As we celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM), it is important for us to continue to reflect on our identities as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Just as APAHM is a time for us to applaud our communities’ many cultures and accomplishments, it is also a time for us to critically rethink the way we define ourselves as a people. It is for that very reason that the theme of this year’s CAPAL 2015 Heritage Ball is “Redefining Asian Pacific America.” The need for us to redefine ourselves is no more evident than in our communities’ silence on events such as Ferguson and Baltimore. Right now, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are at a critical junction – are we allies of progress and justice or do we remain complacent to the injustices in our communities?
The Asian American and Pacific Islander identity grew out of the civil rights era. As an identity, we are rooted in racial solidarity, in radical love, and in social justice. As a people, we are always working in interethnic coalitions – weaving threads between the many different languages, cultures, and religions inherent in our communities; overcoming differences in our migration stories, socioeconomic status; and identifying similarities in our experiences as refugees, as immigrants, and as Americans. As both an identity and as a people, we collectively are the epitome of solidarity for communities of color. And yet, although it has been only roughly 50 years since Asian America became a concept, our larger silence around the violence against black bodies is an indication that we have lost sight of ourselves.
When NPR ran their article sensationalizing tensions between the African American community and Asian American business owners in Baltimore in the wake of the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, they missed the stories of business owners who work in collaboration with their communities, as well as larger economic narratives of both AAPIs and African Americans in the city. I was glad to see Jeff Yang’s response to the piece. It is up to our community, to you, to me to shape our narratives. I choose to define myself as an ally of justice, in solidarity with the African American community and other communities unjustly wronged by the system we live in.
Dan Lam serves as Board Chair for CAPAL. Currently, he is a Management Information Specialist at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). At HUD, Dan helps oversee the Department’s financial management systems to ensure that they comply with Federal laws and regulations. Originally from Portland, Oregon, Dan graduated with a B.S. in General Science from the University of Oregon, and later received a M.S. in Information Systems Technology from George Washington University. He previously served on the Board of Directors for the National Organization for Vietnamese American Leadership (NOVAL). Dan, an avid runner, recently completed his first Marine Corps Marathon and is currently training for the 2015 New York City Marathon.