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Thousands rally on Common for loved ones hurt by quake

Grace Liu (left), 6, had her makeup applied by Judy Liu (no relation) as Tiffany Yu (second from left), 5, and Irene Zhang, 6, looked on before a dance yesterday on Boston Common. Grace Liu (left), 6, had her makeup applied by Judy Liu (no relation) as Tiffany Yu (second from left), 5, and Irene Zhang, 6, looked on before a dance yesterday on Boston Common. (Evan Richman/Globe Staff)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Danielle Capalbo
Globe Correspondent / June 1, 2008

Chants resounded through Boston Common yesterday afternoon during a rally by thousands of people worried about friends and family members left homeless or killed in China's earthquake-ravaged Sichuan Province.

"Get united. . . . Fight against the earthquake disaster. . . . Help assist Sichuan people rebuild their homes," they shouted in Chinese.

Despite impending rainstorms, the demonstrators gathered for a 3-mile walk and a three-hour cultural ceremony at the gazebo to raise funds for rescue efforts in the province, which was devastated by the quake May 12.

"To face disaster, everybody needs to give a hand," said Kai Tao, 56, of Cambridge, who helped organize the event. Planning for the event began just days after the earthquake, during an emergency meeting of local Chinese-American leaders, many of whom have ties to Sichuan.

Almost 89 groups banded together for the event. By 1 p.m., nearly $100,000 had been raised for relief, Tao said.

After the walk, about 200 performers of all ages took turns reading poems, singing, and playing musical instruments. A troupe of young girls swayed to the sound of dulcimers, wearing bright-orange dresses from China. Across the way, a small group of seniors prepared to demonstrate martial arts.

"During good times and bad times, we express our feelings and sentiments through" the arts, said Hong Liu of Cambridge. She had led the chants, guiding the crowd to read the Chinese characters on huge posters that she made from bedsheets with the help of her 81-year-old father.

"I drew in black and white - those are Chinese mourning colors," she said, translating the posters for a reporter. But more important than the crisp, black characters were the dabs of green she painted beside them: a color, she said, that represented confidence even in the face of the natural disaster.

"Unfortunately, these earthquakes happened. On the other hand, the survivors have to face life with hope and honor," she said.

At the emergency meeting May 14, activists also organized a benefit concert, which was held last Sunday at MIT and raised about $250,000, and started a website to collect donations. So far, at least $635,638 has been raised, said Furong Gardner, one of the organizers of the past week's events.

Gardner, 48, of Pembroke, was born in Sichuan. She said most of her family has been displaced, left to live on the streets.

"This is just the beginning. . . . We have so much more planned," including possibly sending people from the Boston area to help relief efforts in Sichuan, she said.

Riding the subway home from the event, John Gooseman, 30, of North Quincy was still wearing his commemorative red and white T-shirt, which showed an outline of China with a heart around the epicenter of the earthquake.

Gooseman heard about the event from a Chinese-American colleague.

"An opportunity presented itself to support people in need," he said.

"Even though I don't have family there, it's seven degrees of separation: If it doesn't affect you, it probably affects someone you know."

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