third world liberation front

The TWLF and the Missing WOC Voices

I was recently featured in an alumni video for the Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies Program at UC Berkeley. I talked about typical things–my family background, why I majored in AAADS, and what I hoped to achieve in the future. I saw a draft and almost fully edited version this weekend and although the butterflies in my stomach were swarming with excitement about seeing myself in the video and what an honor it was to have been asked to contribute, I could not help but feel unsettled, especially in the beginning, when the narrator began to talk about the hxstory of the AAADS Program.

Of course, it all started with the Third World Liberation Front. I am not going to give you all a long, winded hxstory of the movement, but basically students of color at San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley demanded, organized, and fought for a more relevant and valid education, an education that was pertinent to their experiences, their hxstories, and lives. I first learned about the TWLF during my first year of college, and I remembered feeling such awe and inspiration that students of color–students who looked like me and came from similar backgrounds as me–established Ethnic Studies. I was empowered to major in AAADS and to one day contribute to the field as a Filipina American scholar.

I never noticed it back then, probably because I idolized and romanticized the movement to the point where I saw nothing wrong, and because I hadn’t come to terms with my identity as a womxn of color yet. But looking back on what I learned about the TWLF, particularly at the images, stories, and voices portrayed, it can’t help but appear to be a male-dominated movement. Look at the above photo, for instance. That photograph shows leaders of the TWLF (from left to right): Richard Aoki, Charlie Brown, and Manuel Delgado. Although they are wonderful, inspiring men who contributed so much to their community and paved the way for future generations, I can’t help but wonder why all leaders of the TWLF–at least all the leaders portrayed by the media and the material in my classes–were men of color.

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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.

anonymous asked:

Where do Indians fit into Asian American culture? Sometimes I feel like I'm considered like different and its confusing because? I'm Asian?

Yes! Indians are commonly referred to as part of a group called South Asians, or anyone from the Indian subcontinent of Asia. They, and you, are absolutely a part of Asian American culture and I would consider your voice integral to any discussion about Asian American experience.

The term “Asian American” is a relatively new one. It was coined in the 1960s during the black Civil Rights movement, by student activists of the Yellow Power, and Third World Liberation Front groups. Before the 1960s, most Asian Americans were very starkly divided along ethnic lines, and for good reason. If you look at the immigration waves in the late 19th century to 1965, they are almost all the result of mass labor importation to augment or replace existing workforces. For example, in Hawaii, Chinese labor was first used in conjunction with native Hawaiians to harvest sugarcane. When they became too organized, Japanese laborers were brought in to replace them. And then Filipino, then South Asian, so on and so forth.

During the Civil Rights movement, Asian student activists realized that even though we as Asians of various ethnicities have our differences, the vast majority of America as a whole views us as the same; and that HOW they view us is as “perpetual foreigners”. Therefore, it was in our best interest politically to act as a unified bloc than remain divided. This doesn’t mean that individual ethnicities don’t matter; they do and we must be aware of them. While Indian Americans share a great deal of the same issues with say Chinese Americans, we can’t ignore those of Hmong Americans who are struggling with a whole other set of issues.

This of course is a tricky idea. Pan-ethnic coalitions always are. A lot of the older generations hold very strong, and admittedly understandable, grudges against other Asian ethnics. My own family was very anti-Japanese for a long time because both of my grandfathers fought against them in WW2. It’s difficult. One of the paradoxes is that we want to maintain our ethnic individuality, but still be a part of a larger whole.

But I think we are beginning to realize that we are much more visible and politically powerful if we fight for each other. And I don’t mean just Asian Americans for other Asian Americans, but for black Americans, Latinos, Natives, etc.

So yes, you are Asian American. We want you to be Asian American.