Jun 25, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Asian American-led Unity March a reminder of community’s history of activism

Asian Americans gather at New York City Hall to protest anti-Asian hate after the Atlanta spa shooting on March 27, 2021. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

For the first time, more than 60 Asian American and multicultural groups will convene on Saturday in Washington, D.C., for a Unity March focused on addressing equity and safety for marginalized communities.

Why it matters: Spearheaded by AAPI leaders, the march is a reminder that Asian Americans have never been silent despite continued struggles with rising hate crimes and suspicions of disloyalty.

Driving the news: The march, which is expected to draw thousands of people, aims to raise awareness about and explore solutions for the United States' failures in combating persistent violence, racism and xenophobia.

  • Its three pillars are "full participation in democracy, racial and economic justice, and cultural equity and media representation," said Kiran Kaur Gill, SALDEF's executive director.
  • Speakers include civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton, journalist and activist Jose Antonio Vargas and model and LGBTQ activist Geena Rocero.

What they're saying: Christine Chen, executive director of APIAVote, told Axios now is the moment to show not only "the history of how AAPIs have been involved with civil rights and advocacy with other communities of color, but then also how people can get involved moving forward" to help address systemic issues that "have been going on for a long, long time."

The big picture: Though Asian American leadership in demonstrations like the Unity March has historically been overlooked, activism has long played a role in the Asian American story.

  • San Francisco-born Wong Kim Ark fought his case all the way to the Supreme Court after he was denied re-entry to the U.S. Local officials had hoped the case would deny U.S. citizenship to Chinese residents, but the Supreme Court ruled in Wong's favor in 1898, guaranteeing citizenship to Wong and any other person born on U.S. soil.
  • In the late 1960s, Asian American students in the Bay Area formed the Third World Liberation Front with Black and Latino students, holding a five-month-long student strike at San Francisco State College. It was the longest such strike in U.S. history and ultimately established the nation’s first College of Ethnic Studies.
  • Vincent Chin became nationally known after two white auto workers beat him to death in 1982, blaming him for layoffs during an era when Japan dominated the auto industry. His death — and the decision to let the two men walk free — galvanized Asian Americans across the country.
  • South Asians rallied in the aftermath of 9/11 to denounce Islamophobia and hate crimes. Many of today’s leading South Asian advocacy groups, such as the Sikh Coalition, were founded in response to the surge in violence against their communities.
  • Southeast Asians have campaigned for years against the U.S.’s prison-to-deportation pipeline, which became a reality for many refugees in the aftermath of fleeing war and resettling with little support. In California, advocacy groups have successfully lobbied for the pardons of several formerly incarcerated refugees.

The bottom line: The Asian American community is extraordinarily diverse but shares a history of fighting historic discrimination, underinvestment and underrepresentation, Gill noted.

  • "Our hope is that ... people will come together and recognize these issues that we're all facing but find a way where they can continue to advocate even beyond the march."

Go deeper... Axios Today: A call for solidarity from Asian Americans

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