Dear Community: Calling on our Southeast Asian siblings to stand in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives

APEN members Linda Saephan and Aaron Saechao at a Black Lives Matter protest in Richmond, CA. Photo by Denny Khamphanthong. Artwork by Faye Saechao, see more at www.iumienforblacklives.com.

Dear community,

We are youth and adult members of Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN). We came together to fight the big polluters that are poisoning our air and bodies, and build the future our communities deserve.

We grew up around Richmond, California as children of Southeast Asian refugees and immigrants in majority Black and Brown neighborhoods. Growing up on the same blocks and going to the same schools, we shared many struggles and found solidarity in that. But our complexion and race gave us a level of privilege when it came to anti-Black racism.

We are writing today to call on our Southeast Asian siblings to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and call for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Yassin Mohamed, Sean Reed, Steven Taylor, Nina Pop, and thousands more Black people who have been killed by police and vigilantes.

Last week, we saw George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, murdered by Minneapolis police. For nearly 9 minutes, he pleaded for his life as he lay handcuffed, face down on the pavement, as police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into his neck. Meanwhile, Tou Thao, a Southeast Asian police officer, stood watch as people yelled at the officers to stop, telling them that Floyd could not breathe.

For many of us, this scene was too familiar. Tou Thao should be held accountable for his actions. But he is also a reflection of the anti-blackness that exists in our community. We must recognize that and take accountability for it.

APEN members Brandy Keomouangdy and James Velasquez Madison at the Justice for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor car caravan action. Photo by Denny Khamphanthong.

Growing up, we were told not to get involved when situations like this come up. That it’s “not our problem,” and that we should be bystanders for fear of harm and repercussions.

Part of it is that for many of our elders, this is linked to their historic trauma and the legacy of imperialism in our homelands. Our generation needs to unlearn this trauma so that we can stand together against white supremacy and anti-Black racism. So that we can heal and take care of one another.

The other part of it is that as Southeast Asians, we benefit from anti-Black racism. Many people in our communities believe that if we adopt anti-Black racism and assimilate into whiteness, that we will also be protected from the worst of it. But as we saw with the coronavirus pandemic and how quickly anti-Asian racism spread, this too, is a lie.

The system that has failed us, that caused wars in Southeast Asia, that displaced us to other places across the globe and that is now stoking anti-Asian racism, is the same system that exterminates Black lives in this country every day. We cannot stay silent when it benefits us and protest when it doesn’t.

The reality is that this system’s survival relies on the fact that Black lives can be taken in front of our very eyes knowing there will be no repercussions. We cannot let this happen.

Denny Khamphanthong, Seng So, and Brandy Keomouangdy getting ready to support a student-led solidarity march in Oakland. Photo by Denny Khamphanthong.

The only way forward is to stand together and dismantle the structures of white supremacy and anti-Black racism. So that all of us can be free to live fully and joyfully. To pursue our dreams and deepen our connections. To not worry about having our humanity shot down or our lives cut short.

From our experience, we know that the people most impacted are also closest to the solutions and must be at the forefront of decision-making and leadership. We support their calls to defund police and prisons — systems that were designed to protect private property and uphold white supremacy at the expense of Black people — and instead invest in the resources our communities need to thrive.

We’re calling on all of you to get involved. Learn about the Black-led organizing in your area. Join an organization. Get your friends together and go to a protest. Donate to Black freedom funds and bail funds. Educate your peers. It’s going to take all of us.

In solidarity,

Denny Khamphanthong

Asya Saechao

Megan Chao

Annabelle Chao

Tony Rattanasack

Linda Saephan

Arwa Asif

Saaksshi Upreti

Ninoangelo Lastimosa

Nathan Phousanouraj

Brandy Keomouangdy

Ayush Dahal

Hitesh Kumar Khilwani

James Velasquez Madison

Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN)--Uniting Asian and Pacific Islander communities for environmental and social justice. #apen4ej

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