By: Mark Tseng-Putterman (@tsengputterman)
As Asian Americans living in the years of Amy Chua, Ajit Pai, Peter Liang and Nikki Haley, it’s easy to romanticize the Movement: those revolutionary years when “brothers and sisters” from Chinatowns, Little Tokyos, and Manilatowns across the country came together to stand with Black Power and confront the racist war in Vietnam. Together, they made pilgrimage to Manzanar, sat in at Wounded Knee, and walked out at San Francisco State University. Somewhere along the way, they invented “Asian America” as we know it.
A crash course in the history of the Asian American Movement has become part of the initiation process for young newcomers to the Asian American left, and for good reason. And yet, the images that get circulated from that era—of Black, brown, and yellow brothers wearing leather jackets and berets, fists raised and packing heat—hint at a masculinist underpinning that’s worth unpacking.
Take, for instance, the iconic image of Richard Aoki with Berkeley’s Asian American Political Alliance at a 1968 rally to free Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton. Aoki (who in 2012 was implicated as an alleged FBI informant) looks decidedly chic: clad in a black beret and sunglasses with a cigarette protruding from the corner of his mouth, he raises one hand in a fist while the other balances the now-iconic sign: “Yellow Peril Supports Black Power.” But reading this image and its circulation critically, we might ask: Is it Aoki’s revolutionary politics that resonates? Or is Aoki, as a Japanese American man embodying a militant kind of hypermasculinity, rendered iconic for easing modern anxieties about Asian male “emasculation”—that which Tamara Nopper calls “a homophobic and sexist preoccupation among many Asian Americans and our ‘allies’”?
Continue reading “Ending “Male Chauvinism” In the Movement: Lessons from the Long Sixties”
By: OiYan Poon
Smirking when I asked if he had any questions before I turned on my recorder for our interview, Stan responded, “Yes. I can tell by your name and how you talk that you’re probably ‘Chinatown Chinese.’ Am I right?”
Stunned and curious, I asked, “What do you mean by ‘Chinatown Chinese’?”
Presumably trying to convey that he was superior to me, Stan proceeded. “You know what I mean… you probably have family who work in restaurants and sewing factories… low class immigrants. My generation of Chinese immigrants is different than yours. We’re highly-educated professionals. We don’t need handouts. Your generation of Chinese immigrants gave us a bad reputation in America, relying on government handouts.”
Feeling a rage rise in me, I pushed it away for the sake of my research. Taking a long sip of latte and a deep breath to calm myself, I responded nonchalantly “My mom was a garment factory worker, and most of my family have worked in restaurants… casinos, too. My grandparents lived in Boston Chinatown, so we do identify with Chinatown. Some of my family benefited from public assistance. And, I have a Ph.D. like you. Why are you asking these questions?”
Still smirking, Stan answered: “Just curious.” And with that, we began our interview with my audio recorder on for the remainder of our conversation.
Continue reading “Reconnecting Heart and Head: Racism, Immigration Policy, WeChat, and Chinese Americans”
By: Thenmozhi Soundararajan
Last year I was ejected four times from the California Board of Education building. My crime was being Dalit American.
I was part of hundreds of caste-oppressed South Asian American families who came out to testify at the Board of Education’s hearings hearings about textbook descriptions of caste discrimination. The protest I attended was organized by the South Asian History For All Coalition. We were fighting a Hindu American foundation that had thrown millions of dollars into this textbook battle, hoping to erase discussions of caste from California textbooks and replace it with a sanitized version of South Asian American history. The threat of Dalits breaking the silence on caste was so disturbing that upper-caste Hindus called the police on Dalit families, and disrupted and heckled us as we testified.
We had the historical record and our personal stories on our side, and we were fighting to support an evidence-based curriculum recommended by hundreds of academics. Yet, the California Board of Education allowed fundamentalist dollars to override the facts. With that, they allowed alternative history into textbooks in a decision that will impact millions of children across California.
This is experience is at the heart of why I worked with my co-author Maari Zwick Maitreyi to create the first survey on caste in the United States. Our historic report, Caste in the United States, provides some of the first data on caste discrimination in the US. The report confirmed that caste discrimination exists in the United States, that it is a significant problem, and that for South Asian Americans it is as crucial for us to tackle this violence as it is to confront white supremacy.
Continue reading “Why We Must End Caste Oppression”
By: Rinku Sen
First, realize that Asian America is a thing. Combine a bunch of smaller groups (who hated or ignored each other in their ancestral homelands) into one Big Constituency. Then your little community of Indians, Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans, Bangladeshis, Filipinos, Nepalis, Bhutanese, Samoans – come one, come all! – can exercise power you haven’t totally built yet.
Call yourself Asian American.
Continue reading “How to Organize Asian Americans – Notes from Two Generations”
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)”