By Guest Contributor: Scott Kurashige
Eight years ago amid the heat of a Detroit summer, legendary Chinese American scholar-activist Grace Lee Boggs sat in her Eastside home with a small group of Black, white, and Asian American activists to discuss the changing racial dynamics in the city and the nation. At the age of 99, she had a lifetime of experience to reflect upon. For most of her life, Grace had established her reputation as a movement organizer in the Black community, in partnership with her husband, Jimmy Boggs, a Black autoworker from the Jim Crow South.
By her eighties and nineties, however, Grace began to speak more directly to and about Asian Americans, as she did in her home on that day in the summer of 2014. “I think when you’re an Asian American, you’re not regarded as very significant,” she said. “But I think we have to change our thinking about that.”
This was, to the best of my knowledge, the final recorded address Grace made to any grouping of people before she entered hospice care. Today—June 27th, 2022, and 107 years to the day Grace Lee Boggs was born above her family’s restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island—I want to reflect on the dual challenge she presented to us in that address in 2014. Why did she choose this moment to condemn the dismissive attitude toward Asian Americans? How was she calling for us—Asian and non-Asian alike—to “change our thinking”?
Continue reading “Find your Place in the Revolution: Grace Lee Boggs’ Final Message to Asian Americans”
Grace Lee Boggs on a poster for CAAMFest 2014. (Photo credit: Flickr / Erica Mooney, https://www.flickr.com/photos/24325464@N06/)
By: Scott Kurashige
Twenty years ago, I wrote to Grace Lee Boggs completely out of the blue. She had no basis for knowing who I was or what I was involved in. In fact, I had only recently learned about Grace through the research of my friend, Jung Hee Choi.
In the spring of 1998, I was 27 years old and officially a PhD student at UCLA. However, I had little prospect or expectation that I would finish my degree or become a professor. Instead, my life revolved around student activism and community organizing. Foreshadowing the Trump counterrevolution at the national level, Pete Wilson’s terms as governor served as the last reactionary gasps of power from the white soon-to-be minority and the conservative political forces in California.
Similar to today, we activists were toiling 24/7 to organize protests and build the resistance. Communities of color led a series of massive, inspirational demonstrations in response to Propositions 187 (attack on immigrant rights), 209 (banning affirmative action), and 227 (outlawing bilingual education), as well as police brutality and assaults on workers rights. Nevertheless, we fretted that we were constantly on the defensive—not just from the Republicans in California but also from the Clinton administration’s pursuit of corporate globalization, mass incarceration, and neoliberal austerity measures.
I was convinced we needed a revolutionary movement; and I would do my part to ensure that Asian Americans would step up and join with other communities of color at the forefront of the struggle. Much of my time in this period was devoted to organizing two connected events held in Los Angeles in May 1998. The “Serve the People” Asian American community activism conference brought several hundred people to UCLA to recount the historical lessons of movement building and share strategies from contemporary organizing.
Continue reading “How Grace Lee Boggs Changed My Life (and Maybe Yours Too)”