This month, May, is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. As we have previously discussed, South Asians are becoming a growing part of this county’s population and history. South Asian Americans must be recognized for our contributions for many decades in this country.
It’s important that during this month, we—as South Asians—do not forget that this heritage month includes us, as well. Oftentimes, we are told, “You’re not Asian.” Looking at a map, it is easy enough to tell that we are. However, the impacts of those statements, as wrong as they are, have consequences. South Asians, amongst Southeast Asians and Filipinos, are often not included in advocacy spaces for Asians. Kevin L. Nadal explains in “The Brown Asian American Movement: Advocating for South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Filipino American Communities,” a Harvard Kennedy School publication, that by the late-1960’s and 70’s, “Yellow Power Movement” was used as a term to replace the Asian American Movement in response to the Black Power Movement and the Brown Power Movement. This title established East Asian Americans to be the dominant voice in this movement, whether it be intentional or unintentional. Nonetheless, our advances, accomplishments, and contributions have been imperative towards the progress of this nation.
In the early 1900s, San Francisco saw the rise of the Ghadar Party. Composed of a group of mostly hard labor workers and farmers, this group of Indian immigrants worked together to push for Indian freedom from the British while being in America. This group of South Asian Americans stood for the ideals and values of democracy. This was while they faced anti-Asian sentiments that targeted them from entering the country and caused them to face more discrimination if they made it in. As San Francisco was growing at the time, South Asian Americans certainly played a role in what San Francisco has grown into today: not just a technological hub, but a place of growth and support for American social movements.
Staying located in San Francisco but coming to our current times, there is an organization called the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action (ASATA) that was started in 1999. They started out with responding ot human trafficking, labor exploititation, and gender-based violence. Post-9/11, they began running Know Your Rights workshops for community members if FBI agents attempted to question you. This organization also partnered with non-South Asian American organizations against racialized surveillance. In 2013, Oakland started a surveillance system called the Domain Awareness Center (DAC). This program had over 700 cameras in schools and public housing that used facial recognition software and automated license plate readers. ASATA worked with other organizations, and ultimately, the program was confined to the Port of Oakland. The use of facial recognition and license plate reading software was prohibited after this movement. The city then created Oakland’s Privacy Advisory Commission for citizens to be able to protect their own privacy; Sahiba Basrai, an ASATA member, chaired this commission. Overtime, this organization has been integral in the area to keeping the voices of people of color alive. They worked with the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition Against the War, Justice in Palestine coalition, and the SF Anti-War Coalition.
South Asian Americans have had much to rise up from and face in this nation’s history—making our contributions all the more notable. Vivek Bald, a historian and filmmaker, explains the Bellingham Riots on September 4th of 1907 in Time Magazine that this marked the first “known incident of large-scale, organized anti-South Asian violence in the United States.” This attack was launched in Bellingham, Washington where hundreds of white workers searched the town for Indian immigrants. They attacked laborers, predominantly Punjabi Sikh men, working in Bellingham lumber mills. Their bunkhouses were set on fire, their possessions and passports were stolen from them, and they were beaten. What was the result of this attack? Congress passed the 1917 Immigration Act, banning Asian labor migrants from entering, and the Indian immigrant lumber workers in this community left, walking into Canada, in fear of their own safety.
This is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Part of our South Asian American Heritage is the pain and discrimination we have suffered and the discrimination that our community was built upon. Each time I write a blog like this, I am learning something new as I am doing my research. Understanding the background our community is from here helps me understand all that we had to overcome to get here. It makes me all the more proud in embracing our heritage and how far we have come. Now, organizations like South Asian Network fight not just for ourselves, but for people in all communities in our region to live safer and more peaceful lives.