Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial group in the United States. The first Asians were in this country since the 1500’s, and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders have been here long before colonization. Asian Americans trace their roots to over 20 countries in Asia, yet are often only thought of as a monolithic race, where East Asians - Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese - are the most visible. In fact, because of the model minority image of Asian Americans, they are often seen as a privileged group that does not face any of the racial inequities in this country. These sentiments couldn’t be more wrong.
As each president, and especially the Trump administration, continues to enact policies and practices that target working-class communities of color, it is essential to shed light on the organizations that have been fighting before and after Trump. Grassroots organizers in Asian American groups across the country have been changing local communities and therefore, the nation, for decades with or without media coverage. Their work is rooted in the fundamental belief that social issues are systemic and need to be addressed at their core. Here are 7 organizations relentlessly leading the fight:*
DRUM is a multigenerational, membership-led organization of low-wage South Asian and Indo-Caribbean workers and youth in New York City. Since 2000, DRUM has fought for civil rights, worker justice, and education reform for all immigrant workers and their families. From ending racial profiling of South Asians, Muslims, and Arabs in NYC to national immigration reform, DRUM has built a formidable, organized community ready to tackle all injustices. They have been organizing against the rampant racial profiling and surveillance of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities in New York post-9/11, were at JFK for detained immigrants when the Muslim Ban was first announced, and continue to hold local gender and racial justice empowerment groups.
6. CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities
Chinatowns across the country face rapid urban displacement. In New York City’s Chinatown, the population of Chinese American residents has decreased by almost 20 percent over the last decade because of evictions and push-out. The same push-out is happening in Chinatowns in Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. Yet, communities have been fighting to liberate themselves. CAAAV (originally Coalition Against Anti-Asian Violence) has been on the frontlines confronting anti-Asian violence, police brutality, and housing crises since 1986. They not only direct tenants facing evictions to the resources they need, but also fight for permanent changes at the root to ensure there is economic justice for all, especially in protected affordable housing and zoning laws. In coalition with grassroots groups across NYC, CAAAV is currently fighting for language access and housing rights for residents in public housing, and numerous policy and local measures to preserve Chinatown and the Lower East Side.
5. Southeast Asian Freedom Network (SEAFN)
Southeast Asian grassroots groups united to form this national Southeast Asian Freedom Network to work towards transformational change led by those most impacted by systemic injustice in the Southeast Asian community. They have helped amplify national campaigns to end Southeast Asian deportations by working with network groups like 1Love to share stories and resistance narratives of Southeast Asian community members across the country on how deportation impacts their communities. Southeast Asians are not often included in mainstream conversations about deportations, mass incarceration, and disparities in the community because of the model minority myth and views of Asians as monolithic “East Asian” by default. But these groups are not waiting for others to realize that Southeast Asians face unique struggles within the constructed category of Asian America -- they’re doing the work of liberation themselves.
4. BAYAN - USA
BAYAN - USA fights for national democracy in the Philippines and against imperialism, feudalism, and capitalism. They are one of the largest organizations uniting Filipinos in the U.S. to connect their struggles in the Philippines. They are an arm of BAYAN, a coalition organizing workers and peasants in the Philippines and each year, sends national delegations back to the Philippines. They fight for Philippine sovereignty and are organizing to end U.S. militarization in the Philippines, for the freedom of detained political prisoners, and justice for activists killed by the military.
Koreans and Korean Americans lead Nodutdol in multigenerational work against war and militarism. Their organizing and community development work addresses the divisions created by war, nation, and gender, among many issues that separate the diaspora. With family in both South and North Korea, they both envision and take actions to address social justice in the Korean diaspora, towards building a larger movement for peace, unification, and democracy. They are currently organizing for peace and against the presence of U.S. military and troops in Korea, for the rights of immigrant workers who have been subject to abuses at the hands of troops, and for greater demilitarization from ending ICE raids to police violence.
2. Asians 4 Black Lives
“We know that our own struggles for freedom and liberation have been deeply influenced by Black American struggles that preceded us. Black communities have paid dearly for resisting their own oppression, and in doing so, they have also paved the way for our resistances. The time has come for our resistance to be in solidarity with theirs.” - Asians 4 Black Lives
Asians 4 Black Lives came together in response to a solidarity call from the Black Lives Matter movement in the height of national attention on police brutality in Ferguson. They are a diverse group of Asian voices coming from the Philippines, Vietnam, India, China, Pakistan, Korea, Burma, Japan, and other nations who put forward principles and protocols as a model for why and how Asian communities can show up in solidarity with Black people, for Black liberation. They have held public events, trainings, national calls, and direct actions from the understanding that issues that affect communities of color--mass incarceration, gentrification, unequal pay, mass unemployment, inaccessible housing, education, land, healthcare, and others--stem from the ongoing war in the United States on Black people. As Asian Americans, they are refusing to be a tool to uphold racism and violence in America.
1. Seeding Change
Seeding Change is a center working to grow a national Asian American movement to promote a just, sustainable, and democratic society. Their key programs include building a national pipeline for the next generation of Asian American organizers, creating infrastructure for Asian American grassroots organizing, and experimenting with building power for movements toward social and economic justice. They are part of Grassroots Asians Rising, a formation of grassroots AAPI organizations exchanging and sharing best practices in organizing, civic engagement, multiracial coalition building, youth and queer justice work, organizational development, and fundraising.
While mainstream media consistently fails to nuance conversations on race and the depth of inequities across communities of color, these Asian American groups are not standing by waiting for national consciousness to catch up. Instead, they are actively organizing by and for their communities. The best way to support is to recognize the power of these communities, subscribe to updates on their newsletters and social media, join in solidarity when they call for allies, and donate to their often underfunded work.
*This is the first post in a series centering the work of grassroots Asian American groups across the country. This list is not comprehensive; it skims the surface of all groups out there. I acknowledge that within the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) category, it is contested whether or not Pacific Islanders should be, or want to be, included within AAPI. For that reason, I stick to saying “Asian Americans,” instead of claiming to know a group I am not a part of. If there are grassroots groups you know of doing great organizing work, feel free to shout them out in the comments.