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Asian Americans as The Forefront of Change: The Power of Asian American Activism in The United States

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From the Boston Tea Party to current movements like Black Lives Matter, activism and protest has cultivated American society. The American people expressed their dissent and forced change, causing the country to evolve. Asian Americans have been at the forefront of some of these pressing issues, including U.S. intervention in Vietnam, political unrest in the Philippines during the 1970s, and racism and hate crimes within America. Asian Americans utilized activism as a tool to combat policies and practices that threatened people’s liberties both at home and abroad.

The Vietnam War divided America into opposing forces as many disagreed with the role the United States assumed. Asian Americans felt especially connected to the conflict; it was difficult for Asian Americans to watch American soldiers kill thousands of Southeast Asians. Not only were Vietnamese soldiers under fire, but innocent civilians suffered as well. Asian Americans, after seeing Southeast Asians portrayed as the enemy, insisted that America’s involvement in the war was linked to racism, and the killing of innocent Asian civilians proved that Asian lives were considered less valuable than American lives. In response, the Asian American Political Alliance of UC-Berkeley was born in 1968 and included Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino activists. The AAPA provided students of Asian descent with a platform to discuss their political views and opinions on U.S. foreign policy and allowed them to influence other college campuses across the nation. Although these activists did not singlehandedly bring about an end to American intervention in Vietnam, they influenced other universities, like San Francisco State, to develop similar organizations. Their activism contributed to the national anti-war movement, which may have impacted America’s decision to withdraw from the war years later.

Another foreign affair that Asian Americans became involved in was the political situation in the Philippines. Martial law was imposed in the Philippines in 1972 which caused many Filipinos to flee to the United States. In support of democracy and to protect the liberties of Filipinos, organizations like Freedom Collective and the Support Committee for a Democratic Philippines in New York were born. These groups discussed anti-martial law issues and other topics that affected Filipino Americans, eventually influencing the United States government to retract its support for the military governance in the Philippines. Activists in this movement were motivated by the importance of democracy as Americans and fought for the value of Filipino lives and freedoms in America and abroad.

Asian Americans were also active in raising awareness for domestic issues. Racism and mistreatment have been recurring themes in the Asian American experience, and many of the notoriously racist events in the late 20th century may have sprouted from anti-immigrant sentiments. One of these situations occurred in 1998, when radio host Tom Barnard in Twin Cities included racist segments as a part of his show, and proposed that Hmong people should “Assimilate or hit the goddamn road!” in one of his broadcasts. The Twin Cities are historically noted as one of the main places where the Hmong had settled during the later 1900s, dubbed as the “Hmong Capital of the World.” Consequently, the Hmong created an organization called Community Action Against Racism (CAAR) which protested the radio host’s offensive comments and prevented businesses from endorsing the station. Later in 1998, the radio station apologized publicly and included information about Hmong culture and history in their broadcasts to improve the opinions of the public. This was seen as a major victory for the Hmong, as they were constantly having to assert their identities and traditions, while also adjusting to American society. This incident proved that although many barriers had already been broken during the Civil Rights movement, blatant racism was still prominent in society, especially for Asian Americans. The development of the CAAR is one situation that highlights the importance of Asian American involvement in social change.

Nearly two decades earlier, a much darker incident occurred which resulted in a pan-ethnic coalition against hate crimes in America. The 1982 murder of Vincent Chin began as a bar fight started by two white autoworkers. During this time, the Japanese auto industry was on the rise, and many Americans who couldn’t find work placed blame on the Japanese. These two particular auto workers mistook Chin as Japanese, when he was actually Chinese American, and beat him to death with a baseball bat. Clearly, this crime was motivated by pure hatred and resentment toward a particular Asian American subgroup, and activists were naturally outraged. Out of this tragedy, the coalition “American Citizens for Justice,” developed, consisting of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, and African Americans. Protests and demonstrations were attempts at showing the public how Asian Americans were still discriminated against and victims of hate crimes. American Citizens for Justice re-opened Chin’s case in 1983, but the final court ruling in 1987 only added insult to injury. Both men were acquitted, representing a “double tragedy: the murder of a young man with a promising future and a criminal justice system that failed to adequately punish the killers.” Unfortunately in this case, the protests were not successful in bringing about justice. However, American Citizens for Justice was one of the first pan-Asian American coalitions that fought against hate crimes targeting Asian Americans. Their activism made the public more aware of the injustices within America’s criminal justice system and the racism and prejudices that motivated these acts.

Asian American activism in both political and social issues signifies the major influence that Asian Americans have had on this constantly evolving country. Asian Americans were considered to be the outspoken minority group by many other Americans. They clearly defied this stereotype by becoming involved in crucial issues, both foreign and domestic. Not all efforts were rewarded; for example, the acquittal of Vincent Chin’s murderers despite their actions being racially motivated. Racism in the criminal justice system is still an issue in the United States, as seen in movements like Black Lives Matter. However, seemingly smaller battles, like the racist incident with radio host Tom Barnard, were often successful. Additionally, Asian American activists played a powerful role in effecting change abroad and contributing to the controversial discussion of American foreign policy. These victories exemplify not only how activism became an important part of the Asian American experience, but how Asian American activism significantly shaped, and continues to shape, American society.

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Asian Americans as the Forefront of Change: the Power of Asian American Activism in the United States. (2019, May 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 7, 2022, from
“Asian Americans as the Forefront of Change: the Power of Asian American Activism in the United States.” GradesFixer, 14 May 2019,
Asian Americans as the Forefront of Change: the Power of Asian American Activism in the United States. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 7 Jul. 2022].
Asian Americans as the Forefront of Change: the Power of Asian American Activism in the United States [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 May 14 [cited 2022 Jul 7]. Available from:
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