By Ed Diokno
At this time, when Asian Americans and African Americans are questioning and exploring their relationship in their common struggle for justice and equality, on this holiday celebrating Martin Luther King, we take time to reflect that there was a time when the bond was unquestioned.
Today, a confluence of attitudes and movements are making us re-examine how AAPIs fit in with other civil rights movements currently in play.
Generated by the heated rhetoric of President-elect Donald Trump against Muslims (including Asian Muslims), spurred by the killings of unarmed African Americans by law enforcement resulting in the Black Lives Matter movement, and vigorously stirred by the rise of White supremacists combined by the fact that immigration from Asia has surpassed immigration from South of the Border, it’s good we look back when the question was more stark – more black and white – if you will.
Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, Asian Americans joined African Americans in the streets. The newfound activism amongst AAPI communities resulted in strikes and demonstrations on behalf of California farmworkers for better working conditions; college students seeking ethnic studies and a strong sentiment against the Vietnam War.
King sought to link the struggle for rights in the U.S. with the movement against the war in Vietnam, which he viewed as imperialism.
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‘The war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home ,” he said. “We were taking the Black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.’”
In his 1967 speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” King proposed that the United States stop all bombing of North and South Vietnam; declare a unilateral truce in the hope that it would lead to peace talks; set a date for withdrawal of all troops from Vietnam; and give the National Liberation Front a role in negotiations.
AAPI politicians and civil rights activists, small in number, sided with other African American activists. Although barely noticed because the attention was rightfully focused on King, Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, Asian Americans were there in the streets and in the hallways of Congress.
Most notable were the mysterious Hawaiian leis that King and march leaders word in Selma,
The garlands were sent to King as a symbolic action of support and solidarity with his movement’s cause by the Rev. Abraham Akaka, the older brother of U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii). I wrote about the leis and King last year on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday when demonstrators marched across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Read more here.The African and Asian American fight for justice and equality are inexorably linked to affirmative action and immigration, two important issues facing the AAPI community, as much as they are linked to Black Lives Matter and voting rights.
New Americans and young supporters of Bernie Sanders need to know this history to realize that they are not the first to speak out against discrimination or experience the sting of hate so that they can build on what has preceded them and learn from the past.