03 May AAPI Month Celebrates the History and Contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, a time to honor the rich history, culture, and achievements of AAPIs in the United States. This month-long celebration has its roots in the recognition of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States on May 7, 1843, and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869, primarily built by Chinese immigrants. AAPIs continue to significantly contribute to American society in science, technology, business, arts, and politics.
As we celebrate AAPI Heritage Month, it is essential to acknowledge the relationship between Asian Americans and Black communities. Both groups have faced discrimination, marginalization, and systemic racism throughout U.S. history and have often found common ground in their shared experiences. For example, during the Civil Rights movement, Asian American activists supported Black Americans fighting for equal rights and justice. In addition, black civil rights leaders advocated repealing discriminatory laws targeting Asian Americans, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act.
However, there have also been tension and conflict between these communities stemming from economic competition, cultural misunderstandings, and language barriers. The 1992 Los Angeles Civil Unrest erupted following the acquittal of police officers in the beating of Rodney King, and tensions between Black and Korean American communities boiled over as Korean-owned businesses were targeted and burned.
Last year was the 30th Anniversary of the Los Angeles Civil Unrest. The City of Los Angeles Civil + Human Rights & Equity Department invited community leaders to participate in “Forward Together,” a series of community dialogue events commemorating April 29, 1992 (“4/29” “) Civil Unrest. The dialogues were intimate, small group conversations between influential leaders from the African American and Korean American communities. During these dialogues, the circumstances and events that led to the 1992 Civil Unrest and the economic and social impact were discussed—and recommendations for moving forward together three decades later were made.
The LA Civil Rights Department memorialized the experience by recording the dialogues. However, the statements were not attributed to particular individuals to encourage open discussion, and the recordings were not released to the public. The conversations were only used to elevate community voices and perspectives on current race relations and what solutions could move the city forward.
“Dismantling structural racism requires systemic change, economic investment, deep education, and opportunities to engage and interface with one another,” said Marsha Mitchell, Director of Communications at Community Coalition. “It also requires everyone’s involvement.”
Taking its name from the dialogue series, several participants formed the 4/29 Forward Together Committee–a workgroup that has met weekly since the inaugural discussions. It consists of leaders from First A.M.E. (Senior Pastor J. Edgar Boyd and Charlene Cyrus), Community Coalition (Marsha Mitchell), the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles (President James An), and Emile Mack (Executive Vice President of the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles).
“The leaked audio tapes from City Hall leaders only affirmed our committee members’ belief that now is the time to double down on multiracial solidarity and that Los Angeles needs to make a real commitment to serving our most marginalized communities,” said James An.
This past weekend, the group met on Saturday, 4/29–the 31st anniversary of the Civil Unrest–to conduct an embRACE luncheon. embRACE meals are a unique community and city-led collaborative launched in 2016 to spark intersectional dialogues about race and racism while building authentic relationships that can change the existing narrative and advance innovative public policy solutions. Like the 4/29 Foward Committee, the embRACE dialogues seek to challenge and change inequities within ourselves and the collective biases we find in our neighborhoods and local government.
In 2018, Community Coalition partnered with Revolve Impact and The Todd Group to successfully train more than 40 facilitators who acted as hosts and organized 130 free dinners. The meals, which took place at homes or community-based organizations throughout the city, consisted of guided conversations between participants living, working, or attending school in LA. The initiative was created and spearheaded by Council President Herb Wesson and Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who chose Community Coalition as the lead organization to carry out the initiative.
The 4/29 Forward Together Committee is dedicated to bringing the African and Korean American communities together via sharing resources, providing economic empowerment opportunities, and hosting social events that allow people to get to know each other. As we look to the future as Angelenos, it is crucial that we recognize and address the complex dynamics between different communities. By acknowledging the shared struggles of Asian American and African American communities and working towards greater understanding and empathy, we can build a more just and equitable society for all.
During AAPI Heritage Month, we invite everyone to learn more about the history and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, including their relationship with Black communities. In addition, we encourage individuals and organizations to host events and activities that celebrate AAPI culture, educate about the challenges facing AAPI communities, and promote cross-cultural understanding and collaboration.
Together, let’s work towards a future of unity and understanding.