At an event dedicated to stopping hate and violence against the Asian community put on by Santa Clara Councilmember Kathy Watanabe, Korean-American Councilmember Kevin Park was denied a chance to speak.
The event, held at the Santa Clara Northside Library, was titled “#StopAsianHate” and run by Watanabe and Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor.
Speakers included Watanabe and Gillmor themselves, as well as former Assemblymember Kansen Chu, Supervisor Susan Ellenberg and Assemblymember Alex Lee.
As Chu wrapped up his remarks at the event’s podium, Watanabe took the stage.
“I don’t think I’ve missed anybody now,” Watanabe said, looking around at the crowd.
Offstage, Watanabe’s fellow councilmember Park offered to provide some remarks.
“No, no I’m sorry this is my event,” Watanabe said, looking off stage. “Thank you for being here, I appreciate the support.”
The incident sparked astonishment and criticism on social media, highlighting the deep rift on the Santa Clara City Council between two factions—allies of the mayor like Watanabe desperate to maintain control and newcomers like Park who diversified the council and stripped the mayor of her majority.
After Park defeated former Councilmember Teresa O’Neill in November, Watanabe became Gillmor’s sole ally on the City Council.
Watanabe did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Park told San José Spotlight he had a feeling that Watanabe would deny him the opportunity to speak.
“I noticed when people were getting up to speak, that none of the other City Council people were invited up,” Park said. “I thought I have a few words that I would like to say.”
With 10 minutes left in the program, Park went up to the podium.
“I don’t think I’m special because I am a city councilmember, but being a city councilperson who is Asian-American, I thought it would have been an obvious good look for me to say a few words,” Park said.
Park said he wasn’t surprised at all at the rejection.
Being told no, it was not a surprise. If you look at the council dynamics, it’s not a surprise,” he said.
But Park pointed out that this very public incident also validates what people of color experience regularly.
“I am so glad this happened,” Park said. “So now people are starting to see what some of us go through. I feel that these types of bad looks, these types of occurrences, give the public insight to what is actually happening.”
Earlier in the event, Watanabe described how a recent incident in Santa Clara —when a child was called slurs by an adult near a school campus—highlighted the need for the rally she organized.
“When I heard what happened, I spoke to the mayor and said it was time to do a rally to let people know that verbally attacking especially an Asian-American 12-year-old is not OK,” Watanabe said. “Words matter. They have repercussions.”
Assemblymember Lee was in the audience and witnessed Park get waved off by his colleague.
“It’s terrible. Asian Americans for the last year largely felt ignored and invisible even as Anti-Asian racism resurged,” Lee told San José Spotlight. “To deny a fellow councilmember and Korean American to speak in a very public way seems to be antithetical to the spirit of the event and solidarity.”
The snub comes after the mayor’s failed attempts to overturn a court decision that forced district elections in the city. Electing councilmembers by district allowed Santa Clara voters to elect diverse leaders to the City Council, which has traditionally been comprised of older, white representatives for decades.
After switching to district elections, Santa Clarans in 2018 elected Councilmember Raj Chahal, the first person of color. Last year, they elected Park and Suds Jain, further diversifying the city’s elected leadership.