LEGACY TO LIBERATION politics and culture of revolutionary asian pacific america

Legacy to Liberation cover

book edited by Fred Ho with Carolyn Antonio, Diane Fujino, and Steve Yip
417 pp. San Francisco: Big Red Media. $22.95.

Review by Lydia Lowe

Legacy to Liberation is an ambitious anthology which attempts to fill the void of Asian American historical texts documenting the revolutionary movements of the late '60s and '70s onward. While it fails to live up to its lofty claims, it is nonetheless a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the Asian American movement.

Editor Fred Ho describes the anthology as an attempt to bridge the '60s and '70s generation of revolutionary activists with today's young radicals–an activist response to William Wei's cynical mischaracterization of The Asian American Movement. In fact, with a new radical activist trend on the college campuses today, there is a critical need for such an inter-generational connection. Unfortunately, Ho's book also fails to provide readers a full understanding of the impact of Asian American revolutionaries on the '70s and '80s. While calling the anthology a "non-sectarian" effort several times, Ho also explains that he solicited an editorial advisory team of those "with whom I felt I could collaborate." Thus, his own rancorous split from the majority of Asian American cadre of the former League of Revolutionary Struggle precluded the inclusion of a single one of its many Asian American (mostly female) leaders, leaving the history of the largest and most influential revolutionary organization in the Asian American Movement still to be written. If Wei's problem is his academic distance from his subject matter, Ho combines an emotional vendetta with a strangely lifeless one-man political summation.

Legacy to Liberation offers a sense of the breadth if not the depth of the Asian American Left, providing a politically and stylistically eclectic mix of writings from across the continental US and Hawai'i. On the up side, this approach ees the reader to the diversity of perspectives and struggles called "the Left", many of which will be unfamiliar to the average reader, such as the history of struggles in Hawai'i or Colorado, reflections on Gay and Asian Activism, or some of the newer radical organizations emerging in the late 1990s. On the down side, this approach fails to ground the reader in a sense of the accomplishments and impact of Asian American revolutionary activists and organizations in real life. A more in-depth approach to fewer organizations could show (rather than tell) the reader how revolutionaries led and built some of the most important mass struggles and organizations in the Asian American movement, how revolutionary organizations created systematic methods and a place for ongoing leadership training so needed today, and how Asian American revolutionaries developed their understanding of key issues: the relationship of leadership to the people, of oppressed peoples to the working class, and of the struggle for reform and democratic rights to revolution.

Some of the older generation writers in the "Theory/Practice" section of the anthology sound like they have never left the '70s–not because of their revolutionary stance, but because the past couple decades seem to have added little but nostalgia to their theoretical analysis. Former Wei Min She member Steve Yip writes unconvincingly that "The revolution is, in important ways, being made right now in the work of the RCP (Revolutionary Communist Party): the public opinion it is creating for revolution; the battles it is leading now against the system; the way it is moving to make all this strengthen the forces of the people for the BIG battle to be fought on a whole other level whenever and as soon as the conditions for that ripen."

On the other hand, the first-hand interviews with "Movement Builders" like Yuri Kochiyama and Alex Hing and some of the historical documents in the appendices are first-source documentation and a much-needed contribution to the study of the movement. But the inclusion of only those revolutionary activists with certain "heavy" connections tends to inspire awe and the image of Asian American revolutionary leaders as gun-toting, angry young men and some women, rather than a full appreciation of the sophistication and diversity of the movement. Also valuable are the retrospectives on the I-Hotel struggle in San Francisco, which shaped an entire generation of Asian American activists. Interestingly, the sections on "Theory/Practice" and "Personal/Political" are virtually indistinguishable, and "The Arts" section is ironically sparse, given Ho's stature as a musician and composer.

Some of the most interesting pieces are those written by the younger generation, such as Diane Fujino and Kye Leung's "Radical Resistance in Conservative Times", Tinku Sengupta's "A Brick in the United Front" and John Delloro's "Personal is Still Political." These articles reveal the searchings of a new generation of radical activists which is relatively undeveloped politically and organizationally, somewhat ungrounded, but thoughtful and at times refreshingly honest.

If Legacy to Liberation helps to bring together the musings of two generations of activists, that in itself is an important contribution.

Lydia Lowe is a Boston-based activist who works as Co-Director of the Chinese Progressive Association and is a former member of I Wor Kuen and the League of Revolutionary Struggle.