asian american political alliance

This has gotta be the coolest thing I’ve ever seen on the internet

Black Panther Party and the Asian American Political Alliance

The Asian American Movement

In the late 1960s, America was all in a fury. Martin Luther King Jr. was fighting for civil rights. Malcolm X was calling for black nationalism and self-determination of African American communities. Chicanos were fighting for farm workers’ rights and economic justice. But what were the Asian Americans doing? I’ll tell you what they were doing. They were raising hell in Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and the entire US of A. They were fighting for their Chinatowns, Manilatowns, Japantowns, and other ethnic enclaves. They were fighting for liberation, social justice, and a valid education. They taught their communities lessons of self-determination, courage, ethnic consciousness, and resilience. They were the pioneers of the movement, the Asian American Movement

Now these folks, these pioneers, did not have covered wagons, oxen, or beautiful, white faces. What they had was hystory–a rich, ethnic hystory of subjugation, inequality, courage, and ongoing determination. What they had was knowledge–knowledge about the hardships they were facing, knowledge about the social and economic needs of their communities, and knowledge about their culture, heritage, and ancestors. But they struggled–they struggled with the aggressive and verbally abusive interrogations at Angel Island, they struggled with having to live in poor, impoverished neighborhoods, they struggled with the name-calling, the bullying, and the hate crimes, and they struggled with their education, an education that erased them from the textbooks–an education that refused to give them a place in hystory. But they lived, they thrived, and continued to fight, and in the late 1960s, the Asian American Movement had begun.

It was a couple–Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee–two students at UC Berkeley who organized every Asian American student they could contact–that founded the Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA). AAPA was the first group who called themselves “Asian American”–a term proposed by Ichioka. “Asian American” wasn’t just a term to signify their race or birthplace–it was a term that called for Asian American panethnicity, a term that served to empower communities and unite Asians in America under a collective identity, a collective voice, and a collective goal. Many AAPA chapters and other Asian American groups spread across the United States. These groups served to educate, empower, inspire, serve, and change their communities. They wanted to reclaim their hystory, redefine their identities, and liberate themselves from oppression.

Soon, the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) began at SF State. African Americans, Chicanos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans united under a collective front to fight for a valid education–a Third World College. For so many years, the hystories, struggles, and successes of people of color had no place in our public school system. Native Americans were only visible in romantic simulations of prairie romance and bad Western films. African Americans were only mentioned once students reached the unit about the American slave system. Chicanos were only briefly mentioned as “losers” of the Mexican-American War. And Angel Island was nothing more than a piece of land floating in San Francisco Bay. We were invisible, and yet, we were still there. We were always there, and now was the time to reclaim our hystory and proclaim our presence. As a result, ethnic studies departments were established in America, and people of color finally had a place in hystory.

But the fight doesn’t end there. Even though so many members of our Asian American communities have lifted themselves up from their boot straps, about 14% live in poverty today. Even though we now have Comparative Ethnic Studies, Native American Studies, African American Studies, Chicano Studies, and Asian American Studies at several institutions, we still don’t have a Third World College. We were able to establish these departments and programs through struggle, but we are still struggling to keep them. There have been so many threats to cancel these programs, to take away our majors, and cut the resources and funds of our departments. This shows that the movement is far from over. The movement is ongoing. We must continue to struggle, fight, and unite for our place in America.

Asian Americans were never your quiet, passive-aggressive, model minority. We’re still not. We’re out there raising hell–fighting for our families, our communities, and ourselves. Try putting this in your chop suey.

“Capitalism is like a piece of shit. You can shape it into a ball or you can shape it into a square, but at the end of the day, it’s still a piece of shit” -Richard Aoki

The quote seems a bit unpolished but the idea behind it is profound. We live in a consumerist society; amerika is an oppressive babylon under corporate rule. Although there are many actions we can take within the system to try and improve our situation, when it all comes down to it, it’s the capitalistic ideals we are taught to live by that perpetuate racism, sexism, classism, colonialism and countless other forms of repression. Therefore, it’s not individual actions that create the unequal system, the system itself is flawed and we will never achieve equality by trying to use any capitalist institution to solve the problems of capitalism itself.

Richard Aoki was an iconic figure of the Black Panther Party, Asian American Movement, and the Third World Liberation Front. A symbol of Afro-Asian solidarity, his role as a warrior of the people was instrumental in creating the first Ethnic Studies university programs, as well as helping the Black Panther Party get started. 

In his biography, Samurai Among Panthers, Diane C. Fujino describes his dualistic function as a warrior and a scholar, just as the samurais of feudal Japan were expected to be skilled with both the pen and the sword. “While seemingly contradictory, these two sides in fact represented the harmony of fighting and learning, of theory and practice. Aoki prided himself in being a warrior-scholar”

Richard Aoki was an inspirational activist, and truly a people’s warrior. Though other fallen Panthers such as Huey Newton and Fred Hampton get much more publicity, I recommend anyone who is interested in revolutionary struggle, political activism, particularly the intersections of the Asian American and Black Power movements, to become acquainted with Richard Aoki. Samurai Among Panthers is a must-read for anyone interested in the struggle looking for inspiration.