Necessary But Not Sufficient -- YELLOW POWER
The Asian American movement was a student-based movement that emphasized a sense of common solidarity among Asians of all ethnicities to combat racism and discrimination while promoting antiwar and anti-imperialist policies. This article was published in Gidra, a magazine created in 1969 by UCLA students that declared itself the “voice of the Asian American movement.” The magazine editors hoped to create a sense of pride in Asian American identity while also challenging stereotypes and institutional racism. Student activist Larry Kubota wrote this article in April 1969 to articulate the meaning of “Yellow Power” and the goals of the Asian American movement. Read the article carefully and consider the following questions: Why, according to Kubota, is an Asian American movement necessary? What is the meaning of “Yellow Power”? What does Kubota call for Asian Americans to do?
The Asian American movement was a student-based movement that emphasized a sense of common solidarity among Asians of all ethnicities to combat racism and discrimination while promoting antiwar and anti-imperialist policies. This was the first time that a pan-Asian identity crystalized in the United States; previously Asian Americans identified themselves by their separate ethnicities. This article was published in Gidra, a magazine created in 1969 by UCLA students that declared itself the “voice of the Asian American movement.” The magazine editors hoped to create a sense of pride in Asian American identity while also challenging stereotypes and institutional racism. Student activist Larry Kubota wrote this article in April 1969 to articulate the meaning of “Yellow Power” and the goals of the Asian American movement. Ask students to read the article carefully and consider the following questions: Why, according to Kubota, is an Asian American movement necessary? Why does Kubota label himself as Yellow? (Point out to students that Yellow had been a pejorative term, but radical Asian American activists embraced it as a source of pride and power.) What is the meaning of “Yellow Power”? What does Kubota call for Asian Americans to do?
“Power concedes nothing without demand, it never did and it never will. Find out what any people will quietly submit to and you have found the exact measure of injustice and wrong with will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blow, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” Frederick Douglas
In Los Angeles in 1871, a mob of a thousand persons marched into the Chinese section, seized victims, overpowered the officers of the law and hanged at least 22 Chinese men, women, and children. No attempt was made to bring these people to justice.
Asian American history is filled with innumerable racist incidents. Some are overt, such as the one given above. Others are covert - psychological oppression, educational deprivation, and economic exploitation - and are equally destructive.
Looking back into the past, it is incredible that we have taken so long to confront the problem of racism. We are relegated to second-class citizenship, and adding insult upon injury, we are told to be thankful for our blessings.
We tried only the tactic of adaptation. We responded to our treatment with an “Oriental” smile and a polite “thank you.”
Today, however, in the dawn of a new era. We have finally reached the limits of our tolerance and have begun to explore a new alternative. Asian Americans have rediscovered their spirit and pride and are becoming a force to be reckoned with. In San Francisco, San Mateo, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, yellow people are fighting side by side with other Third World people for reform in society, and in particular, the educational system.
This is a new role for the Asian Americans. It is a rejection of the passive Oriental stereotype and symbolizes the birth of a new Asian - one who will recognize and deal with injustices. The shout of Yellow Power, symbolic of our new direction, is reverberating in the quiet corridors of the Asian community.
“Asian parents push their children to ‘make it,’ not realizing that when the process is complete, children may reject their parents.”
Yellow Power is symbolic of the type of rapid social change occurring today which no group or individual can ignore. It is apparent, however, that may of us do not understand the meaning of Yellow Power and its relationship to the changes currently taking place in American Society.
Yellow Power means that we as Asian American are seeking greater control over the direction of our lives. It also expresses a determination to effect constructive changes in the larger society. It is not a call for Asians to move out of the mainstream of American life, but instead it says that we should be able to dictate some of the terms of entry into that mainstream.
Some have asked why do we need Yellow Power? There are three basic reasons. First, Yellow Power must develop for the self-preservation of yellow people in America. Second, it must develop so that we can determine our own destiny. And third, it must develop so that Asian Americans can contribute to the creation of a truly humanistic society.
To answer the question regarding the necessity of Yellow Power for our self-preservation, let us review a few key events in our history, some of which are cited by Dr. Henry H. L. Kitano in his book, The Japanese in the United States.
Rock Springs, Wyoming, 1885: 29 Chinese are murdered, their homes destroyed and their belongings scattered, because the Chinese were perceived as economic threats.
“Yellow Power is a call for Asian Americans to end the silence that has condemned us to suffer in the racist society.”
U.S.A. 1942: 110,000 Japanese-Americans are imprisoned in concentration camps without trial.
U.S. Congress, 1945: Oklahoma Congressman Jed Johnson proposes mass sterilization of the Japanese in concentration camps.
Los Angeles, 1969: The Council of Oriental Organizations is ousted from a meeting of the Concerned Citizens for Community Colleges - the Los Angeles version of the White Citizen’s Council. The reason given for the ouster is that the Oriental community is “politically irrelevant.”
The foregoing clearly illustrate the outrageous and frequently violent acts perpetuated against Asian-Americans by this so-called democratic society. It should be remembered that in America, all people of color have suffered as much or more. The condition of people of color in America is one of helplessness and powerlessness.
Yellow Power is a call to reject our past and present condition of powerlessness. When we attain a position of power in this society, we can have more control over our lives and begin to determine our own destiny. This is the second reason for Yellow Power.
Traditionally, yellow people have spent a great deal of time observing the behavior and mannerisms of white people. We have tried to act like them, speak like them, look like them, and be like them in every way. We have even been willing to sacrifice family relationships to emulate whites. For example, Asian parents push their children to ‘make it,’ not realizing when the process is complete, children may reject their parents. The children feel ashamed of their parents because their parents do not measure up to the white standards that they have been told to hold supreme.
It is time we understood that white people cannot be taken as models. More than anyone else, it is they who are in dire need of reevaluating their standards and values. It is they who have been guilty of bigotry and hypocrisy. It is they who have created a country where racism is rampant.
The white youth of today are learning that George Washington, the father of our country, was a slave owner. They are ashamed as they watch the heroes of their fathers on television killing Indians, enslave Black men, colonizing Brown men, and demeaning Yellow men, all in the effort to sustain the myth of White supremacy.
We must recognize, as Eldridge Cleavers suggests, that it is among the White youth of the world that the greatest changes is taking place. It is they who feel the pain of finding their inherited heroes turned into villains. In the world revolution now under way the heroes are no longer people who are white. Today the ehores are Eldridge Cleaver, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Mao Tse Tung, Che Guevara, ….