Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Asian American Political Alliance 1968

It was no accident that the Asian American movement began in Berkeley, California. – also the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement (FSM) at the University of California at Berkeley (UCB). Social activists worldwide were drawn to this center of the student and antiwar movement in the ‘60s. It was a couple—Yuji Ichioka, a UCB history grad student, and Emma Gee—both of whom were civil rights activists, who initiated a Peace and Freedom Party caucus by phoning every Asian-sounding name listed on Party petitions in the Berkeley/East Bay area.

In May 1968 those half-dozen or so who responded met in the Berkeley’s Northside Ichioka/Gee apartment – from then on affectionately referred to as “AAPA home” by its members, because that is how they felt when being around others like them for the first time. Unanimously they agreed to form an historic independent organization - the Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA). They quickly enlisted others; hammered out a program*; designed a logo, button and colors; worked out alliances; and boldly introduced itself to the public in July 1968.

AAPA was the first self-named group that called themselves “Asian American,” a term that Ichioka proposed. These AAPA founders, while young in age, were all political veterans from a wide range of experiences. And while most were UC Berkeley students, they never envisioned AAPA as a student organization but a much broader, all-inclusive, community grassroots alliance. Several had from their working class youths been involved with the United Farm Workers (UFW) and other labor organizing, while another was an Army veteran and Black Panther Party member, and all were involved in the ongoing civil rights/black power, anti-war and anti-poverty movement.

These AAPA founders also consciously and carefully chose “Political” and “Alliance” in the group’s name to distinguish itself from previous ethnic groups that had a more social and/or club-like connotation. They did this not to denigrate existing groups like the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), whom AAPA respected and worked with on progressive issues, but to forge an openly anti-imperialist political organization for all Asian nationalities, one that could stand on an equal basis with the other dominant Third World groups at the time, as part of the international Third World liberation movement for self-determination.

The term “Asian American” quickly became a unifying force among the different Asian ethnic groups. AAPA chapters and other similarly self-titled Asian organizations rapidly spread throughout the US. AAPA opened an avenue of activism for many Asian Americans who later played vital roles in the social transformations of the period, including the Third World Liberation Front Strikes at San Francisco State College and UC Berkeley, the International Hotel tenants struggle, and the formation of Asian Studies and Third World College curriculums nationwide. Just as their Third World brothers and sisters had done, AAPA, as the Asian American expression of “Power to the People!”, enabled Asian Americans to rename, reclaim, redefine, and liberate themselves from oppression.

No comments: