(Jamie Chin)

For many Asian Americans, it can feel as if we live surrounded by absolutism and extremes, with little room for nuance. But we often occupy “in-between” spaces and identities, and nuance is necessary in order to understand our work with Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. It’s also essential when it comes to understanding ourselves as immigrants from colonized nations, and as Indigenous people, multi-racial people, undocumented people, or trans-racial adoptees. It may be uncomfortable, but we must persist in the complex work of making progress toward racial solidarity so that we can create a more just future for our communities. 

In the wake of increased violence targeting Asian Americans, a new network of 100+ organizations serving AAPI communities was convened. Its goal is to coalesce and leverage our power toward policy change, solidarity, and shifting the public narrative. The “Asian American Leaders Table” provides a ray of hope in the type of coalition building and mutual support that can buoy us during hard times. 

Our work broadens our understanding of our own communities, revealing layers that influence how we uplift and support each other, or step aside when necessary. For example, we acknowledge that Pacific Islanders were deliberately combined together with Asian Americans by government systems that have no knowledge or interest in our distinct histories and needs. We know Southeast Asians face higher risks when it comes to criminalization and deportation. We see that East Asians are more likely to be targeted for street harassment and assault due to racist COVID-19 narratives. We know that our Indian American colleagues are feeling high levels of stress with families in the homeland who are struggling with a raging pandemic. Sikh American communities were severely targeted post-9/11, and were the target of a mass shooting in Indianapolis. And our Muslim siblings need our solidarity and support amidst the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Our coalition work doesn’t shy away from these complicated aspects of Asian American and Pacific Islander identities. We cleave deeper into the histories, identities, and stories that make us different from one another, and back up our intentions with actions. 

Our vision is to shift the narrative around heritage and solidarity. For example, portraying Asian Americans solely as victims does a disservice to the many examples of Asian American resistance, solidarity, organizing, and community development that has benefited our society. Our campaign, “Resistance is our Heritage,” tells stories to inspire current generations of people to change their actions, to effect change within our systems, and catalyze a better future for new generations of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. 

(Jamie Chin)

In addition to stories of resistance, it’s also important to share stories of solidarity in order to counteract stereotypes that pit Asian Americans against other marginalized groups and paint Asian Americans as disengaged in politics and activism. That’s why we’ve launched a new series of videos with stories and educational guides that we hope will spark discussions around solidarity in service of transformative change, including stories like: 

Resistance as heritage carries us through our day-to-day work as well. We owe so much to the work of Black activists and civil rights movements that influences the ethics, values, and strategies that allow us to meet the diverse needs of all communities of color, and enact necessary changes that ultimately make for a stronger U.S. 

This includes work like advocating for language access at the polls—not just Asian languages, but Spanish and African languages, too, so that a greater and more diverse cross-section of our citizenry can engage in free, fair, and accessible elections. 

We advocate for justice for those whose citizenship, legal status, and livelihood hang in the balance due to outdated immigration laws that hurt families in the U.S. and internationally. 

YouTube video

For generations, the model minority myth painted Asian Americans as a successful monolith and stymied policymakers’ understanding of the widening Asian American wealth gap—neglecting the fact that Asian Americans are the most economically unequal racial group in the U.S. Our work channels the voices of millions of Asian Americans calling for good jobs, union rights, affordable housing, strong public education, and reliable health care, not just for us but for all of the groups who depend on these rights. We remember the lessons of the 1982 garment workers’ strike in New York’s Chinatown and the impact Asian American coalition building had on workers’ rights. As COVID-19 cases drop, the number of vaccinated people grows, and we “return to normal,” workers need to be paid fair wages and get basic safety and health protections. Without those at minimum, the economic divide will only keep growing.

The benefits of cross-racial solidarity work are clear. The hard part is figuring out how to do it. We are inspired by the stories of our predecessors because it’s helpful to remind ourselves that the idea of co-liberation is not a new one. The history of Asian American and Pacific Islander coalitions with other oppressed groups includes the Filipino and Mexican farmworkers who organized the Delano grape strike, the civil rights collaboration between Grace Lee Boggs and Malcom X, Japanese Americans first protesting the anti-Muslim and xenophobic violence that followed 9/11, and later the inhumane treatment of migrants and immigrants at the U.S. southern borders. Solidarity and co-liberation isn’t a rarity for Asian Americans; it’s a vital part of our activism.

Systems and communication methods have changed, but the intent remains the same. We’re inspired by the energy and dedication of the groups involved with the Asian American Leaders Table, and we hope that others will join us as we forge new paths toward allyship and a co-liberated future. 

Aarti Kohli is the executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice–Asian Law Caucus, the organization that convenes the Asian American Leaders Table.

Becky Belcore is executive director of the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC), a progressive grassroots organization and a member of the Asian American Leaders Table.