Want to Know More about Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage?
Read about the Intersectionality of AAPI Heritage with American History/Culture
By Crissy Vo-Khuong
Equity & Impact Program Specialist
Capital Impact Partners
The beauty of heritage months is the opportunity to diversify our understanding of the unfolding story of the United States and the unfolding stories of our own self discovery. Asian-American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage is rich with multi-narrative and generational experiences that have and are shaping the world we live in. Asian American Pacific Islander history and culture is intrinsically intertwined with that of our nation; AAPI history is our collective history. Understanding how this heritage contributes to who we are today is vital for us to move forward as a multicultural, anti-racist society.
AAPI history in this country has experienced multiple modes of othering. One one end, Chinese immigrants were the first group to experience federal-level exclusion from citizenship in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and Japanese Americans were interned by this nation during World War II, even as Japanese Americans fought in the U.S. military. On the other end, Asian Americans have also been called the “model minority,” which continues to pit racial groups against each other in a zero-sum race to the bottom.
It’s also important to understand that the AAPI experience in this country has not been uniform. The AAPI community has the largest income disparity of any racial group. Various groups within the AAPI community experience high rates of poverty due to low incomes, which is largely unreported because of the economic outcomes of the overall AAPI community. And, just to name two, the Pacific Islander and Sikh experiences in America has been largely invisible, except when they encounter violence and discrimination.
These layers are true of every racial group, and it is important to remember that one narrative does not fit anyone. When we live with one narrative, constructed by means to serve a singular focus, we not only lose the opportunity to fully live and breathe in this world, we are also inhibited from building a more inclusive society.
Below are some examples of the impact the AAPI community has had on our national history and culture.
Intertwined Histories Intertwined Identities
The Delano Grape Strike of 1965-1970: Larry Itliong and Cesar Chavez form a collective five-year strike of Filipino and Mexican workers that would eventually herald the signing of the groundbreaking union contract that increased pay, benefits and protected workers from pesticides.
A Village Called Versailles 2009: This is a powerful story about a Vietnamese Refugee community and its forged relationship with the Black community to rebuild their homes after Hurricane Katrina, to only have a government imposed landfill placed in their yards. The continued efforts to meet each other across language and cultural divide to address environmental racism and fight for the entire community’s health is a blueprint to revisit time and time again.
The Coolie Trade 19th Century: The Coolie Trade was a proxy process by which European White slave traders switched to the importation of Asian contract laborers under forced deception ( methods commonly applied ranged from debt trapping (gambling in particular) and opium drugging to armed kidnapping). This method of acquiring and applying forced labor was in response to the gradual abolition of slavery.
Intersectional histories and power building are important to AAPI and the BIPOC community at large as it is our vehicle to fight xenophobia and white nationalism. The 1969 Third World Liberation Front, “formed between the Black Student Union and other student groups at San Francisco State University and led a five-month strike on campus to demand a radical shift in admissions practices that mostly excluded non-White students, and in the curriculum, regarded as irrelevant to the lives of students of color.” The eventual outcome of this alliance movement building was the first recognized interdisciplinary academic field of Ethnic Studies.
The lives of Grace Lee Boggs and Yuri Kochiyama are history makers who organized for a variety of labor and civil rights issues. Grace Lee Boggs organized with Black auto workers in Detroit to push for better labor practices and Yuri Kochiyama organized for civil rights along with the Black Panther party post-Japanese internment. Kochiyama was a close ally of Malcom X and was there with him at his assasination. This is another example of how our movements belong together as we are striving to right the wrongs of white supremacy.
Chloe Zao is a Chinese filmmaker whose recent work is a film called Nomadland. She produced a powerful piece of work centering on the loss of mining industry jobs. Her work on this film speaks to those who lost everything to the mining industry, which left people destitute and homeless. It is a melancholic tale of the struggling (mostly) White class workers and the lack of a safety net for our aging community members. She is telling a story about America, that is all of us.
A whole community is made of many narratives, narrators, histories, humans, hearts and lives. Let us not forget that we are “More than one culture, more than one awareness, both in …negative and…positive modes.”
I will leave you with this You Tube Video here on AAPI identities as well as the list below for future research on the AAPI movement and experience.
Organizations for further research