The national convention for the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) kicks off today in Las Vegas.
On July 21, the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA) will meet for three days in New Jersey for its 43rd annual convention.
A couple of weeks later, the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) will be staging its 12th National Empowerment Conference on August 4-7 in Philadelphia.
The Asian American organizations are meeting during an unsettled time in the nation’s history and in the midst of an unprecedented presidential campaign that could determine the direction of the U.S. for decades.
We can expect speeches, panels, workshops, galas, dinners and a lot of pats-on-the-backs as the leaders of their respective communities reenergize themselves for the coming year’s activities and projects.
We hope they take the opportunity to make a bold statement to bridge the apparent gap between the Asian American and African American communities.
The differences between the communities were brought to the fore with the Peter Liang and Akai Gurley case when large Asian American demonstrations were held across the nation on behalf of former NYPD officer Liang. His supporters felt that he was a scapegoat for all the shootings of black people by law enforcement.
Gurley’s supporters also sought justice for the fatal shooting by a police officer. Gurley’s shooting was just one in a growing string of police shootings from Ferguson to Detroit to the latest shootings in Minneapolis and Baton Rouge. For many, the shootings were manifestations of the injustice, racial profiling and unequal treatment at the hands of law enforcement. The anger and frustration amplified because all the shooters (except for the lone Asian officer) were not punished or convicted. That anger and frustration gave birth to the Black Lives Matter movement.
The so-called “joke” disparaging Asians during the Oscars telecast hosted by African American host Chris Rock left many Asian Americans shaking their heads in disbelief at how easy it was to joke about Asians. Adding salt to the wound was the fact that this year, a heavy emphasis was placed on diversity because of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy.
Besides the violence in the streets and the marginalization on the Oscar stage, the anti-affirmative positions taken by some Asian immigrant groups is being used as a wedge to separate Asian Americans from other beneficiaries of the affirmative action college admission programs — African Americans and Latino Americans.
Conservatives love to throw the model minority myth into the face of other minority groups which, in turn, divides us from what should be our natural allies in a country still dominated by Euro American culture and institutional power in education, employment, politics and in the criminal justice system.
Asian American voices are unheard or marginalized — that is, unless we say or do something that solidifies our model minority image as patsies for those who are really in power — like filing complaints or lawsuits against college admission strategies that seek to diversify their student body.
That’s why the organizations holding their conventions this summer need to take the opportunity to bridge the growing gulf between our communities and other communities of color, especially the African American community which paved the way for the civil right gains Asian Americans have enjoyed in the last 50 years.
Black Lives Matter is not intended to say ONLY black lives that matter. The demonstrators of the BLM movement are saying that black lives matter TOO! We already know that White lives matter. (Look at America’s emotional outpouring in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris compared to the way they reacted to attacks in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Istanbul, Africa, Indonesia and Bangladesh.)
As leaders of our communities, these organizations should make a clear statement where they stand in the current context of the inequities that exist in our criminal justice system, not only by front line police officers but also in the courts, the prisons and in rehabilitation.
By doing so we should recognize that we have more in common with other minority communities than we have differences and that our goals of equal treatment and equal opportunity under the law, in the board rooms, on the job, and in the classroom are goals we all can strive for — together.