of about 500 white and Hispanic folks entered Los Angeles’s Old Chinatown and attacked, bullied, robbed, and murdered Chinese residents. I didn’t illustrate this scene because I just couldn’t. It’s too horrific.
The background of this blue panel consists of drops of water, which could be rain or tears (to reflect the tear in my eye in this panel).
Lucky Kitty reminds me: “But your people are strong and have a legacy of standing up for themselves and others!”
In this panel, I featured some prominent Asian and Asian American heroes: activists, artists, and more. I implore the reader to look up and familiarize themselves with each of these amazing folks, and learn their stories, how they’ve helped and uplifted others: 442nd Infantry Regiment, Yuri Kochiyama, Grace Lee Boggs, MILCK, Larry Itliong, Chiune Sugihara, Alexander Chee, George Takei, Phil Yu (Angry Asian Man), Ocean Vuong, Kartar Dhillon, and Margaret Cho. [Links added by Out Traveler editors.] I also put my mom on in this heroes panel, because she is always looking for ways to help others.
It was extremely difficult for me to decide who should go in my panel of heroes, and I’m sad I couldn’t include everyone. It was especially rough for me when I removed Yoko Ono, as she’s one of my biggest heroes, but I could only fit so many folks in, and I didn’t want them to be all Japanese.
Lucky Kitty has convinced me to get up and do something! I wave to him as I leave the house, my mask on. I say, “You’re right, Lucky. I’ve been fully vaccinated. It’s time to get back into the world and make a difference!”
Lucky responds, cleaning his paw, “Get some more wet food while you’re out there, wontcha?”
My slippers are off and my outdoor shoes are on. The background is hearts, reflected by the hearts in my mom’s portrait in the previous panel.
For the 60-foot mural, we had to flip this panel around so that the word bubbles were on the opposite side, as there was a pesky cord on the building that interfered with the text.
This panel consists of four smaller panels:
1) REPORT. I reach for a pamphlet that reads, “DIAL 2-1-1 TO REPORT HATE.” Publicizing this service was the whole point of this project. I didn’t know about 211 before, and the service is incredible. (The direct link to report hate crimes is here)
2) ADVOCATE. This is an homage to an iconic Corky Lee photo of the Peter Yew police brutality protests in NYC, 1975. I drew masks and a BLACK LIVES MATTER t-shirt on one of the protesters, and drew myself into the crowd.
3) PROTECT. I help stave off a bully as another ally asks a victimized lady, “Are you okay?”
4) HELP. I offer hot food to an elderly woman. We have to take care of each other.
The bottom of the comic reads, TOGETHER WE ARE STRONGER. STOP ANTI-ASIAN HATE!, with the logos for LA Care Health Plan and LA vs. HATE in the corner.
At the press conference unveiling of the comic mural, a member of NAACP pointed out that “Together we are stronger” is a motto of NAACP—In fact, it was right there on her business card! I had no idea I was repeating the motto of the NAACP, but it warms my heart to think we’ve got the same goals and we really are all in this together.