Cafe Cà Phê, a mobile Vietnamese coffee shop based in Kansas City, MO., recently held a public vigil for recent Asian-American victims of violence. Around 400 people filled the streets to show their support.
The vigil took place March 28. The shop’s founder Jackie Nguyen organized the event after her friend Chi Nguyen spoke to her about hosting a similar event as the amount of Anti-Asian violence continues to rise across the country. Jackie found a large number of volunteers after announcing the event on social media.
“Most of our volunteers were on Instagram,” Jackie said. “I reached out to them and I said ‘Hey, would you be interested in volunteering’ and people just reached out to us.”
Volunteers met in the shop’s garage space and were given their instructions. Most volunteers were in charge of ensuring the safety of everyone in attendance and were instructed on how to properly carry out the vigil.
At 1 p.m. the event began with a performance from Three Trails Taiko, an Olathe based Taiko drum group. Three Trails performs at events across the Kansas and Missouri to share their love of the Japanese musical style, including the college’s own Japan festival. The group played for roughly 10 minutes.
As the Three Trails members found their places in the audience, the café’s newly hired director of communication, Bety Le Shackelford, took the stage. Shackelford welcomed the audience and introduced the guest speakers. The speakers included congressman Emanuel Cleaver, Chi Nguyen, Kansas representative Rui Xu, local sixth grader Maddie Watson, Missouri representative Emily Weber and activist Cecilia Belser-Patton. Jackie Nguyen closed out the speakers.
Many of the Asian-American speakers described their own experiences in attempting to blend into a culture dominated by whiteness.
“I would get in so much trouble every time we would go to the store and I would beg for Lunchables,” Jackie said. “To me Lunchables were cool. They were American. They were white and growing up all I wanted to be was white.”
All the speakers spoke to the hope the crowd at the vigil gave them, and the optimism they have for the future.
“There is this new element of hate that is mushrooming all across our nation,” Cleaver said. “But the good news is that the majority of the people in this country are not haters, they are lovers.”
After Jackie finished her speech she began instructing the audience on how to properly participate in the vigil. Traditional Vietnamese prayer incense were given to participants and volunteers made their way around the crowd to light them. Shackelford read a Vietnamese prayer that reads as follows.
“Once again, we offer our deepest, most sincere condolences by sharing the pain with each victim’s families. Please permit us to light an incense to pray for your loved ones to rest in peace.”
Participants were invited to add their incense to an alter at the front of the stage.
The prayer ended the vigil and participants were invited to leave in silence. Afterwards folks stayed around and talked to one another, representatives Xui and Weber took pictures and met with their constituents and Three Trails taught some children how to play the Taiko drum. Inside the garage space the café collected signs for a future display.
“I find myself speechless,” Shackelford said. “It’s more than I could have ever imagined.”
The vigil clearly had an effect on its attendees, many of whom approached Jackie and Bety afterwards to thank them for hosting the event. While Jackie isn’t sure if she’ll host another event like this again, she is immensely proud of the work Café Cà Phê has done.
“I really hope people walk away knowing that there is a support system here in Kansas City and that we are wanting to bring recognition to that community,” Jackie said.
You can find out more about Café Cà Phê on their website.