Can we imagine a pan-Asian solidarity movement?

A protestor holds a sign that reads, “Solidarity with Asian Communities, Fight Racism!” Asian and Pacific Islander communities protested together against anti-Asian racism over the last two years. Courtesy of Wikimedia

Being South Asian myself, I often find myself thinking about the #StopAsianHate movement, also referred to as the #StopAAPIHate movement, a message of solidarity with the Asian and Pacific Islander communities living in the United States who saw an accelerated onslaught of violence subsequent to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The most apparent driver for the spike in anti-Asian racism over the past two years was the cruelly racialized rhetoric spread by Donald Trump and his ideological cohort in order to create a scapegoat for the devastating, bipartisan mismanagement of the epidemiological catastrophe.  

Reactionary and racist attitudes about Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities pose a threat to the entire API body politic, as has been the case since long before the pandemic. Being a white settler-colony, the original policy of the United States required the creation of rigid terms of exclusion to deny sovereignty and self-determination from the Indigenous nations whose land we occupy, as well as the enslaved Africans who would not be granted control over the state their stolen labor served as the foundation of. This policy of white supremacist possession of the land was codified under the Nationality Act of 1790, which set a “uniform rule of naturalization” granting citizenship to any free white person having resided in the United States for two years. In ensuing years — and centuries — policies such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Immigration Act of 1924 and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which initiated four long years of the United States’ Japanese internment regime, tightly wove anti-Asian racism into the fabric of American white supremacy. Anti-miscegenation laws, or legal measures taken to prevent interracial relationships between white people and specific ethnic groups, were also violently racist tools for marginalizing Asian, Black and Indigenous peoples from the 18th century though the mid-20th century.  

Also considering the horrific racism directed towards West and South Asians after the Gulf War, 9/11 and the U.S.-led destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan in the 90s and early 2000s, a simple hashtag seems entirely insufficient to attack the historical roots of anti-Asian racism — which is itself entangled in the same white supremacist bramble as anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism. Although #StopAsianHate is not confined to a social media phenomenon, having given way to a number of street mobilizations and advocacy coalitions, it requires a radical expansion of our political imagination to conceptualize redressing centuries of colonialism, imperialism and xenophobia against API nations.  

Liberation movements of colonized peoples typically involve envisioning large-scale political projects. Formerly colonized states in Africa and Asia such as Angola, South Africa, India, Indonesia and countless others sought the expulsion of their colonial administrators and the establishment of independent countries. The 10-Point Program of the Black Panther Party, situated in the belly of the U.S. empire, called for self-determination for Black communities and the construction of socialism via the seizure of the ruling class’ capital and subsequent redistribution into the hands of the working class. Indigenous liberation movements in North America call for Land Back, which is introduced as the “reclamation of everything stolen from the original Peoples” by the NDN Collective, an organization of native activists from across Turtle Island, the name for what settlers know as North America in a number of Indigenous oral histories. A common goal within the Palestinian liberation movement is the guarantee of the right of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return the lands seized from them by Israeli occupation, exercising Palestinian national sovereignty and self-determination thereon — this political project is known simply as “The Right of Return.”

A map that represents Asian countries by population. Asians are one of the most transnational ethno-cultural-national categories, reflected in the population size. Courtesy of Wikimedia

With all of these comparative examples in mind, what is the makeup of a hypothetical “pan-Asian liberation movement” (if we can even call it that)? The first major consideration we have to make is that Asians are one of, if not the most transnational ethno-cultural-national categories. India’s diasporic population alone is 15.5 million. This necessitates that a pan-Asian solidarity movement — which definitionally includes all API nations— is anti-imperialist and anti-colonial, advocating for self-determination and economic independence from imperialist hegemons such as the United States and European Union.  

In the United States and Canada, advocates for API advancement have to contend with the reality that the land on which we occupy is not ours to claim or reclaim — whether inadvertently or deliberately, API communities on Turtle Island are participants in a settler-colonial project that continues to subjugate hundreds of Indigenous tribal groups and nations through systematic underdevelopment by the colonizing government. The nature of capitalism and systemic racism dictates that the advancement of one group through economic class requires the displacement, exploitation and marginalization of another. Uprooting the economic woes of Asians in America without doing so for other workers, especially workers of color, would simply mean a rearrangement of oppressive conditions under racial capitalism. We have to envision a pan-Asian solidarity movement that is broadly anti-racist and anti-capitalist.  

The question of how to visualize a political project encompassing over one billion members of the same, vague category feels insurmountable. Thankfully, the beauty of political science is that those willing to take on the challenge can equip themselves with the theoretical and analytical tools to meaningfully piece together a coherent picture; furthermore, the beauty of being a columnist is that I’m allowed to continue this next week.

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