Professor Yang Speaks on Cross-Racial Coalitions and POC Movements


UMass Amherst Professor Yang, pictured above, spoke about the history of oppression of immigrants, particularly Asian immigrants, and cross-racial coalitions between Asians and African Americans. 

On​ ​Wednesday,​ ​November​ ​15​ ​Professor​ ​of ​English​ ​at ​the University​ ​of​ ​Massachusetts Amherst Caroline​ ​Yang,​ ​gave​ ​the​ ​presentation​ ​“Cross-Racial​ ​Coalition​ ​and Solidarity:​ ​Lessons​ ​from​ People of Color (POC) ​movements​ ​in​ ​the​ ​1960s.”​ ​Professor​ ​Yang​ ​began​ ​her​ ​talk​ ​by introducing​ ​how​ ​Asians​ ​have​ ​started​ ​to​ ​immigrate​ ​to​ ​the​ ​United​ ​States​ ​since​ ​the​ ​1960s due​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Immigration​ ​and​ ​Nationality​ ​Act​ ​of​ ​1965​. This allowed ​foreigners​ ​from​ ​regions​ ​and countries​ ​besides​ ​Northern​ ​Europe​ ​to​ ​immigrate​ ​into​ ​the​ ​United​ ​States.

​Yang​ ​segued into​ ​showing​ ​a​ ​Jello​ ​commercial​ ​from​ ​the​ ​1960s.​ ​The​ ​commercial​ ​depicted​ ​an​ ​Asian​ ​baby attempting​ ​to​ ​eat​ ​Jello​ ​with​ ​chopsticks. However,​ ​when​ ​the​ ​baby​ ​is​ ​handed​ ​a spoon,​ ​it​ was ​able​ ​to​ successfully ​eat​ ​the​ ​food.​ ​Yang​ ​went​ ​on​ ​to​ ​explain​ ​how​ ​this advertisement​ ​was​ ​an​ ​example​ ​of​ ​Asians​ ​being​ ​subtly​ ​assimilated​ ​into​ ​an​ ​American​ ​culture.This ​belief that Asians could and were expected to adopt American values​ ​began​ ​to​ ​surface​ ​in​ ​the​ ​1960s.

Before​ ​further​ ​presenting​ ​on​ ​Asian​ ​immigration​ ​in​ ​the​ ​United​ ​States​ ​after​ ​the​ 1960s, ​Yang​ ​explained ​its​ ​inception​ ​in​ ​the​ ​nineteenth century.​ She ​talked​ ​about​ ​how​ ​the​ ​first​ ​group​ ​of​ ​Asian​ ​immigrants​ ​entered​ ​the​ ​United States​ ​in​ ​the​ ​1850s.​ ​Many​ ​of​ ​these​ ​immigrants ​were​ ​working​ ​in​ ​gold mines.​ ​Yang​ ​also discussed​ ​how​ ​the​ ​passage​ ​of​ ​Asian​ ​immigrants​ ​into​ ​the​ ​United​ ​States sparked​ ​controversy​ ​resulting in Asians​ ​being​ ​subjected​ ​to​ ​racism, sexism​ ​and​ ​many​ ​other​ ​forms​ ​of​ ​oppression.​ ​For​ ​example,​ ​Yang​ ​shared that many of the ​workers​ ​in​ ​gold​ ​mines​ ​were​ ​young​ ​men. Because of their long hair, many faced discrimination. 

​Yang​ ​further​ ​explained​ ​the​ ​oppression​ ​of​ ​Asian​ ​immigrants​ ​by​ ​introducing miscegenation​ ​laws,​ ​which​ ​outlawed​ ​interracial​ ​marriage.​ ​In​ ​addition,​ ​the​ ​growing​ ​number​ ​of Asian​ ​workers​ ​in​ ​America​ ​had​ ​brought​ ​up​ ​the​ ​stigma​ ​that​ ​Asians​ ​would​ ​drive​ ​many​ ​Americans out​ ​of​ ​work.​ ​This​ ​growing​ ​controversy​ ​amongst​ ​Asian​ ​immigrants​ ​reached​ ​further​ ​oppression from​ ​the​ ​American​ ​government​ ​with​ ​the​ ​passing​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Page​ ​Act​ ​in​ ​1875. This ​prohibited​ ​the entry​ ​of​ ​immigrants​ ​into​ ​the​ ​United​ ​States​ ​who​ ​would​ ​be​ ​considered​ ​unwanted.​ ​Many​ ​Chinese women​ ​were​ ​accused​ ​of​ ​being​ ​prostitutes​ ​as​ ​a​ ​result​ ​of​ ​this​ ​law.​ ​In​ ​order​ ​to​ ​gain​ ​entry​ ​into the​ ​country,​ ​Chinese​ ​women​ ​would​ ​have​ ​to​ ​prove​ ​themselves​ ​in​ ​court​ ​only​ ​if​ ​they​ ​would​ ​be accompanied​ ​by​ ​a​ ​white​ ​man​ ​representing​ ​them.​ ​The​ ​introduction​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Chinese​ ​Exclusion​ ​Act in​ ​1882​ ​blocked​ ​all​ ​Chinese​ ​immigration. ​In​ ​1924,​ ​the​ ​Asian​ ​Exclusion​ ​act​ ​limited​ ​the number ​of​ ​immigrants​ ​who​ ​could​ ​enter​ ​the​ ​United​ ​States.

Despite​ ​important​ ​American​ ​historical​ ​events​ ​such​ ​as​ ​the​ ​Allies’​ ​victory​ ​in​ ​World​ ​War​ ​II and​ ​major​ ​technological​ ​innovations​ ​during​ ​the​ ​Cold​ ​War,​ ​Yang​ ​reasoned that​ ​the​ ​racism​ ​in​ ​American​ ​society​ ​during​ ​the​ ​Cold​ ​War​ ​was​ ​seen​ ​as​ ​an​ ​international embarrassment​ ​for​ ​the​ ​country,​ ​with​ ​topics​ ​such​ ​as​ ​the​ ​decision​ ​of​ ​Brown​ ​v.​ ​Board​ ​of​ ​Education, the​ ​Freedom​ ​Riders ​and​ ​important​ ​civil​ ​rights​ ​activists​ ​like​ ​Rosa​ ​Parks​ ​standing​ ​as​ ​a​ ​testament to​ ​the​ ​racist​ ​sentiment​ ​present.

​​However,​ ​​ ​Asians​ ​were ​beginning​ ​to​ ​be​ ​depicted​ ​as​ ​an​ ​assimilated​ ​and​ ​“whitened”​ ​race​ ​in American​ ​culture;​ ​Yang​ ​demonstrated​ ​how​ ​the​ ​musical ​Flower​ ​Drum​ ​Song was​ ​an example​ ​of​ Asian assimilation.​ ​The​ ​term​ ​“model​ ​minority”​ ​exemplified​ ​how​ ​Asians​ ​had​ ​been​ ​considered​ ​in​ ​much​ ​of American​ ​society​ ​as​ ​an​ ​acceptable​ ​minority,​ ​and​ ​Yang criticized​ ​the​ ​term​ ​for​ ​stereotyping​ ​Asians​ ​in​ ​a negative​ ​manner.

​Yang​ ​proceeded​ ​to​ ​analyze​ ​how​ ​cross-racial​ ​coalitions​ ​between​ ​Asians ​and African​ ​Americans​ ​were​ ​important​ ​in​ ​promoting​ ​solidarity.​ ​Individuals​ ​mentioned​ ​by​ Yang​ ​such​ ​as​ ​Richard​ ​Aoki​ ​and​ ​Yuji​ ​Kochiyama​ ​were​ ​significant​ ​in​ ​promoting​ ​equality​ ​not​ ​only for​ ​Asians​ ​in​ ​American​ ​culture,​ ​but​ ​also​ ​for​ ​all​ ​minorities.​ ​Yang​ ​explained​ ​that​ ​the passage​ ​of​ ​the​ ​1965​ ​Immigration​ ​Act​ ​was​ ​monumental​ because ​immigration​ ​was no​ ​longer​  exclusionary based on ​race. Instead, it​ ​prioritized​ ​reunification​ ​between​ ​family​ ​members​ ​previously​ ​unable​ ​to immigrate​ ​and​ ​those​ ​already​ ​settled​ ​in​ ​the​ ​United​ ​States as well as​ ​foreign​ ​workers whose​ ​skills​ ​were​ ​needed​ ​in​ ​America.

The​ ​legacy​ ​of​ ​cross-racial​ ​coalitions​ ​during​ ​the​ ​1960s​ ​Civil​ ​Rights​ ​Movement​ ​impacted many​ ​Asians​ ​in​ ​participating​ ​in​ ​African​ ​American​ ​equality​ ​movements,​ ​though​ ​not​ ​without controversy.​ Asian Americans didn’t have as large of an uproar in activism as compared to African Americans in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Because of this, people who believed in this “model minority” stereotype applauded Asian Americans for not being as vocal in activism for equality when compared to other races. However,​ ​Yang was​ ​quick​ ​to​ ​emphasize​ ​that​ ​participation​ ​in​ ​freedom​ ​and​ ​equality​ ​movements​ ​amongst​ ​different races​ ​are​ ​important​ ​in​ ​creating​ ​equality.

Yang’s​ ​talk​ ​was​ ​impactful​ ​to​ ​many​ ​students​ ​of​ ​Colgate.​ ​Senior Lücién​ ​Reubens reflected on the importance of this talk, sponsered by the Organziation of Asian Sisters in Solidarity (OASIS). 

“[Yang brought an] ​awareness into​ ​history​ ​that​ ​doesn’t​ ​see​ ​the​ ​light​ ​it​ ​deserves,” Reubens said. 

OASIS board member senior Woohee​ ​Kim, praised​ Yang’s presentation​. 

​“It is important to discuss the​ ​erasure​ ​of​ ​the​ ​radical​ ​history​ ​of​ ​Asian-American​ ​communities’ cross-racial​ ​solidarity​ ​with​ ​POC​ ​movements​ ​and​ ​the​ ​importance​ ​of​ ​cross-racial​ ​coalition​ ​building in​ ​the​ ​contexts​ ​of​ ​US​ ​society​ ​today,” Kim said. 

Yang’s​ ​message​ ​on​ ​cross-racial​ ​coalition​ ​demonstrates​ ​the​ ​importance​ ​of cooperation​ ​between​ ​people​ ​of​ ​different​ ​backgrounds,​ ​and​ ​how​ ​unity​ ​is​ ​the​ ​best​ ​way​ ​to achieve equality​ ​for​ ​everyone. 

Contact Finn Schuemann at [email protected].