Asian American movement

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The Asian American movement was a sociopolitical movement in which the widespread grassroots effort of Asian Americans affected racial, social and political change in the U.S, reaching its peak in the late 1960s to mid-1970s. During this period Asian Americans promoted antiwar and anti-imperialist activism, directly opposing what was viewed as an unjust Vietnam war. The American Asian Movement (AAM) differs from previous Asian American activism due to its emphasis on Pan-Asianism and its solidarity with U.S. and international Third World movements such as the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF).

Daryl Joji Maeda states that, "Its founding principle of coalition politics emphasizes solidarity among Asians of all ethnicities, multiracial solidarity among Asian Americans as well as with African, Latino, and Native Americans in the United States, and transnational solidarity with peoples around the globe impacted by U.S. militarism".[1]

The movement was initially student-based, emerging simultaneously on various college campuses and urban communities. The AAM was largely concentrated in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and New York City but extended as far as Honolulu. The movement created community service programs, art, poetry, music, and other creative works; offered a new sense of self-determination; and raised the political and racial consciousness of Asian Americans.[2]


Before the 1960s Asian immigrants found themselves living under the specter of the Yellow Peril in the U.S for over a century. During this period in time the racist ideology rooted in colonialism lead to the widespread belief in the U.S. that Asian immigrants posed a threat to western civilization, this belief resulted in the mistreatment and abuse of Asian people across generations. Historical incidents like the Chinese exclusion Act, the Japanese internment camps, and the Vietnam War added to the list of grievances many Asian Americans had with U.S society in the years leading up to the AAM.[3]

In the years that preceded the AAM Asian Americans were regularly lumped together for exclusion in America despite having many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The majority of U.S. society viewed Asian Americans as "perpetual foreigners".[3]

Asian-American groups started to merge as second- and third-generation Asian-American activists moved up in the leadership hierarchy of their interest groups. Many of these new leaders associated with each other growing up in schools and social groups and chose to focus on their collective identities as Asian-Americans rather than their national heritage.[4]

Though activism against this discrimination was a part of Asian culture before the 1960s, it was limited in scope and lacked a wide base of support.[3] Class-based politics aimed to gain better wages and working conditions; homeland politics attempted to bolster the international standings of their nations of origins or free them from colonial rule; assimilationist politics attempted to demonstrate that Asians were worthy of the rights and privileges of citizenship.[1] In the early to mid-1960's, a number of individual Asian Americans activists such as Yuri Kochiyama participated individually in the Free Speech Movement, Civil Rights Movement, and anti-Vietnam War movement. These instances of social and political activism did not directly address issues facing all Asian Americans at the time. Asian immigrants were largely divided in America; before the 1960s, there was very little solidarity between the various Asian immigrant communities. These disparate groups dealt largely with issues concerning their own ethnic communities and conclaves, focusing the majority of their efforts on survival in their exclusionary environment.[3] As a result of these factors, pre-1960s activism never rose to the level of a movement.

Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA)[edit]

Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee founded the Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA) in May 1968 at UC Berkeley. Ichioka coined the term "Asian American" for it during its founding.[5][6] Because Asian Americans had been called Orientals before 1968, the formation of the AAPA challenged the use of the pejorative term. According to Karen Ishizuka, the label "Asian American" was "an oppositional political identity imbued with self-definition and empowerment, signaling a new way of thinking.”[7] Unlike prior activism the AAM and by extension organizations like the AAPA embraced a pan-Asian focus within their organization accepting members from Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino communities regardless of whether they were born in America or immigrants.[1] The promotion of a pan Asian ideology brought together the formerly separated groups within Asian American communities to combat a common racial oppression experienced in the nation.

They drew upon influences from the Black Power and antiwar movements, activists within the Asian American movement declared solidarity with other races of people in the United States and abroad. Activists like Richard Aoki for example, served as a Field Marshal of the Black Panther Party prior to helping to form AAPA. Significantly, global decolonization and Black Power helped create the political conditions needed to link pan-Asianism to Third World internationalism.[1][3] Segments of the movement struggled for community control of education, provided social services and defended affordable housing in Asian ghettos, organized exploited workers, protested against U.S. imperialism, and built new multi-ethnic cultural institutions.[1] AAPA dissolved in 1969, after the conclusion of the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) strikes.

At the AAPA Rally on July 28, 1968, Richard Aoki gave a speech that summarized the organization's ideology:

We Asian-Americans believe that American society has been, and still is, fundamentally a racist society, and that historically we have accommodated ourselves to this society in order to survive...

We Asian-Americans support all non-white liberation movements and believe that all minorities, in order to be truly liberated, must have complete control over the political, economic, and social institutions within their respective communities.

We Asian Americans oppose the imperialist policies being pursued by the American government...[8]

Ichioka and Gee included the words "political" and "alliance" in their group's name to emphasize its pan-Asian focus, its anti-imperialist stance, and its membership in the Third World Liberation Front.[9][10]

Asian Americans for Action (AAA)[edit]

A significant organization which shows the relevance between the Asian American movement and the Black Power movement is Asian Americans for Action (AAA). The organization was founded in 1969 on the East Coast by two longtime-leftist Nisei women, Kazu Iijima and Minn Matsuda. This organization was highly influenced by Black Power Movement and the anti war movement, even much more than the AAPA. Yuri Kochiyama was also one of the organization’s members.[1]

Yellow Power[edit]

Yellow Power, inspired by the Black Power movement, rose in the late 1970s and 1980s. It taught that economic power would follow political representation. Those who were a part of the Yellow Power movement voted for candidates that they believe represented their issues.

Yellow Power was not as successful as other "Power" movements. This is largely because individuals of different Asian backgrounds viewed themselves as separate cultural groups with unique and distinct backgrounds.[11]

American Citizens for Justice (ACJ)[edit]

In 1982, Vincent Chin was gruesomely murdered. His killers mistook his Chinese heritage for Japanese, whom they blamed for a recent downturn in the automobile industry. He was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat. Despite their conviction and evidence, the killers never saw prison time and were only given light sentences.[4]

His killers Ronald Ebens and his stepson Michael Nitz, was fined $3000 and given 3 years probation.[12]

In the mid-1980's people[who?] discovered that the University of California, Berkeley was setting racial quotas for the number of Asians that could be admitted to the schools.

The American Citizens for Justice formed as a result of these events in order to prevent and rectify violence against Asian-Americans.[4]

Violence against Asian-Americans[edit]

On July 17,1989 Patrick Edward Purdy, a drifter and former resident of Stockton, California, went to a school playground and opened fire on Cleveland Elementary School students who were mainly of southeast Asian descent. Within minutes, he fired dozens of rounds, although reports ranged. He was armed with two pistols and an AK-47 with bayonet killing five students and shooting at least 37 others.

After the shooting spree Purdy killed himself.[13]

In 2020 increased attacks occurred against Asian-Americans as a result of COVID-19 paranoia. Thai-American Jiraprapasuke recorded a man directing insults at her. After discovering that her case was not unique, she started the hashtag #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus . Translated from French this means "I am not the virus."

On February 2, 2020 a woman was attacked in a New York subway station. The assailant was harassing her, and after a witness started to film she was hit on the head.[14]

Key organizations[edit]

See also[edit]

Categories: Asian- American movement activists


  1. ^ a b c d e f Maeda, Daryl Joji (2016-06-09). "The Asian American Movement". Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.013.21. ISBN 9780199329175.
  2. ^ J., Maeda, Daryl (2012). Rethinking the Asian American movement. New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415800815. OCLC 641536912.
  3. ^ a b c d e 1948-, Liu, Michael (2008). The Snake Dance of Asian American Activism : Community, Vision, and Power. Geron, Kim, 1951-, Lai, Tracy A. M., 1951-. Lanham, Maryland. ISBN 978-0739127193. OCLC 231680155.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ a b c Helweg, Arthur W. "Asian American Movement." Racial & Ethnic Relations in America, edited by Kibibi Mack-Shelton and Michael Shally-Jensen, Salem, 2017. Salem Online,
  5. ^ "U.S. History in Context – Document". Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  6. ^ Daryl (2012). Rethinking the Asian American Movement. New York: Routledge. pp. 9–13, 18, 26, 29, 32–35, 42–48, 80, 108, 116–117, 139. ISBN 978-0-415-80081-5
  7. ^ Karen L. Ishizuka (15 March 2016). Serve the People: Making Asian America in the Long Sixties. Verso Books. pp. 70–. ISBN 978-1-78168-864-9.
  8. ^ "AAPA Rally July 28, 1968". Asian American Movement 1968. January 15, 2008. Retrieved December 31, 2016.
  9. ^ "Asian American Political Alliance 1968". January 15, 2008. Retrieved December 31, 2016.
  10. ^ "SF State College Strike: Asian American Political Alliance". San Francisco State University. October 6, 2009. Retrieved December 31, 2016.
  11. ^ Ward, Annita Marie. "Yellow Power." Racial & Ethnic Relations in America, edited by Kibibi Mack-Shelton and Michael Shally-Jensen, Salem, 2017. Salem Online,
  12. ^ American Citizens for Justice Records, 1983-2004
  13. ^ Schoolyard gunman called a troubled drifter, The Deseret News (January 18, 1989)
  14. ^ Yan, Holly, et al. “What's Spreading Faster than Coronavirus in the US? Racist Assaults and Ignorant Attacks against Asians.” CNN, Cable News Network, 21 Feb. 2020,