CONTEMPORARY ASIAN AMERICAN ACTIVISM: BUILDING MOVEMENTS FOR LIBERATION
Edited by Diane C. Fujino and Robyn Magalit Rodriguez (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2022, 336 pp., $30, paperback)
“Contemporary Asian American Activism: Building Movements for Liberation” is an important anthology, the first of its kind, to examine contemporary Asian American activism that focuses on praxis through an intergenerational lens. While the Asian American Movement has rightfully been documented, analyzed and commemorated over the past 50 years, authors Diane C. Fujino and Robyn Magalit Rodriguez argue that there is much to learn from the political movements of today that now confront a growing Asian American Right and the model minority stereotype — both of which dismiss structural racism and make coalitional politics challenging.
This book emerged out of a symposium at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2019 where contributors met to discuss their activist work. As a result, this book recenters political movement knowledge production to the field of Asian American Studies.
Situating contemporary Asian American activism within the Asian American Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the book examines generational transfers of knowledge as multidirectional that activists build on through mentorship. The legacy and continuation of the Asian American Movement reminds us that movements are about taking time: building relationships for meaningful solidarity work, taking care of oneself and others to avoid burnout, etc. Through this analysis, the introduction provides succinct lessons that contemporary activists learned from earlier generations: the importance of political education as well as solidarity, radicalism and internationalism.
In addition, the book and its contributors do not shy away from the challenges impacting Asian American activists today and contend with: the limits of identity politics, solidarity with Black liberation, cancel culture, working within or outside of institutions and reformism versus radical transformation.
The book is divided into four sections: “Incarcerations, Displacements, and Transformations;” “International and Local Struggles;” “Political Education and Radical Pedagogy;” and “On Movement Building: Shaped by the Past, Creating New Futures.” Each section is split into three chapters where contributors include both intellectuals and activists who have long histories of organizing against the many issues affecting Asian American and Asian diasporic communities. Despite the different communities they organize and the different strategies for mobilizing (university, grassroots, nonprofits, LLCs) each author reflects on their own work and life, reminding readers that the road to liberation is a journey where time nurtures growth, as well as activist friendships and networks of support where radical love sustains bold, everyday actions of resistance.
In “Incarcerations, Displacements, and Transformations,” the authors demonstrate how pervasive the displacement is due to prisons, gentrification, immigration reform and settler colonialism. Eddy Zheng’s article maps his activist journey inside and outside of the prison through political education where he helped to develop and maintain many programs to assist Asian American prisoners.
In “International and Local Struggles,” the set of authors articulate how internationalist struggles impact the local with a focus on those who are undocumented, workers on the front lines of COVID-19, or those who are forced into the diaspora.
As an Ethnic Studies professor who teaches Asian American Studies, I was particularly drawn to the “Political Education and Radical Pedagogy” section. In Mary C. Fu’s “Political Education as Revolutionary Praxis,” she utilizes political education as a pedagogical theory and tool “to practice individual and collective liberation” in knowledge making and learning spaces where hierarchies of power delegitimize marginalized communities’ “ways of knowing and being in the world” (173). As an educator who is always trying to disrupt the spaces of learning as a tool of maintaining white supremacy logics and hierarchies as both a college professor and community organizer, I found Fu’s examples of the Providence Youth Student Movement, Hai Bà Tru’ng School for Organizing, and Adhikaar as important examples of how political education can mobilize aggrieved communities by empowering them with historical knowledge to bring and advocate for policy change they need and want.
And finally, the last section examines on generational movement building as activists reflect on how the Asian American Movement continues to impact the work they do today.
On a personal note, reading this book during our contemporary crises of the summer of 2022 (global pandemic, war and violence, constant attacks on constitutional rights, gun violence and war), was helpful on multiple levels for me. I found this book to be a reminder of the work that Asian American activists have done and will always do. It provided me with hope, concrete actions to apply to my daily life, and with a renewed sense of commitment to the work I am doing. Fujino and Rodriguez are absolutely right.
We need to continue documenting Asian American activism, it not only provides us with important lessons and insight but is itself a form of radical care and love.