Written by Catherine Foley (Communications, Programs, and Operations Associate)
May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPIHM), a national observance that is marked by celebration, joy, and appreciation among and for Asian American individuals and communities. Sadly, this AAPIHM is also marked by the intense grief and trauma of the past year. We’ve seen discrimination, hate crimes, and violence towards Asians and Asian Americans skyrocket due to anti-Asian rhetoric and racism exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a span of a month, we witnessed two acts of mass violence: the fatal shootings in Atlanta that took the lives of eight individuals, six of them Asian women, and the rampage at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis which left 8 people dead, including four Sikh American community members.
As a non-Black person of color, and as a mixed Korean person, I have been going on my own journey to process, grieve, heal, and build community during this time of nonstop violence and trauma for Asian Americans as well as Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people. It hasn’t been an easy process because, like many people with mixed racial backgrounds, there is a sense of disconnection and a lack of belonging to either community. As I have come to terms with my own privileges, I have become careful about not speaking on behalf of the AAPI community or even including myself in it. While I have experienced racial discrimination and harassment, I have not been subject to the violence of the immigration system, the carceral system, or other systems of oppression that perpetuate injustice against Asians and Asian Americans. I have often asked myself if I have a role or place in the AAPI community given these experiences.
However, the violence targeting Asian women in Atlanta has pushed me to re-examine my racial identity, and my relationship to the AAPI community at large – as it has for many. As a result of conversations with friends, family, colleagues, and through the Solidarity Semester, a project of BMP and SolidarityIs, I have learned how to identify connections across movements and communities, how to center those most impacted by systems of oppression, and how to take action in a way that builds towards co-liberation. I realize that my own intersectional identities can be a throughway to build connections between communities and that I, too, have a stake in collective co-liberation movements.
Here’s a roadmap of my journey, which could be helpful for others.
To start, I began to understand that enduring trauma and suffering are not measures of validity, of belonging to a particular community. That is, I did not have to experience the deepest form of trauma that Asian Americans face in order to empathize or relate. Denying myself a connection to my community in this way, I realized, is a disservice to myself, to the people and communities I care about, and to our collective goals of equity, safety, health, happiness, and justice.
From there, I engaged deeply with three solidarity principles: connections, centering, and co-liberation.
- First, by identifying and understanding our connections, we can recognize the effects of holding multiple, intersecting identities. This allows us to appreciate that we do not need to be intimately connected to groups and causes in order to act in solidarity with them. For folks with intersectional identities, this is helpful because it can allow us to think about the ways one part of our identity informs the others, and how we can strengthen the connections between them.
- Second, and building upon the idea of connecting with other communities, we can practice centering and de-centering when it comes to getting involved in social justice movements. This means centering those most impacted by oppression and systemic violence without leaving them with all the work. This also means de-centering ourselves, which involves redistributing power and moving towards building a vision of co-liberation. For non-Asian co-conspirators in this moment, centering impacted folks can look like de-escalating or intervening when you see an instance of anti-Asian hate or violence.
- Finally, by identifying co-liberation as the goal, we can simultaneously confront our privileges, utilize our positionalities, and work towards mutual freedom. We know that the struggles, trauma, and violence that communities and individuals of color face are different, but we can accept this knowledge without falling into the Oppression Olympics trap. We can acknowledge that systemic violence manifests differently for everyone, but that its root causes, its architecture, are often the same. So, the connections between Asian, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other communities of color can and must be rooted in the shared goal of collective liberation.
My journey has led to me to make several commitments. I may have intersecting identities, but that is a strength and it allows me to deepen my connections across communities. I may not be directly impacted by inequity and injustice, but I will center those who are and act in solidarity with them. I will work towards co-liberation because I share the same hopes and dreams as many others, and we all have a stake in building a just future.
As we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I encourage non-Asians to learn about Asian American histories, confront anti-Asian racism and violence, support local Asian shops and businesses, and check in with your Asian friends and family. For my Asian colleagues and community members, I urge you to rest, take time for yourself and for joy, and to remember our legacies – of how we got here and where we will still go. For all of us committed to equity and justice, I think our strength comes from having dreams that are more powerful, valuable, and long-lasting than the hate and violence we endure. Trauma might connect us at first, but it is our hopes, values, and visions that bind us, sustain us, and drive us forward together.
For more information and ways to get involved this AAPI Heritage Month, check out these resources:
- LEARN from stories: Resistance is our Heritage via AAPIsRising.org
- The Mental State of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders: Reflections on AAPI heritage and mental health awareness via Psychology Today
- Research Report & Resources for Disentangling Anti-Asian Violence via The AAPI COVID-19 Research Project
- Discussion guide for holding space for AAPI conversations via We Are More