America's Radical Asian Activists
December 6, 2017 6:38 PM   Subscribe

Well-written article about the role Asian activists have played, both in defense of their group and in explanation of it. Stereotypes abound: hard-working, educated, etc. versus conformist, weird. The newspaper "Gidra" played a very visible role for the activists, starting in the 1960s. I've pulled the link to the Densho Archives that preserves the issues. Gidra archives
posted by MovableBookLady (6 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
This is a great share. So much history I was unaware of. Thank you.
posted by Fizz at 7:51 PM on December 6, 2017

There's only so much you can squeeze into one article, but other things that pop into mind, related to this:

1. Today, “Asian American” has mostly become a demographic signifier, but it was originally conceived as a political identity.
It also got another boost after Vincent Chin.

2. Today, anti-Asian racism may have evolved—and is certainly not felt on the same level as anti-black and anti-Hispanic racism—but it has not disappeared. As we hear Trump declaring to cheering crowds that China is “raping our country” and that the Chinese have committed the “greatest theft in the history of the world” by stealing our jobs,
it even crops up in a weird sort of assumption that Asian-Americans are "going back home" with American knowledge; or an eagerness to assume espionage in the inscrutable Asian face.

3. Take, for example, the narrative of how Japanese Americans persevered after World War II incarceration.
Which is why, as mixed as Allegiance is as a musical, it's critically important. It's loosely based on the events that happened, including groups like the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee and their rift with the Japanese American Citizens League.

4. As Trump terrorizes the undocumented community, it’s worth thinking about the fact that Asians are the fastest growing group of undocumented immigrants. And while there is scarce data, that which does exist indicates hate crimes against Asian Americans are increasing, part of a larger rise in the Trump era.
It's not as well known, but there is a significant population of Dreamers who are Asian in origin. The Korean-American activist groups I'm part of in the Chicago Area are fired up about it, with good reason, from many adoptees, to children brought here by parents that stayed, there are a lot who are affected.
posted by anem0ne at 8:18 PM on December 6, 2017 [13 favorites]

Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this. I actually had never heard of Gidra, but these are my people - the Asian American studies professors reminiscing about the I-Hotel protests, Aiiieeeee!, people who organize exhibitions of art inspired by the life of Yuri Kochiyama, old J-Town dudes memorializing the Tule Lake riots. We are diverse and this is a specific subset of Asian Americans for sure, but when people try to tell me what Asian Americans are like, it's like they're showing me a portrait I don't recognize.

The article points out that Gidra's staff was mostly Japanese American and calls this a "limitation," which is fair; Asian Americans are diverse and representation is important. That said, young Japanese Americans in the 1970s specifically were extremely well positioned to be RADICAL AS FUCK. Strict immigration laws mean Japanese Americans have very clearly defined generational cohorts, and that generation, the sansei, were third-generation, thoroughly American, and very much in line with the spirit of the time - and their parents (also American) spent THEIR youth in concentration camps, so you're damn right they had something to be angry about. I just hear a lot of people talking about how being Japanese American affects one, you know, culturally. And usually that's something about being conservative and shy and keeping your head down (bonus points for use of the phrases "gaman" or "shikata ga nai"). And so I wanted to put forth a cultural argument for why I want to burn everything to the ground and replace it with gay space communism. I can't help it. It's in my blood.
posted by sunset in snow country at 8:26 PM on December 6, 2017 [9 favorites]

Gidra was the road map I wish I had as a kid. As my own politics have developed over the years, I’ve often felt like I am blundering my way into a tradition of Asian American political activism.
Man, I so wish I had had this, too. The idea that you could be like this, would have been so helpful. All I saw of older Asian Americans were kids who were good at school and were active in Korean churches, the latter of which I found completely alienating.
posted by ignignokt at 6:10 AM on December 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Wow, these Gidra archives are great.

Tangentially related: This interview with filmmaker/activist Christine Choy describing her early life and her starting Third World Newsreel in the early 1970s. I like this interview with her best because it's so informal, unedited, and unstructured. A really great listen.
posted by narsk at 1:34 PM on December 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

That interview is amazing, narsk. She keeps it extremely real!
posted by ignignokt at 11:11 AM on December 11, 2017

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