Student activists have repeatedly petitioned that the administration do something to address campus climate with regard to Asian American students. The hostile on-campus environment for Asian American students was demonstrated in 2013 when a fraternity, Kappa Sigma, held an anti-Asian themed party which included a really racist publicity email and party-goers dressed in geisha-gear, coolie hats, and other forms of costumed yellowface.
Since 2013 (and indeed, since much earlier), Asian American students at Duke have pointed out that an Asian American Studies program and major would go a long way towards addressing a campus climate that would allow a frat to organize a racist, anti-Asian costume party in the first place.
This past week, Asian American scholars and activists (organized under the group, AAPIVoices) staged a nationwide week of action (#AAPIAction) around topics of immigration justice and the future of Asian American & Pacific Islander political organizing. Compelled by recent assaults on immigrant rights and the Muslim community by the Trump administration, advocacy groups across the country hosted events — including many held on college and university campuses — to promote AAPI political activism around social justice issues.
On event associated with #AAPIAction was hosted at the University of Maryland last Monday. While participants sought to raise the profile of Asian Americans in opposing the rescinding of DACA and anti-immigrant policies, the gathering at UMD was part of a larger effort among coalition partners, including a diverse group of student organizations, staff and faculty to stand up for immigrants, counter xenophobia, and recognize Indigenous People’s Day. At the event, nearly a hundred students gathered around a statue of writer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass — situated outside the campus’ R. Lee Hornbake Library — to protest in support of documented and undocumented immigrants, and against the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to pass a Muslim travel ban. During the event, several students took to the base of the statue to share their perspectives on immigration justice and other social justice issues.
In the wake of — well, everything that’s happening right now in the United States; but most specifically, the Trump administration’s efforts to impose a ban on Muslim travel and restrict rights for other immigrants — community organizers and educators are organizing a national AAPI Week of Action for the week of October 7 – 14th.
Under the banner of AAPI Voices, organizers are hoping that community activists across the country — and particularly student activists — will pledge to host an event focused on social justice and solidarity with national anti-racism movements. Some ideas for events include teach-ins, rallies, letter-writing campaigns, Wikipedia edit-a-thons, fundraising events, and more.
I have pledged to support the #AAPIAction Week of Action, and details for the event I will host or participate in are forthcoming. (Also, taking suggestions! Comment below!)
Regardless, if you are an organizer, an activist, or even just someone hoping to get involved in someone else’s event, please check out the sign-up page here. Register before October 1st to be entered into a raffle for cool prizes! Also, don’t forget to share your involvement through the hashtag #AAPIAction.
Full text from the call for participation after the jump.
During World War II, 120,000 Japanese and Japanese American civilians — many American citizens by birth — were forcibly imprisoned in hastily-erected American concentration camps (JACL’s Power of Words) located in some of the harshest, most austere, and most isolated parts of the Midwest and West Coast. Enacted through Executive Order 9066, Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were targeted based purely on suspicion that they were disloyal to the US government and posed an existential threat to national security: those suspicions were later shown to be entirely unfounded and predicated primarily on racist stereotypes. WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans remains a major blemish on American history as one of the most prominent violations of American citizens’ constitutional rights, and the government’s rationale for the camps continues to be used to justify anti-Muslim efforts today.
One of the largest and most prominent of the WWII incarceration camps is Tule Lake, a site located in Northern California and currently designated as National Historic Landmark. At its peak, nearly 19,000 Japanese American citizens were forcibly imprisoned at Tule Lake overseen by unusually stringent military guard: the camp had particularly high fences topped with barbed wire and over twenty-five armed guard towers. Tule Lake also became known as a site of particular Japanese American unrest and resistance, and those deemed to be “disloyal” at other camps were removed to Tule Lake for segregation from the rest of the Japanese American community. On November 4, 1943, Tule Lake incarcerees staged one of the few open uprisings against the camps, and on May 24, 1944, Shoichi James Okamoto was shot and killed by a camp guard, who was later fined a dollar for the shooting — a fine for unauthorized use of government property: the bullet. When Tule Lake closed in 1946, thousands of Japanese Americans were once again displaced, with no homes to return to and nowhere else to go.
To remember the painful history of WWII incarceration camps requires that we commemorate the Tule Lake incarceration camp as a site of significant Japanese American WWII-era political and civil resistance. Indeed, the Japanese American community has worked tirelessly to preserve incarceration camp sites across the West Coast and the Midwest, helping to found museums and education centers to teach incarceration history and ensure that the memory of World War II-era camps do not fade with time. Camp survivors also stage annual pilgrimages to camp sites in order to remember this painful episode in our nation’s history.