75 ways Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are speaking out for Black lives
By Natasha Roy and Agnes Constante
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing, teenager Mandy Zhang grew frustrated with the media. Its portrayal of the protests sweeping the country negatively shaped her friends’ and family’s perception of the Black Lives Matter movement, she said.
“Rather than focusing on the purpose of the Black Lives Matter movement and peaceful protests, the focus was on the violence and looting,” she told NBC News in an email.
So Zhang, a student at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School in Chicago, and some of her friends channeled their frustration into writing a letter to the Asian community in hopes of uniting Asian and Black communities, she said. They then decided to form the Dear Asians Initiative to continue these efforts and, with the help of volunteers from across the U.S. and Singapore, translated the letter into eight Asian languages.
“Without the leadership of Black Americans, we would not have been able to immigrate to the U.S. and start a new chapter in our lives,” it reads. “They helped us, and it is our time to help them.”
Like Zhang, many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders across the country have shown their support for the Black community and Black Lives Matter movement in the aftermath of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many other Black Americans.
“So many of the social and political advances that Asian American communities have seen over the centuries have been the direct result of Black struggle and activism,” CJ Leung, a member of the San Francisco Bay Area group Asians4BlackLives, said in an email, citing the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, one of the gains of the Civil Rights Movement that enabled many Asian families to immigrate to the United States.
“Many of us wouldn't even be in this country, if not for Black struggles for justice,” Leung added.
Here’s a look at some of the many ways the AAPI community has been showing solidarity with the Black community, from organizing and participating in protests to providing educational resources and fundraising.
The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance hosted a phone bank on June 2, calling Minnesota lawmakers to demand for justice for George Floyd’s death. The group has also encouraged the community to share actionable resources with their networks, which includes agencies and individuals to call, what to say, and groups to support.
The Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity on Monday held a healing space for Black LGBTQ+ Muslims. The session featured meditation, dhikr, art-making and prayer for those who may have lost loved ones to police brutality.
Marissa Afualo is organizing a protest in the U.S. territory of American Samoa on Saturday. She told The Samoa Observer that the territory wants to stand up against racism. “For me, this human rights movement is personal," she told the publication. "I look at the faces of my niece and nephew who are half African American, and can’t help but feel fear for their safety.”
AAPI Women Lead in late May hosted an Instagram live discussion centered around building power through solidarity and creating change through education and organizing. The group has also used its platform to call its network to participate in peaceful demonstrations, and shared links to bail funds and an illustration explaining the roots of structural racism.
The Minnesota nonprofit Coalition of Asian American Leaders has been holding weekday solidarity calls to support Black lives and liberation. “We acknowledge this is not our movement to lead, but we know that this is a moment for Asian communities to show up in support,” the group has said online.
Japanese Americans for Justice on Sunday held a vigil in San Francisco to honor Black people who have been killed by police, and Japanese Americans who died in incarceration camps. The group also livestreamed the event, and offered a list of ways to support and learn more about the movement. The vigil was held in seven cities coordinated by Tsuru for Solidarity.
Viet Rainbow of Orange County, a nonprofit advocating equitable treatment of the LGBTQ community, helped organize two protests in Southern California, last Saturday, June 6, and this Saturday, June 13. The group has also been hosting dialogues with Vietnamese parents and youth around the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-blackness, Hieu Nguyen, the group’s founder and chair, said.
Chiyo Takemoto, a San Antonio resident, held two virtual roundtables with friends this month as a space for Asian Americans to share their lived experiences. "Ideally this space is for us to examine our identity a bit further, identify our privilege, understand the shared struggle we have with our more marginalized communities so that we can be unified in our fight toward social justice, racial equality, and dismantling white supremacist systems,” Takemoto told NBC News. The exercise was designed by New Orleans-based social justice activist Ashtin Berry, she added. Takemoto will be holding another roundtable on July 6.
The Southeast Asian Freedom Network, a nationwide coalition, on Saturday co-hosted a panel discussion to encourage the Cambodian community to defend Black lives. “We know what it means to be forced to find peace with our trauma and to find justice on our own without solidarity from the outside world,” the group wrote in a Facebook post.
Vietnamese Solidarity and Action Network hosted a virtual two-hour event Friday featuring more than two dozen speakers in a conversation on racism and the Black Lives Matter movement. Topics included how the Civil Rights Movement benefited Southeast Asian Americans, how community members are talking to their families about racism, and how to push for systemic change. Interpreters translated the event in Vietnamese.
South Asian Youth in Houston hosted the virtual “Reflect and Respond” event on June 3 to discuss how South Asians can act in solidarity with the Black community and created a “Fighting Anti-Blackness” resource list with podcasts, readings and documentaries.
On Guam, Talaani Gilbert and Talysa Kakas organized a peaceful protest on Hagåtña, the island’s capital. Gilbert and Kakas, who are half-black and half-Chamorro, said they wanted to support protestors around the world and educate residents of Guam about racism, according to Post Guam.
From June 2 to 7, Julie Vang, a yoga instructor in Minnesota, hosted free yoga and meditation sessions. In a Facebook post, she wrote: “Justices need to be served but it takes clear minds, healthy nervous system's & compassionate hearts to show up and make revolutionary changes.”
Tsuru for Solidarity told NBC Asian America that it held a virtual weekend of action called “Tsuru Rising!” from June 6 to 7. On the first day, the group hosted speakers from Black Lives Matter and other organizations to discuss the intertwined nature of anti-blackness and state violence. On the second day, it called for direct action, including the release of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees and police accountability and reform.
Residents of the island of Saipan, the capital of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, have held multiple demonstrations over the past few weeks in response to the death of George Floyd. “We have a Black community here in the CNMI and, even though small, we just want to show them they have our support,” resident Leah Tarkong told the Saipan Tribune.
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On June 8, Act to Change held an event called "Solidarity Convos: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for Black Lives.” One panelist, Kwame Alexander, emphasized that children can be raised to be empathetic adults. “To the people watching, do the books on your shelf reflect the world you claim you want?” Alexander asked. “It’s one thing to talk about how we want more unity, how we want solidarity. What kind of books are your children reading?”
Approximately 2,700 people attended a digital event hosted by Hawaii resident Healani Sonoda-Pale for the Black Kia'i (Protectors) from Mauna Kea to discuss their experiences on the mountain that indigenous Hawaiians have been fighting to save from desecration. “The forum was to facilitate a discussion on how Black Lives Matter and our own movements here in Hawaii, particularly Mauna Kea, intersect yet it ended up being more of a reflection of the Black experience in our movement,” Sonoda-Pale told NBC News.
Equality Labs organized the virtual event “South Asians in Defense of Black Lives: A Conversation with Zoé Samudzi,” which will take place Friday. Writer, photographer and University of California, San Francisco sociology doctoral candidate Zoé Samudzi will join Equality Labs and 14 other organizations to discuss how South Asians can support the Movement for Black Lives and advocate for anti-racism. Other organizations involved include South Dakota Voices for Peace, API Chaya, the South Asian Helpline and Referral Agency, the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action and Stand With Kashmir.
On June 13, South Asians 4 Black Lives, a program by women’s organizing group MALIKAH, is hosting an “Allyship & Challenging Anti-Blackness in South Asian Communities” workshop during MALIKAH’s Allyship & Action Marathon. The program’s Instagram page also shares informational graphics about supporting Black Lives Matter, addressing South Asian allyship and educating people on Black Americans’ role in South Asian American history. South Asians 4 Black Lives is also co-hosting “South Asians in Defense of Black Lives.”
Pasifika First Fridays hosted a march and die-in on June 5 in lieu of its usual monthly event to show solidarity with Utah's Black community. The group implemented social distancing rules and required all attendees to wear masks.
Empowering Pacific Islander Communities held a “phone jam” on June 5 to hold elected officials in Kentucky accountable in honor of Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by police in her Louisville home in March. EPIC encouraged people to call the governor, district attorney, attorney general and other local elected officials, and provided a script to demand that the officers involved be fired and charged with manslaughter and negligence.
BAYAN USA Northeast, Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance and the Filipino Migrant Center joined Black Lives Matter rallies in California and New York.
The Filipino Migrant Center was among many Asian American groups that participated in protests in June over the police killing of George Floyd.Filipino Migrant Center
The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans hosted a press conference featuring speakers such as Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Hmong National Development President and CEO Bao Vang to speak out in support of the Black community.
The Providence Youth Student Movement held “Know Your Rights” webinars on June 3 and June 5. The events highlighted Americans’ right to protest, what rights people have when they are arrested and tips to protest safely.
During a protest in Salt Lake City, Utah resident Litia Niumeitolu shared her experiences with racism and sexism as a Pacific Islander in the United States. She holds a doctorate degree in mathematics and computer science, and worked for more than 45 years as an educator, yet she is often assumed to be a maid. “I am telling you all today, stop telling people to clean up your messes. … People can’t clean up the messes you created for hundreds of years,” she said. “I honor, I respect and I salute Black people for giving me a voice and space to exist today in America.”
The Asian American artists from the Broadway musical “Hamilton”raised over $26,000 for CAMPAIGN ZERO, a police reform campaign for policy change. The group also provided a list of resources, including links to bail funds, Minnesota organizations and a campaign fighting for justice for Breonna Taylor.
On Sunday, the Sunday Jump, a community open mic series in Los Angeles’ Historic Filipinotown, raised about $550 for Black Lives Matter Los Angeles during an open mic livestream fundraising event.
18 Million Rising advocated for Asians to not rely on the police, created guidelines for how people can ensure safety without police and wrote a petition for people to share with families about why they shouldn't call the police. It is also selling T-shirts depicting Yuri Kochiyama and Malcom X, with 50 percent of proceeds going toward The Free Black Women’s Library of Los Angeles. The group is also participating in "South Asians in Defense of Black Lives."
The University of Chicago’s South Asian Students Association is raising money for two Chicago organizations: Brave Space Alliance and My Block My Hood My City’s Small Business Relief Fund. “Though we might not all be in Chicago at the moment, we hope this is one way for us to come together and show up for Black individuals in a way South Asian communities have often failed to do,” the organization said on Facebook.
In Denver, Jenny Duong and her partner fundraised money that was recently used to feed more than 650 protestors with food purchased from local Asian businesses, she said. Duong added that they are looking to invest remaining funds into Black communities, future demonstrations or other fundraising efforts.
Calling on elected officials
The Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, Chinese-American Planning Council, Asian Americans for Equality, East Coast Asian American Student Union, India Home, Mekong NYC, Sakhi for South Asian Women and South Asian Youth Action joined over 171 organizations in calling on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to defund the New York Police Department. Adhikaar, MinKwon Center for Community Action and GAPIMNY are among other organizations advocating for the defunding of the NYPD.
Freedom, Inc., a Black and Southeast Asian nonprofit in Madison, Wisconsin, took to the front of the City-County Building on Monday and painted “DEFUND THE POLICE” on the street. Last week, the group celebrated what would have been Breonna Taylor’s 27th birthday and hosted a Facebook live event about the movement and abolition. It also signed a letter to the Madison Metropolitan School District board president demanding the removal of police from schools and investment in Black youth and youth of color.
Hawaiian State House candidate Kim Coco Iwamoto started a petition to call on Hawaii House of Representatives Speaker Scott Saiki to commit to passing a bill that would require county police departments to disclose information about suspended or discharged officers. The petition also called on Saiki to create a panel that includes a community stakeholder to plan for statewide law enforcement oversight.
Asian American Advancing Justice - Atlanta called for June 4 to be a national day of mourning over the death of George Floyd. AAAJ Atlanta also outlined action items toward a path forward to advocate in Floyd’s memory, including the creation of a database of police misconduct and banishing excessive force measures. The organization is also a co-host of “South Asians in Defense of Black Lives.”
The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum called for AAPIs to address anti-blackness in their communities and created a crowdsourced resource list for Asians to talk to their parents about racism. The list also provides resources in nearly two dozen languages, including Hindi, Tagalog and Fuzhounese.
The South Asian Sexual & Mental Health Alliance created the “Talking to Your South Asian Family About BLM” toolkit for South Asians to better navigate discussions with their families about race and privilege. The toolkit includes advice on how to approach the conversations, additional readings on Black oppression and suggested organizations to donate to.
South Asians looking to conduct a workshop on anti-black racism can use the curriculum developed by Desis Rising Up and Moving. The workshop includes topics such as the histories of white supremacy and what South Asians can do to help eliminate racism and exploitation. DRUM is also co-hosting the “South Asians in Defense of Black Lives” event.
The national nonprofit South Asian Americans Leading Together created a resource guide for South Asians on how to address anti-black racism and advocate for Black lives, while the Jakara Movement released several videos in Punjabi about how Sikhs can address anti-blackness. The South Asian Public Health Association declared racism a public health crisis and shared a 2015 study analyzing the public health perspective on racism. All three groups are co-hosting the "South Asians in Defense of Black Lives" event.
Sikh Americans join a recent Black Lives Matter rally in Easton, Pa., on June 7, 2020.Michael Kubel Photography
The Bangladeshi American Women’s Development Initiative provided 13 other ways that people can support current anti-racism efforts if they can’t participate in protests, including making donations, educating those around them and watching organizers' children while they are at protests.
Though the Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour usually conducts tours through Berkeley, California, to highlight South Asian activism in the city, it created a “How to Talk to Your South Asian Family About Black Lives” resource guide. The guide has been shared by other organizations, including South Asian Youth in Houston and South Asian Americans Leading Together.
Densho released a statement calling for the end of anti-black racism in the Asian American community and is also promoting educational resources. The organization also told NBC Asian America that it is having internal discussions about how to interrupt systems that inflict violence upon Black Americans.
The Asian-American Women’s Political Initiative provided a solidarity letter, educational resource list and a guide for people to call on their elected officials to defund the police. AAWPI also highlighted a week of action from June 8 to 14 to call on Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to defund the Boston Police Department.
Letters for Black Lives has revamped its open letter to family members in the wake of the current movement. Letters for Black Lives initially began in 2016 after the police killing of Philando Castile as a way for Asian Americans and Canadians to begin open conversations with their families. Letters for Black Lives recently published a new version of the letter addressing George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement in dozens of languages, including Bangla, Korean and Lao.
The Asian American Advocacy Fund provided a list of resources and action items for its community. The readings address justice for Black Americans and prison abolition, while action items include donating to bail funds, showing up for protests and supporting the Black communities’ demands.
The Japanese American Cultural & Community Center released a statement affirming that it stands with the Black community, calling on its own community members to donate and support Black-led arts and cultural organizations. It also provides several Black-led organizations for people to support.
Community development organization Chhaya released a statement providing three action items: call state lawmakers to support a bill that would repeal the state’s police secrecy law, sign a petition to call for the end of police violence against Black people and donate to local bail funds. “As immigrants, we are able to have the opportunities, the freedoms that we enjoy today that have drawn us to this country because of the fight that the Black community has led for decades before we arrived here,” executive director Annetta Seecharran said in an interview with ITV Gold. Chhaya is co-hosting “South Asians in Defense of Black Lives.”
The Progressive Vietnamese American Organization published a piece called “What Southeast Asian Refugees Owe to Black Lives” detailing the impact of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and Black civil rights leaders’ advocacy for Southeast Asian refugees in the United States. “We must remember those who paved the way for our resettlement,” Trinh Q. Truong wrote. “Two decades before the first Southeast Asian refugees resettled in the United States, Black civil rights activists advanced the policies that helped reshape immigration policies that have saved our families.”
Comedian Hasan Minhaj put out an episode of his show “Patriot Act” on Netflix and YouTube called “We Cannot Stay Silent About George Floyd,” and specifically called out anti-blackness in the South Asian community, including Bollywood stars’ skin lightening commercials. He also encouraged people to donate money and time to black organizations, vote against qualified immunity and provide pro bono services to protesters. The YouTube video description provided links to several organizations people can donate money to.
On June 1, Washington, D.C., resident Rahul Dubey opened his home to almost 70 protesters escaping police officers’ tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. “I hope that my 13-year-old son grows up to be just as amazing as they are, and I hope that they continue to fight,” Dubey told ABC 7 News station WJLA of the protesters.
The Southeast Asian Diaspora Project, Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York and Viet Activism have provided online resources to begin conversations about anti-racism, names of racial justice organizations to donate to, and actions people can take to support the movement.
The Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association and the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation published statements affirming their support for Black communities, and the APALA said it stands in solidarity with the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Both also provided anti-racism resources for Asians to educate themselves on allyship.