WASHINGTON — As Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) joined the hundreds of thousands who attended the Women’s March on Washington, others who helped elect a target of the demonstrators’ ire, President Donald Trump, celebrated Saturday night at an Asian-American inaugural gala not far from the White House.
As the inaugural weekend drew to a close, the day’s events projected a stark contrast of opinion among members of the AAPI community — namely, those who view the next four years of Trump with trepidation, and those who are optimistic that the 45th president will make America stronger and better than before.
Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Il) were among the speakers at the D.C. march, which was expected to draw as many as 200,000 people. U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), who boycotted Friday's inauguration, was also on stage.
“I didn’t give up literally parts of my body to have the Constitution trampled on,” said Duckworth, a Thai-American former congresswoman who lost both legs during combat in Iraq.
Some 673 sister marches also took place in cities across the country and throughout the world, according to the Women’s March on Washington website.
“Women's rights are human rights,” U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Il) said at the Chicago Women's March, according to a statement from his office. “A loud chorus of voices including mine will speak up for the rights of women and all Americans to make a better life in this country.”
While the marches called attention to women’s issues like the gender gap in pay and access to Planned Parenthood and health care services, it also trained a spotlight on other civil rights concerns, such as a proposed Muslim registry and religious, gender, and racial discrimination.
“We’re seeing hate crimes on the rise, we’re seeing a lot of antagonism toward minorities, and I think it’s probably the result of the tone Donald Trump has set for this country,” Sonali Saluja, a 34-year-old medical doctor from California, told NBC News.
To get to Washington, Saluja first flew to New York City to meet her friend and fellow doctor, 32-year-old Michelle Lin. They then drove to Philadelphia to pick up Lin’s cousin, arriving in the nation’s capital on Saturday at 5 a.m, Lin said.
Like many participants, Saluja and Lin braved packed Metro trains that were forced to sit in stations while waiting for crowds to ease at L’Enfant Plaza, where marchers emptied into the streets.
Armed with handmade signs, many wore pink knitted caps with cat ears called “pussy hats,” a reference to comments Trump once made. One poster read, “People have the power to redeem the work of fools.” Some demonstrators chanted, “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.”
Amy Woodyard, a government statistician from the D.C. area, was one of the participants Saturday, who told NBC News at Pentagon Station that women’s rights was one of her reasons for wanting to attend. But she also spoke of the hate she experienced as an Asian American growing up in Charleston, South Carolina.
She said she believes Trump’s presidency will extend that hate.
“You can’t completely eradicate it, but it exists and that’s just not the world I want my kids to be raised in,” Woodyard, 42, said.
Later in the day, as the march was winding down, a spirit of celebration was still in the air for AAPIs who voted for Trump and came into town to witness his inauguration.
More than 400 people were expected to attend the Asian-American Presidential Inaugural Gala at the Park Hyatt Washington Saturday night, just a mile away from the White House.
The five-hour event was supported in part by the National Republican Asian Assembly, founded in 1986. Trump's Transportation Secretary nominee Elaine Chao and U.N. Ambassador nominee Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina were invited, but neither was expected to attend. Both were still awaiting Senate confirmation.
Alfred H. Liu, national chairman of the assembly, told NBC News he believes that Asian values of “self-determination” and “self-reliance” gel with those of the Republican party. And for an electorate that decades ago once leaned Republican, Liu said he believes Trump’s election marks a turning point to win back that bloc.
“I think there’s an opportunity now,” he said.
While AAPIs involved in GOP voter outreach say they believe more members of their community came out this year to vote for the Republican president, survey numbers and the results of exit polls tell a different story, reflecting strong AAPI support for former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Data on how different racial groups voted in the 2016 presidential election were not yet available on the website of The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, which provides figures for Asian Americans beginning in 1992. AAPIs today make up about 5 percent of registered voters nationwide.
KV Kumar, national co-chairman of the National Republican Asian Assembly, told NBC News that Trump’s presidency reflects the fact that “people are tired of the establishment.”
“The same people from the same groups become president, sons, daughters, what not,” Kumar said. “We have a lot of competent people in this world. I will promise you things will change with Trump being there.”
Kumar also said he believes most Asians are Republicans when it comes to issues, such as being family-oriented and having safer places to live.
But others say AAPIs are more in tune with the Democratic party’s message. Some, for instance, have voiced fears that Trump will make good on a promise to reverse an executive action signed by former President Barack Obama granting temporary relief from deportation for children of undocumented immigrants.
Asked about such concerns over immigration, Kumar replied: “We want good people to come to the United States. Whether they’re Chinese, Indian, Mexican, it doesn’t matter. And there should be a good vetting process.”
He added, “We’re not kicking out good immigrants. We are only going to take out the ones who have [a] bad image, like criminals, drug dealers, these kinds of people.”
With the inauguration now history, a chasm of ideology still divides the AAPI community. Some say they are hopeful for the country’s future, some scared.
“I think [Asian Americans] will embrace more of Trump’s policies once they know them,” Kumar said.
Woodyard, the woman who planned to attend the Women’s March on Washington, had a different view.
“I work with facts,” she said. “I’m very worried with [a] presidency that takes facts for granted.”