Franklin High School student Timothy Duong (left) and classmates Aidan Verkuyl (center) and Jaylon Santos protest anti-Asian racism near the corner of Laguna Boulevard and Bruceville Road.

What began as a local high school student’s project for class has grown into a series of demonstrations against a swell of anti-Asian racism sweeping the United States.

Franklin High School student Timothy Duong said he learned from media reports about the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, many connected to the COVID-19 pandemic. A video assignment then came up in Duong’s podcasting class and he chose to produce a public service announcement on the issue.

Not long after, the 16-year-old and his family, who are of Chinese and Vietnamese descent, began demonstrating on the northeast corner of the intersection of Laguna Boulevard and Bruceville Road to raise awareness of the trend. And they aren’t done yet.

“I thought that we weren’t being covered as much,” Duong said at the March 14 demonstration. The racism “was going under the radar of most people. Most people didn’t realize what was happening around them, so I decided, if I created a video, maybe I could reach the people in my community, and maybe they could spread that word around.”

Titled, “Silent for Too Long,” Duong’s video gives statistics on anti-Asian hate crimes, as well as CCTV footage of altercations in which Asian Americans are assaulted or harassed. The video also points out the link between many of the incidents and the coronavirus pandemic.

The problem is “much worse than I expected,” Duong said. “Unprovoked attacks, killings. They steal stuff. It’s really bad. While I was thinking about making this video, and as I was making the video, I was crying.”

In 2020, Stop AAPI Hate, a partnership that compiles data on instances of racism against Asians and Pacific Islanders, reported that more than 800 anti-Asian hate incidents related to COVID-19 had occurred in California from March to June of that year.

Elk Grove has not been immune to the rise in bigotry against Asians. Last December, the Umai Bar and Grill, a local Japanese restaurant, was vandalized with an anti-Asian slur. The police have since arrested a suspect in connection with the graffiti.

Duong said the first demonstration was a “spur-of-the moment thing.” Held on March 7, it consisted mainly of the Duong family, drawing five to 10 people. They returned to the Laguna/Bruceville intersection on March 14 to a crowd of dozens.

Demonstrators held cardboard signs, some reading, “Hate is the virus” and “Fight racism always.” They got honks of support and occasional cheers from passing motorists.

Duong’s father, Allen, explained his newfound activism: “I said, ‘Look, I can’t wait until another tragedy happens in Elk Grove or Sacramento before I speak out.’”

The Elk Grove acupuncturist also cited hate incidents targeting older Asian Americans.

“I’m like, ‘Wait a minute – that could have been my dad and mom, walking down the street and innocent. That could have been my friends, my relatives.’”

Of the people who see his video and the demonstration, Timothy said, “I just hope that they become more aware of something: that we aren’t just a model minority that you can just trample over. I want people to know that we’re there and we have voices to speak out.”

The group plans to hold another demonstration at the Laguna/Bruceville intersection, starting at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 21.

“Silent for Too Long” is viewable on YouTube via the Paperchase Productions channel.