Yanks, Karis stand up to anti-Asian hate

June 29th, 2021

NEW YORK -- Liz and Vilma Kari stood in Yankee Stadium’s Great Hall on Tuesday afternoon, flanked by manager Aaron Boone and several players. They looked skyward silently at an art installation, reading heartbreaking experiences of discrimination that once originated as anonymous emails.

As HOPE Week continued on Tuesday, the Yankees recognized the AAP(I belong) initiative, aiming to shed light on the increase of anti-Asian hate crimes that have plagued the United States. The program began after Vilma Kari, 65, was viciously attacked in New York City earlier this year; her assailant spitting: “You don’t belong here.”

An emigrant from the Philippines several decades ago, Kari was on her way to church in the Manhattan neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen on March 29 when she was accosted without provocation in broad daylight, her attacker spouting racial slurs. Video of the assault went viral and made national news as surveillance footage captured bystanders failing to help.

“We all belong,” Vilma Kari said. “Each one of us has to reclaim that word, because we all belong here.”

While her mother recuperated from her injuries, including a fractured pelvis, Liz Kari began an online platform where others could anonymously submit their own stories.

The New York Police Department arrested a 38-year-old man in connection with the attack. Unfortunately, the episode is one of many anti-Asian hate crimes that have plagued the nation since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Karis were met with an outpouring of support, receiving hundreds of messages -- including many from other Asian Americans, who relayed their encounters of discrimination and hate. These stories inspired Liz to start AAP(I belong), a platform where others could anonymously submit their own stories.

“Kind words from strangers have filled the void where anger and sadness would normally prevail,” Liz Kari said. “This inspired me to help create a platform where we can all share our recollections to show solidarity, strength and provide light to show that you and I belong here in America.”

As part of Tuesday’s events, the Yankees reaffirmed the organization’s mission to end hate. Numerous Yankees -- including Hideki Matsui, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Kyle Higashioka and Zack Britton -- read those real-life stories for a video that was disseminated via the club’s social media accounts.

Through storytelling, the Karis’ mission is to share their overwhelming feeling of comfort and love with the entire Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community and their allies. Their goal is to use the platform to raise awareness and empower those to speak out and step up.

Following their time in the Great Hall, the Karis were the club’s guests on the field for batting practice before the Yankees’ game against the Angels, and they both threw out a ceremonial first pitch.

“Bringing light, truth and shedding the stigma as victimized targets of hate will be our goals,” said Liz Kari. “We hope to continue encouraging each other through sharing these personal experiences and letting others know that they are not alone.”