‘I Never Thought I’d Have to Worry About My Mom’ ~ Everett High Principal Erik Naumann
When long-time Everett High Principal Erik Naumann walked to the podium at Wehner Park last Thursday, April 1, with his elderly mother – the popular and light-hearted educator was nearly moved to tears and the hate crimes inflicted on Asian Americans all over the country in the last month were clearly weighing on him.
He held his mother, Iko’s, hand tightly, and said for the first time in his like – he is worried about what might happen to her.
“I’m proud to say I’m from Everett and lived in Everett most of my life – 37 years as a student, educator and administrator in the Everett Public Schools,” he said. “I never thought I would have to worry about my mother walking down the street. This is my mother; her name is Iko and she’s from Okinawa. Am I concerned? Yes, a lot. My mother is my hero. She’s a human, a person and a mom. Get to know your neighbors and the people around you…Even if it’s not easy, we need to stand for all marginalized populations and step up against hate.”
That moment, with dozens of residents and Everett High students around him, came at the April 1 rally sponsored by the Everett Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Equal Employment Commission and Mayor Carlo DeMaria. The rally was called after a series of attacks and killings nationwide against members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities – many of them elderly like Naumann’s mother.
The keynote speaker at the event, held in the new Wehner Park, was Councilor Jimmy Tri Le – who delivered a memorable address to those in the crowd. He started by quoting Gandhi in saying that “to believe in something and not live it is dishonest.”
“I’m not saying that Everett is a utopia, but from day one I have always felt welcome in this community,” he said.
“None of us is perfect,” he continued. “We are capable of greatness and thoughtlessness. We say things we don’t mean. If we are going to say we believe in diversity or equality, let no one be minimized. Hate is hate no matter who it comes from or who it is directed to. Violence against any of our brothers and sisters cannot be tolerated.”
He concluded by saying if one believes in something, they should live it – honestly.
“We stand up and speak with our presence against hate not for a few but for all,” said Bishop Robert Brown, chair of the Commission. “In particular today I’m talking about the hate against our Asian American brothers and sisters who are being batted upon at an ungodly rate. Just by us standing up and being here shows that the City of Everett will not accept the hate, prejudice and bigotry.”
Bishop Brown also stated some statistics from around the country, noting that in the last year acts of discrimination and violence against AAPI people increased by 1000 percent.
“These acts cannot continue to go unchallenged and unpunished,” he said. “We have to speak out against them and all acts of violence. Silence is complicity and we will not be complicit.”
Mayor Carlo DeMaria, going off script from his formal remarks a bit, said politicians need to be careful how they speak – noting the national rhetoric last year that dubbed COVID-19 the “China Virus.” That, he said, is unacceptable and has a hand in stoking those that commit violent acts.
“Elected officials, politicians and presidents of the United States, when they speak, they can cause a lot of turmoil,” he said. “We had our president who used the words ‘China Virus.’ That’s not right…Politicians should choose their words carefully. People, and especially children, are listening.”
Sen. Sal DiDomenico echoed those sentiments and said the national rhetoric has emboldened many people around us with hatred in their hearts – causing them to believe they can carry out violence against AAPI people and even Black and brown people too.
“A lot of people who have these hateful views and have lived among us for years feel emboldened now because of the national rhetoric,” he said. “They feel they have a voice now and feel they can do what they are doing no only to Asian Americans, but also to Black and brown Americans too…It’s acceptable to be hateful in some communities now. We all know friends and family members that say things in our presence and we laugh it off and say different generation, different time, and we go on. Every time we do that, we perpetuate it. Our kids are not born racists; they are taught that by adults.”
State Rep. Joe McGonagle said he believes the state legislature should move to strengthen hate crime legislation and punish those that commit such acts more so.
“Thoughts and prayers are meaningful, but policy change is how we can prevent atrocities like these,” he said.