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Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders march for Palestine in D.C.

The legacy of U.S. military influence on home countries–and use of U.S. taxpayer money– cited as major reasons for solidarity

by Jessica Xiao

WASHINGTON, DC — Saturday, November 4, from morning to dark, downtown Washington, DC, was alight with the energy of protesters demanding the Biden administration support a ceasefire between Israel and Palestine, including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Many mainstream news sources numbered protesters attending the “March on Washington to Free Palestine” in the tens of thousands – while one of the organizers of the march reported an estimated 300,000 people, in a timelapse video posted later that evening.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders marched as individuals and as part of organized contingents. When asked why they were marching, many shared “anti-imperialist” views, citing the impact of the U.S.’s involvement in wars across southeast Asia, the impact of military occupation in the Pacific Islands, and the lasting legacies of occupation and war on their homelands.

Ren Lee, a Korean American who lives in Washington, DC, held a double-sided sign. One side was bilingual, in Korean and English.

“I’m here because first of all, it’s disgusting what’s happening in Gaza, not just now, but the last 75 years. We haven’t moved on from imperialism. I’m here in solidarity across all the global struggles we have,” she shared with AsAmNews during the march.

Photo of a protester carrying a sign that says, “from Palestine to Xinjiang, Chinese Feminists against Settler Colonialism.” Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China has been an area of concern for human rights groups and the U.N. where the Chinese government has detained hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China in “re-education” camps, among other restrictions of their freedom. Photo by Darrell Miho.
The other side of her sign reads “War Thrives On Patriarchy” and its counterpart in Chinese “父权不死,战争不止.” Photo by Darrell Miho.
Kerri Ann Borja and other Indigenous CHamoru people flew from Guam (Guahan in CHamoru) to DC for the march in support of Palestine and the larger demilitarization movement. There are four U.S. military bases on Guam and a reported 66 “defense sites” in the Indo-Pacific. Photo by Jessica Xiao.

VietLead, a grassroots community organization based in Philadelphia and South Jersey, released a bilingual statement that “What is happening in Palestine is an all too familiar story for Southeast Asian refugees and descendants of refugees.” The organization directly compared aspects of the ongoing violence with historical events in Southeast Asia, including comparing the U.S.’s military aid to Israel today with how the US political intervention “gave rise to the Khmer Rouge genocide.


The images and videos of military destruction activate the intergenerational trauma in our refugee community. We think about our parents who have survived war in improvised refugee camps, of our lands and people suffering from the lasting impact of mass bombings and chemical warfare, of Khmer families and elders who had to live through genocide,” the VietLead statement says.

Protesters from the Damayan Migrant Workers Association holding signs at the “March on Washington to Free Palestine.” At times, protesters chanted, “From Palestine to the Philippines, stop the US war machine.” Photo by Jessica Xiao

Filipino Americans compared the Palestinian experience to living under the dictatorship of Marcos, the recent presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, and the experience of living under the current Marcos Jr.- Sarah Duterte regime—president and vice president elected in 2022 who are both descendants of authoritarian leaders.

Malaya Movement, one of several Filipino groups present at the march, shared in a statement:It seems that every day we are hit with another killing, abduction, or imprisonment of Filipinos merely standing up for their rights, which is a brutal reality that is far too familiar to every single Palestinian, down to the smallest child.”

They added alarm about “disinformation meant to dehumanize Palestinians” and “justify unmitigated violence by the Israeli state”: 

“It is sickening and reminds us of the orchestrated and financed disinformation by the Philippine state to erase history and justify the violations of international humanitarian law committed by Philippine officials and armed forces. We urge Filipinos to be vigilant about the facts and be in solidarity with Palestine.”

(In 2021, Maria Ressa won the Nobel Prize for defending freedom of speech and of the press by co-founding Rappler, a digital investigative journalism media company covering the Philippines.)

Queer Asians also came out in support. Lavender Phoenix (formerly API Equality–Northern California or APIENC) organized its supporters at an action in Civic Center, San Francisco, one of many corresponding Palestine solidarity actions that took place in conjunction with the DC March across the country.

Yuan Wang, the executive director of Lavender Phoenix told AsAmNews that its support for the “Palestinian Liberation Movement” “run deep,” spanning its 20 years of existence. 

“The connections were laid decades before that even—when revolutionary Filipino activists were connecting with folks in Palestine about American imperialism and folks in Palestine were recognizing connections between Israeli occupation and the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia,” Wang added.

Two Asian Americans at a concurrent action in San Francisco hold up signs that read “Gaysians 4 Palestine” and “Asians for Ceasefire.” Photo courtesy of 18 Million Rising.

Wang also asserted that queer and trans identities can’t be separated from their AAPI histories: “Folks who are like us, trans and queer folks who still go by different names were first to be targeted, eradicated, and erased by colonizing forces in our homelands. As trans and queer AAPIs, we intimately know the violence of the US war machine,” they said.

And shared concern for LGBTQIA+ Palestinians: “We’ve seen over the past few decades Israel engage in serious pinkwashing, trying to justify crimes against humanity. ‘Israel is a safe space for queer people,’ [they say], as if there aren’t trans and queer Palestinians trying to survive under the weight of occupation.”

A shared understanding of struggle

Beyond relating Palestine to the histories of their homelands, Asian Americans also related directly to their existence and experiences in the United States. Sharmin Hossain, organizing director of 18 Million Rising, said it was a “no-brainer” for the “explicitly anti-Zionist” organization to show solidarity for Palestine. On Thursday of last week, 18 Million Rising circulated a sign-on letter “Asians for Ceasefire,” urging Asian American Congress members to endorse a ceasefire that now has nearly 3,000 signatures at time of publication.

Hossain describes herself as coming from “a lineage of Bangladeshi liberation fighters who survived genocide” and says Irma Shauf-Bajar, the executive director, is a queer Filipino who comes from a background of anti-imperialism, so they never had to have an internal conversation on where the organization stood.

Daniel Chu, Shravanthi Kanekal, and Eunice Ko, colleagues at the New York Environmental Justice Alliance (NY-EJA), came down together from New York City to join a climate justice delegation at the march. All held signs with “Free Palestine” messages on one side and “Asians for a Free Palestine” on the other side. “The fight for collective liberation and not collective punishment ties Palestine to environmental justice. We believe in the Indigenous sovereignty of all peoples,” said Ko. Photo by Jessica Xiao
A banner that says “Sikhs for Palestine” is posted along the march route. Photo by Jessica Xiao.

“As Asian Americans, we know what immigration justice looks like and what deportations have done to our communities. Vietnamese, Filipinos, second generation Bangaladeshis, those who have been fighting the rise of the Hindu right, ethnic minorities, in their own right impacted by war and imperialism, seeing our government aid and abet a genocide but also a massive amount of spending when millions of people are homeless in this country, thousands paying student loans, this connection is very prominent. The old school American propaganda that worked during 9/11 no longer works. That’s why we are seeing this multiracial, multiethnic movement,” said Hossain.

Sasha Wijeyeratne, executive director of CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, pointed out the intersection of Palestine and the struggles of gentrification and displacement of AAPI communities in New York City:

“The struggle of Palestine is a struggle against U.S. imperialism, it is a struggle against Israeli occupation, and it is also a struggle for people to stay in their homes, on their land. From Chinatown to Astoria, our tenant leaders march in solidarity with Palestinian resistance because we understand the commitment to stay and fight for our homes,” Wijeyeratne shared with AsAmNews via a representative by email.

Two elders with CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, hold trilingual signs in Bengali, English, and Chinese. A CAAAV representative estimates 50 people from the organization “including tenant leaders, organizers, staff, and volunteers, ranging from high school youth leaders to elders, but also including elementary school children of our tenant leaders” came down to DC from NYC to participate in the march. Photo by Jessica Xiao

In a longer statement CAAAV shared with AsAmNews via email, the housing justice organization referenced how the money the U.S. spends on Israel could be used to fund community basic needs: 

“In building working class tenant power from Bengali Astoria to Chinatown, our organizers, leaders, and members see the game that electeds play. They will give hundreds of billions of dollars to fund genocide and occupation. But they say there is no money for funding affordable housing, healthcare, and public education. The taxes that we pay are not going toward our own basic needs, but instead toward mass displacement and massacre of Palestinian people.”

Ultimately, some simply don’t want to be complicit in what feels like a repeat of what the U.S. has done in their homelands—and also choose to rebel against the Model Minority stereotype:

“When we think about imperialism, Asia is a continent that has had multiple waves of imperialism – Nation states like Pakistan right now are expelling all Afghanistanis from their land. All of this is connected to the military industrial complex. We grow up with the model minority myth of having to be the good immigrants, but this calls for what being a good immigrant has done – which is staying silent on the war crimes that America has made in its name,” said Hossain.

Happy Lunar New Year! Time is running out to support our Lunar New Year Fundraising Drive through this link. The campaign ends Sunday. AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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