By GWEN MURANAKA. Rafu Senior Editor
TORRANCE — “When ‘Torrance Karen’ threatened my family I was so worried that she would hurt my dad, my little brother and me,” a young Japanese American boy said, addressing a rally at Wilson Park on Saturday.
“I thought police and adults protect children. I don’t understand why she is not arrested for what she did to us. I’m worried that other kids might experience the same threat because Torrance Karen was not arrested.”
More than 100 gathered on Saturday at Wilson Park, over a month after two incidents of anti-Asian rants by Lena Hernandez, a 54-year-old retired social worker, went viral on social media. Many were clad in workout gear and black T-shirts bearing the slogan “Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied.”
Hernandez, accused of three separate anti-Asian incidents, faces a single charge of misdemeanor battery stemming from an Oct. 11, 2019 attack on Kayceelynn Salminao at Del Amo Fashion Center. Arraignment is scheduled for Oct. 5, nearly one year after the incident was reported to Torrance police. The city attorney stated there was insufficient evidence to file charges for the Wilson Park incidents.
For the protestors, the action by the Torrance City Attorney Patrick Sullivan was insufficient. The Japanese father, who recorded his encounter with Hernandez at the park, was sharply critical of the city’s response. Father and son referred to Hernandez as “Torrance Karen,” a reference to a meme for women who commit racist acts in public.
“You park a car? You could be attacked by ‘Torrance Karen’ because she is free and walking around right now. Five victims, three attacks and one misdemeanor charge from 2019. That’s the reality of the ‘Torrance Karen’ attack,” he said. “We are deeply concerned that the city of Torrance might have created legalized discrimination by announcing insufficient evidence over these two videos which went viral.”
The father said the real victims are the children who experienced the racist vitriol.
“When school begins, some kids could be copying what she did to other kids and say it’s not a crime, nobody got arrested for it. That’s a real fear,” he said.
Attorney Sandy Roxas, representing the victims, said she hoped the public demonstration would create community support.
“This rally is to bring the community together to show that we will pursue justice and fight against racism,” Roxas said.
Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance), dressed in black and wearing a black mask, spoke to the gathering and expressed his support for the victims. The boy addressed Muratsuchi as “congressman” and asked him to talk to the city attorney about the Hernandez case. Muratsuchi replied that he would speak with him again.
“We know we are dealing with not only a pandemic of COVID, we are dealing with a pandemic of hate that we are seeing all of the country,” Muratsuchi stated. “This is one of thousands of incidents captured on video across the country directed at all racial groups. The hate that is being triggered, greenlighted by our president who is encouraging the racists to come out of the woodwork to attack all of us.”
Several civil rights organizations signed on to a letter to Torrance Mayor Pat Furey on July 7 demanding that Hernandez also be charged in the Wilson Park incidents, including the Pacific Southwest District Japanese American Citizens League, Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, and Media Action Network for Asian Americans.
Kent Kawai, president of South Bay JACL and an observer for PSWD JACL, said, “We are here to support justice and more importantly we ask the city of Torrance to take measures to make sure all parks and facilities are safe from hate and racism.”
Salminao and Sherry Bulseco, whose encounter with Hernandez at Wilson Park first drew the public’s attention, were also in attendance.
“I want to thank everyone for coming today to help sweat out the hate and let’s get a workout on!” Bulseco said.
After remarks, fitness instructors led protestors in a series of workout routines. Among the protestors was Martha Porter, a member of the Manzanar Committee, who has volunteered with the pilgrimage since 2010.
“I’m here because we have to stop the hate. It’s hurting, my family, my friends,” Porter said. “We’re against discrimination, it’s too much, it’s hurtful.”
Photos by MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo