What Today’s Protesters Can Learn From the History of L.A.’s Asian-American Movement

  • Level 3 - Captain

    What Today’s Protesters Can Learn From the History of L.A.’s Asian-American Movement

    On Saturday, Jan. 21, hundreds of thousands of people spilled into downtown Los Angeles to protest a president whose promise to “make America great again” threatens to turn back the clock on civil liberties for marginalized groups at least several decades.

    Coincidentally, just two days earlier, the Chinese American Museum opened “Roots: Asian-American Movements in Los Angeles 1968-80s," an exhibit that digs into at an oft-overlooked historical resistance, which can inform how we build new activist coalitions for the future.

    The Asian-American movement was the first broad, pan-Asian diaspora coalition in America. Within it, activists rallied around causes that ranged from protesting the war in Vietnam to organizing against the eviction of elderly, non-English-speaking residents within gentrifying communities to rallying against youth drug abuse. They boosted socially conscious films and music by Asian-American artists, joining a groundswell of movements that included the civil rights movement, the Chicano movement, second-wave feminism and the gay liberation movement. “Roots” is an effort to contextualize the many causes at work during this era while specifically centering L.A.’s Asian-American activism and identity formation — a mighty task, considering that Asia is a vast continent with individually and regionally complicated histories.

    “This idea of Asian America didn’t exist until 1968, and it’s really the work of people in their 20s, even teenagers, coming together and producing culture, making institutions, working on campaigns, that defined this identity. It’s pretty remarkable to think about how Asian-American is a term all of us use now, but it was really created and invented by dedicated young people,” Ryan Wong, who curated the exhibit over the course of years, said over the phone. Wong had previously put together the show “Serve the People: The Asian-American Movement in New York” in NYC’s Interference Archive space.

    That show ran from late 2013 into early 2014, and it was during this time that CAM curator Steve Wong (no relation) first entertained the notion of bringing a similar show to L.A. Though the exhibit is hosted at CAM for the next six months, Ryan Wong is quick to point out that this was for the space’s community-oriented mission, rather than a move to, say, center Chinese-American activism: “A really important and significant step for any kind of identity-focused museum is to recognize these common points of intersection and overlap.”


Log in to reply

Looks like your connection to AsianSoul was lost, please wait while we try to reconnect.