In 1968, UC Berkeley graduate students Emma Gee and Yuji Ichioka coined the term “Asian American” when naming the student organization the Asian American Political Alliance, or the AAPA.
Mina Fedor, founder of AAPI Youth Rising, explained that many Asian American Pacific Islander, or AAPI, civil rights leaders have been active in the city of Berkeley before the founding of AAPA.
“This was an important inflection point for Asians in America, because we could collectively unite under an umbrella term to be stronger together and work towards championing rights for Asian Americans,” Fedor said in an email.
A 1907 newspaper article in The Berkeley Gazette listed the formation of UC Berkeley’s Oriental Students’ Association, which was made up of members from India, China, Japan and Thailand. This association was listed decades before the rise of 1960s-activism groups such as the AAPA.
While many history books do not discuss these civil rights activists, it is important to learn about their past contributions, Fedor said.
Fedor highlighted those she calls heroes, such as Grace Lee Boggs, an intersectional activist who worked across racial lines and championed youth and housing rights, and Larry Itliong, a Filipino labor organizer who worked with Mexican farmworkers. Fedor noted that there are a large number of other AAPI activists as well.
“There are so many, and kids need to learn about these heroes to understand that AAPI in activism isn’t new and AAPIs have worked across communities of color as allies and as supporters of rights that help everyone,” Fedor said in the email.
She also explained the importance of understanding the history of AAPI issues, describing the rise in xenophobia during the COVID-19 pandemic as a “pattern that has repeated throughout history.”
Fedor noted the importance of recognizing when minority groups are used as a scapegoat for other communities’ struggles.
Fedor cited the Chinese Exclusion Act as the culmination of a period when Chinese railroad laborers were blamed for stealing jobs. Additionally, when Americans feared the rise of the Japanese automobile industry, she said, Chinese American Vincent Chin was murdered.
“We deserve to learn the history of how America got here,” Fedor said in the email. “We deserve to incorporate inclusive texts in our schools. That’s how our future generations will make society better.”
Noting that bullying against AAPI youth increased during the pandemic, Fedor explained the need for teaching Asian American history so that the community is not considered a “perpetual foreigner” or the “model minority.”
“AAPI” refers to over four billion people with varying ethnicities, languages and socioeconomic status, according to Fedor. She added that issues like the model minority myth work to pit communities of color against each other.
This myth perpetuates that Asian Americans receive a higher degree of socioeconomic success, Fedor said, and it ignores the wage inequality between AAPI subgroups, such as the wages of Indian Americans compared to Hmong and Bhutanese wages.
“Although the term Asian American started out as a way to come together for collective action, now in terms of looking at data, it actually cuts against us,” Fedor said in the email.
As one of many AAPI activist groups in the city of Berkeley, Fedor’s organization, AAPI Youth Rising, offers free programming in Asian American history for classrooms.
During the organization’s rally, Fedor said they heard from council members Rigel Robinson and Rashi Kesarwani, who highlighted Berkeley’s role in the foundation of AAPI activism. Fedor added that youth can join in on activism by learning the history of AAPI communities and learning to use their voices as allies.
“I think a lot of kids going to school in Berkeley realize that activism is really just about making the right decisions every day and taking small actions to make the world better,” Fedor said in the email