An Asian American celebration of Black History Month
Throughout my life as a Filipino American, I have recalled my social and political unity with African Americans. And February, national Black History Month, has always served to reinforce such recollection.
Earlier, I found it by becoming involved in political rallies during my undergrad years at the University of Maryland–College Park in the mid 1970s, advocating liberation in Zimbabwe, justice for The Wilmington 10 and freedom for political prisoners like Angela Davis, among others. While my attendance at many of these rallies was encouraged by my black friends, including black women I dated, I also felt a political and social camaraderie with blacks that my parents reinforced while I was in grade school. For instance, my late father, a cabdriver, once pointed out, while I rode with him in his cab in the upper northwest section of Washington, that he attended a certain school in that area because it was the only school that “colored” people could attend in D.C. at the time — and that “colored” meant blacks as well as Filipinos and other Asians. I remembered that story well and often mentioned it to black people at many of the rallies for black causes I attended when asked why I was there.
I have continued to discover many historical connections between blacks and Asians that my academic courses never covered, including:
• Chinese Americans in San Francisco successfully sued in the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a racially based laundry ordinance in the 1886 case known as Yick Wo v. Hopkins — a case often cited by civil rights lawyers advocating for justice and equality for women and people of color.
• The term “Asian American” was coined in the context of black protest. In 1968, a group of Asian American students at U.C. Berkeley, who had joined a protest in support of Black Panther Huey Newton, created their own banner that read “Asian Americans for Justice.”
• In February of 1942, internationally acclaimed scholar Paul Robeson, an African American, appeared before the California Legislative Committee on Defense Migration as part of a blue-ribbon panel of non-Asians, who would testify to the loyalty of Japanese Americans in an attempt to avert their eventual imprisonment in internment camps during World War II.
Knowing these and other common histories of blacks and Asians has helped me balance the mistrust and other antagonisms between these two communities, the existence of which was confirmed by a recent New America Media poll. But there is a commitment to bridge that mistrust. Let us all keep building that bridge by learning and embracing our common history.
Sam Cacas is the author of the recent book BlAsian Exchanges, a Novel. For more information: blasianexchangesanovel.blogspot.com.