A Shared Heritage of Marginalization and Resistance

May is Asian Pacific Islander (API) Heritage Month.

As a Filipino American I am proud to be a member of our community – the fastest growing in the nation – and to celebrate our diverse, united and caring heritage. Our API heritage is united particularly because of our shared experience, past and present, of marginalization, struggle, resistance and fight. 

Just like our Black and Brown brothers and sisters, we too have been excluded, racially profiled and uprooted. It was less than 70 years ago that the Chinese Exclusion Act finally ended, reflecting a legacy of racist exclusion into this country based on race and class. Japanese Americans during World War II were racially profiled into internment camps as a response to irrational fears about their loyalty to this country.  San Francisco’s urban renewal plans forcefully evicted thousands of Asian-American immigrants, many of them elderly Filipino Americans, from the I-Hotel in the 1970s. 

Unfortunately, the struggles within our community continue today. In the wake of September 11, many South Asians have been victims of xenophobic hate crimes and violence; it was only in March 2015 that the DOJ and FBI updated their hate crimes database to adequately track this information. Southeast Asian communities such as the Cambodian, Laotian and Hmong populations, have the lowest graduation rates and college attendance rates among all race/ethnic groups, as was featured recently on PBS. Our community still routinely struggles from unique language access issues, health disparities and civic engagement barriers. And despite the success and novel appeal of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, APIs are still perennially underrepresented at all levels of film, TV, music, politics, business and government. 

Our heritage is also one of resistance and fight, particularly in lockstep with other communities of color.  The recently deceased Japanese-American activist Yuri Kochiyama developed a close friendship with Malcolm X, and marched with him during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The Delano Manongs, led by Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong, worked closely with Cesar Chavez to orchestrate the farm worker movement of the 1970s. More recently, API groups have come out in strong solidarity with the African-American community to reiterate that #BlackLivesMatter.

This month, as we celebrate our heritage, I encourage my fellow APIs to reflect on what that heritage is and why it still matters today. It’s not just about caring for our own, but caring for others as well. In today’s news, when I read about undocumented people battling for comprehensive immigration reform, Black and Brown people suffering from police brutality and state sanctioned violence and low-income communities of color battling neighborhood-busting gentrification, it is hard to ignore the similarities to our own history; the institutional and structural racism which creates these parallel realities is by no means coincidental. We owe it to our heritage to not idly stand by and watch it all unfold – instead, we must continue to provide all the solidarity, support, and fight that the API community is known for.

Jason Q. Sinocruz is a Staff Attorney at Advancement Project in Washington, D.C. where he works with grassroots groups throughout the country in their campaigns to end the school-to-prison pipeline by building community power though legal, policy, research, strategic, and advocacy support. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/sinocruz

Photo credit to Twitter user: @BaySolidarity.