While thousands of Black Lives Matter supporters took to the streets Thursday night, a group of first and second generation Asian Americans worked on a strategy to take the movement into their families’ homes.
The result was an open-sourced letter, written on Google docs by over 100 contributors, giving talking points on how to explain to immigrant relatives why they should feel invested in stopping police brutality and systemic racism against black Americans.
“You may not have grown up around people who are Black, but I have. Black people are a fundamental part of my life: they are my friends, my classmates and teammates, my roommates, my family. Today, I’m scared for them,” the letter begins.
The project began with a Facebook post and series of tweets from New York City-based ethnographer Christina Xu after the shootings of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota. Xu was upset by negative responses to cases of police brutality in the past — notably the Akai Gurley case where throngs of older Asian Americans protested in support NYPD officer Peter Liang. So she proposed the letter.
She created the Google doc at 11 am on Thursday and over the next 24 hours she and hundreds of others — many anonymous — brainstormed, drafted and finalized the document. Translations into 11 Asian languages are now under way.
— Jose Antonio Vargas (@joseiswriting) July 8, 2016
Collaborators included Jose Antonio Vargas, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and founder of #EmergingUS, a digital news site that covers race, immigration, gender and American identity.
“I decided to help on this because a core question I’ve been asking myself is: What can Asian and Pacific Islanders — the fastest growing racial group in our country, and the fastest growing immigrant group, documented and undocumented — do to support the movement for Black Lives?” Vargas wrote in an email to PRI. “So much of this country’s racial conversation has been very Black and White. The country is now more Asian, more Latino, more mixed-race, and we all have roles to play.”
Lee-Sean Huang, 35, was also an early contributor. He has been involved with social justice activism for years, but found himself avoiding the topic with his parents, who are immigrants from Taiwan. With them, he says, “It’s more about lack of talking about it than dealing with overt racism.”
— mr pigeon (@zhangstr) July 8, 2016
He struggled with language barriers: English is not his parents’ first language, and Huang typically speaks about issues of race and violence in somewhat academic terms with his peers. This letter, he hopes, will help break down those barriers.
“Writing to our parents was a starting point,” he says. “A lot of people in the group writing had parents who were not born in America and weren’t fluent in English. Writing to them forced us to strip away the academic language that can be alienating.”
Of the many collaborators, Huang says he knows only two in real life.
“It’s interesting that this didn’t really come out of an organization,” he says, “but we formed this community based on this project.”