This latest “controversy” over ECAASU’s keynote speeches simply affirms our need to reach out and reclaim Asian America for ourselves and the liberation of Asian America.
Today, Asian America – from our 501c3s, to our Asian American Studies programs, and finally our youth – has been co-opted by multiculturalism and right-wing politics. What began out of a liberation movement for third world peoples, out of militant vanguard revolutionary politics, now rests squarely in the realm of “equal” and “diverse” America ruled by rich white patriarchy. Asian Americans as a political force have been reduced to whining and clamoring for “representation” within institutions that we once sought to destroy or own. Our political battles today are about tiny, tiny fights to get US institutions to acknowledge the diversity of our communities – we want more languages to be represented, more de-segregated data, etc etc. We no longer talk about racism, and instead we frame ourselves around being multicultural and represented. We do not seek to liberate ourselves or our communities; we crave acceptance and token seats within powerful institutions.
What does ECAASU represent about the Asian American community and our next generation? ECAASU has betrayed us: one, they have co-opted our social justice rhetoric for their multicultural politically apathetic benefit and two, they are a symptom of our Asian American youth today.
I do not, in and of itself, find it problematic that ECAASU is funded by major corporations and the military – like many have said, many similar conferences are funded in that way. What offends me, as a progressive Asian American young person, is that ECAASU attempts to frame itself as a "social justice" voice for our community while accepting this funding. They steal our rhetoric and position themselves as a voice for social justice while doing the exact opposite – promoting a military industrial complex that stands directly in the way of social justice. You don't include an instutions you stand against in a space that is supposed to be for the liberation of your community, and you certainly don't whine to them for money. Period. In this, I quote a posting on the blog, “The Fuckin’ Loudest Asians” ":
"ECAASU today has become a neocolonial institution that betrays the legacy of the Asian American movement, especially its principles of anti-imperialism, autonomy, and Third World solidarity. Asian students need to take the conference back from the opportunists and comprador traitors within ECAASU who have sold out our people.
The East Coast Asian Student Union (ECASU) held its first conference in 1978, a product of the long sixties (60s-70s), two decades of intense struggle by Third World people in the US against the forces of imperialism and white supremacy. Asian students founded ECASU as a political and cultural instrument for our liberation.”
Finally, I want to bring this to the attention of all progressive, revolutionary Asian Americans out there – this is what is left. This incident at ECAASU is not an accident or an aberration; it is a reflection of our time and our new generation. I graduated from UCLA’s Asian American Studies BA program a year ago, and was involved in student organizing at UCLA. Our program, like all ethnic studies programs on the West coast, was founded in the same legacy that ECAASU came from - the struggles of Third World liberation and students being at the forefront of “serving the people”. There is a vast chasm between the unapologetically political roots of the 60s and 70s and the way we practice Asian American identities today. Asian American Studies classes today no longer require community work as part of learning, and mention model minority only casually – they do not trace the foundations of racism and imperialism that birthed the program and the term “Asian American”. Our Asian American students at UCLA spend thousands of dollars every year ten-dozen API “culture nights”, while historically political organizations such as the Asian Pacific Coalition and Critical Asian Pacific Islander Students for Action (CAPSA) struggle for survival. This is particularly important because if Asian Pacific American students are students of color, then UCLA is a majority student of color campus and Asian Americans make up the majority of those students of color. If there is no liberated, political voice for Asian American students at UCLA given these facts, then we have a problem.
As a community, we are at the ebb of our political consciousness, at a time when we need to be at its height. Our community, as Mari Matsuda said once before and Grace Lee Boggs has continually emphasized, stands at a crossroads of critical decisions and power. As the demographics of the United States changes, Asian Americans stand squarely within that shift. What will it looks like when communities of color become a majority instead of a minority population? Will our numbers be enough?
These young people – myself, from ECAASU to UCLA – are at the forefront of that shift. All of have an obligation to stop seeping in nostalgia for the 60s and 70s, to stop whining about how we are in such a different political time, and stop just recording our histories. We need to reclaim our Asian American Studies programs, our college activists, and our nonprofit institutions. All of us need to do is now and today, and we need to come together to build the community that can make Asian American movement happen.
Lucia Lin graduated from UCLA in 2010 with a BA in Asian American Studies and Labor and Workplace Studies. She organizes with the Chinese Progressive Association – San Gabriel Valley and volunteers with the Koreatown Immigrant Workers’ Alliance in Los Angeles. As a college activist, she was active with “student worker front” and CAPSA. Currently, she works at the UCLA Labor Center. She is 23 years old. She can be reached at lu.schmoo (at) gmail.com if you want to join us to reclaim Asian America!