Early History of A.A.A.: Birth of A Movement in New York City

1st graphic for "Early History.." article
 
From N.Y. Asian Coalition Newsletter vol. 1 no. 2 Sept ’72 (misspellings as in original text)
 
Asian Americans for Action was born on a park bench during lunch hours of two Nisei women, close friends of a long standing who shared common interests and beliefs. And as they munched on homemade sandwiches, relaxing in the sunlight amid the rustle of leaves, they talked of many things and chief among them were the war in Southeast Asia (they were early protestors), the Black movement, and the campus uprisings. But one theme kept recurring - the lack of some kind of Asian organization to which their college age children could relate. Only among the Blacks was the "identity" problem explored in depth at the time, and the two mothers deplored the absence of concern about Asian identity among Asians.
 
Since meetings and organizing were not particularly their 'bags', they were hesitant about taking any positive steps toward this end. But the urgency remained. Finally, with the encouragement of their children, they decided to attempt to gather as many Asians as possible who shared their concern. They set a date for the first meeting -- Sunday, April 6, 1969. And began the telephone calls to friends, contacts, and at every peace action they attended, they cornered any Asian they saw, taking down names and addresses. Then hoped for the best. 
 
Sunday, April 6th, dawned clear and bright, a beautiful Spring day, which augured well for about Asians of Japanese and Chinese ancestry, young and old, mostly strangers to one another, gathered together to initiate what was eventually to evolve into the beginning of an Asian Movement in New York City
 
This small gathering gave little thought to such a movement, however, for the afternoon was largely spent in discussing the possible direction, structure, and type of organization they would be. The one common denominator besides Asian-ness that characterized the group was a mutua1 opposition to the war. A vote was finally taken, and with the exception of a few, it was overwhelmingly determined that future gatherings would explore not only Asian identity, but political and social implications as well.
 
Subsequent meetings began to attract an increasing number of young people who had been active either in white or Black political movements, primarily on the campus, and in particular, Columbia University where an Asian American Political Alliance was in the process of formation. The orientation of the group therefore became increasingly political. An extremely able and proficient Chinese from Hong Kong was elected chairman of what was now called the Asian Americans for Action. New faces appeared at every meeting, indicating the obvious need, hunger almost, for such an Asian political organization.
 
In July, 1969, its first Newsletter appeared with a Statement of Purpose: "We recognize that this country is racist and that there are contradictions within the society which are responsible for the problems of Asian-Americans. We feel that it is our responsibility to effect changes in this situation. We have united to establish -- a political voice -- for the Asian community and a means for group action. We invite other Asians to join us." Position statements on the Vietnam War, The Black Struggle, US Foreign Policy, and the Community Control of Schools were also enunciated.
 
During the subcommittee meetings to thrash out these policy statements, however, it became apparent that irreconciliable differences existed between some Asian members of the Progressive Labor Party (about 6 or 7 of whom had begun attending) and the A.A.A. These disagreements carried over to the regular meetings which became ideological battlegrounds that threatened to split the A.A.A. and its still neophyte existence. After nights of caucassing, a vote was taken determining that P.L. members must decide whether they were fully committed to A.A.A. policies or to P.L., and if they were unable to make that commitment, that they must resign. It was a bitter meeting, but P.L. members finally were forced to resign en masse, since they were unwilling to make that full committment to A.A.A.
 
A.A.A.'s history abounds with many such struggles. One factor that tended to create a division of opinion was over tactics, and a growing 'generation gap' began to be evident. 1969 was at the height of militancy among the Blacks and white radicals, the S.D.S. weathermen in particular. Younger members, especially those who had participated in Black and white radical movements, tended toward the prevailing ideology of confrontation and the kind of militant actions--though not of the extreme--they saw around them as the best means of expression and to arouse support. The older members were more cautious about violence and arrests, and tended toward restraint in the belief that the Movement was hardly in a position, financially nor in community support, nor were the conditions propitious, to take the risk of confrontation; further, that delineation must be made between the experiences of the Blacks, the whites, and Asians. This difference in tactics was vividly demonstrated during one period when an Asian ex-Weatherman exerted considerable influence over the younger members nad many meetings waxed hot and heavy over further ideological encounters.
 
Despite these inner struggles, the A.A.A. grew in number and were now even meeting at a rented office space on Lafayette Street. And they fully lived up to its Action name, as an editorial in the December '69 Newsletter testifies: "From the 12 or 15 people who attended those first April meetings, we have grown to the point where we can assert that we have the beginnings of a movement. Concretely, we have accomplished much in the time between April' and December. "Together with a few other groups -- notably the Committee of Returned Volunteers -- we have brought the issues of Okinawa and the US-Japan Security Treaty to the attention of the American people for the first time. We have organized two demonstrations, one in New York and one in Washington, D. C., focusing on that issue. 
 
"We have established communications with the various Asian-American organizations across the country as well as with other Third World groups, and representatives of the peace movement in Japan. We have demonstrated against the war in Vietnam and J. Edgar Hoovers racist slurs against Chinese Americans. 
 
"In Chinatown, our members have been active in serving the needs of the people there in education and recreation. Medical and draft counselling programs are now being planned. We have demonstrated with the community for community control of schools, and for an end to the indignity of the tourist buses in Chinatown. "In addition, we have had films and discussions on Cuba, China, Taiwan, and Ceylon to name only a few. Our major project during the Washington Moratorium was a tremendously successful conference on US Imperialism in the Pacific Rim sponsored by the Pacific Rim Coalition of which we are a member. 
 
"Just as important, we have worked, played, and struggled together as political Asians, so long alienated from one another, personally and politically young and old, Chinese, Japanese, Ceylonese and Indian, Nisei and Sansei"
 
In the meantime, as the editorial suggested, the Chinese members, who were predominant among the younger group, were becoming increasingly involved in Chinatown and felt an impelling need for a Chinatown-based organization which would be more disciplined and ideologically oriented toward Marx-Lenin-Maoism. They thus formed the I Wor Kuen (early in 1970) to which all but a few of the younger members affiliated.
 
The A.A.A. comprised primarily now of older people who were frankly "strung out" by the indefatigable pace of youth as exemplified by the multi-active, ambitious series of activities undertaken in its first year, debated the question of continuing the organization. It is significant that at the final decisive meeting, it was a young Asian American sister, just returned from a visit to North Vietnam and North Korea, who urged the weary oldsters -- (feeling not a little dejected and abandoned to boot) -- to struggle on. A unanimous vote followed, assuring the continuance of A.A.A. -- which thus became the first and only, thus far, group in the Asian Movement to consist mainly of older people. Perhaps the following quotation from the editorial of the October 1970 best expresses its present day goals: "The time for shrill rhetoric and sloganeering is over, necessary as they were to express growing political consciousness. Rather, it is a time for getting together, for delineating between simple cartharsis and political action, in order that the greatest number of fellow Asians of all persuasion can be mobilized in a massive effort to combat the sickness around us. The only threat to those in power who have all the nation's wealth and military might at their command, is a people's united will to achieve justice and freedom. Our Vietnamese brothers and sisters have dramatically and heroically laid bare this Achilles’ heel. This, then, is the crux of our task -- to get us Asians in America together, so that we can jointly strive to create a new humane society free of racism, of inequities, of exploitative and acquisitive aggression. We in A.A.A. dedicate our efforts toward this end."