We Talked to Asian Latinas About the Urgent Need for Intersectional Activism

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) aren’t only separating Latino families in the States. Trump’s harsh immigration policies have been targeting select Southeast Asian refugees under the pretense that they’re allegedly violent criminal aliens. These refugees fled various crises in the war-torn region over the last 40 years.

The majority of these immigrants fled to the U.S. during the Vietnam War era which impacted the entire region. Some fought alongside American troops to protect southern Vietnam. Had they remained in Vietnam after Saigon fell, they would’ve been forced into ‘re-education’ camps or killed. Others escaped military brutality in Myanmar, the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia, and extreme poverty of Laos.

Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam are all recalcitrant about accepting deportees. Still, ICE has been arresting ASEAN refugees and keeping them in detention, even though they may not actually be able to be deported. According to The New York Times, as of September 2018, there were 8,634 Vietnamese with a final order of removal–yet not all of them were convicted criminals. 71 Vietnamese were in ICE detention centers, five of who were not convicted criminals.

Forcing refugees to go back to the countries they’ve fled–whether in Latin America or Southeast Asia–is inhumane. Many of these refugees endured unimaginable trauma and the countries they escaped still bear the wounds of conflict. They likely have few relatives or connections back in their ancestral land due to displacement during the atrocities that occurred in the region. It would be difficult for them to assimilate culturally, as they may not know the local dialect. In many of these countries, quality education and healthcare are costly and sustainable jobs are difficult to find, which would make it challenging to provide for their families or their own elderly care.

When news broke that ICE was targeting ASEAN folks the Latino community was eerily silent. Latinos have been pleading to put an end to ICE, unjust deportation, and family separation. But, when the same tactics are used against other groups of protected immigrants, this stance doesn’t often become intersectional. If Latinos want the American people to protest and demand fair treatment for our DREAMers and asylum seekers at the southern border, then we must provide the same support to other minority groups that are being targeted by ICE.

Our communities have more in common than we realize. “Throughout the history of the United States, East Asians and Latinx have faced structural and communal violence at the hands of white settlers who stole this land from indigenous people, and we will continue to do so unless we pool our resources, actively try to bridge the gaps between our communities, and collectively organize for the benefit of all POC living in the United States,” Mary Marston of Decolonial Discourse says. She’s an American advocate for intersectional activism–her mother is Sino-Burmese and father is Mexican-Kittian.

The struggles of all immigrants are interconnected. “All of our oppressions, as well as liberations, are tied together and experienced collectively in chain reactions or as a collective movement. When we concentrate on our own oppressions, it results in one-way activism or an echo chamber of our own voices falling on our own communities,” says Dr. Kiona, an American and an Asian Pacific Islander of How Not to Travel Like a Basic Bitch. She uses her influence to encourage all people to be allies by informing her audience about occurrences of injustice that they may not have seen covered by mainstream media.

Marston believes it’s more crucial now than ever for Asian and Latino relations to unite. “We must learn to overcome internalizations of white supremacist tropes that were meant to divide and conquer all people of color,” says Marston. Yilan Julia Batista is the Chinese-Cuban powerhouse behind the @asian.actiivist Instagram account and echoes a similar sentiment.  “All communities of color are oppressed. Our specific hardships can vary, but the similarity is that they all stem from white supremacy. It doesn’t serve anyone but white supremacy for people of color to be divided. If people of color fight between each other, we only tear each other down. We need to be united and help each other because no one is free until everyone is free, ”Batista says.

Katy Gräble is an American of Mexican, Filipino, and German heritage. She too wants to see more Latinos and Asians joining together to demand better immigration legislation in the U.S. “We should be standing in solidarity with each other in creating this change. There are so many consequences and symptoms of broken immigration and asylum systems,” says Gräble.

Gräble contends it’s important to not expect people who face different systems of oppression than you to fight for your causes if you do not fight for theirs. “The activism causes Latino communities take on resonate across race and are present in Asian communities as well, from environmental racism to immigration issues. Together we are stronger, and when we fight for each other together, we are more powerful,” says Gräble.

Allyship is also necessary when uniting minorities to fight for liberation. “We can’t just blindly support each other without being aware of the privileges we have over other communities,” says Batista. “If we’re aware of how our communities have both struggled under the same systems, we can build empathy. And if we have empathy, we can together create intersectional organizations or movements that protect our communities’ refugees,” Batista continues.

Latinos can support Asians being targeted by ICE in the same way we help our own community. Marston suggests sharing information on ICE raids that are being conducted in Latino neighborhoods, as many migrant communities tend to live near each other. “Physically showing up for the Southeast Asian community is a manner in which Latinx can show allyship,” says Marston. Kiona encourages both communities to alert each other of ICE checkpoints and to uplift each other’s voices when a family gets detained or separated. “When we advocate for immigrants, that doesn’t just mean south of the border, that means across the ocean as well,” says Dr. Kiona.

The more cross-cultural connection we encourage between Asian and Latino communities the quicker and better we’ll be able to dismantle prejudices and marginalization. Marston suggests speaking to the organizers of social justice advocacy groups to encourage them to have joint conferences with Asian and Latino communities to address the issues that impact both minority groups. Encourage your Latino friends who are passionate about social justice to join you at protests being organized by Southeast Asian communities. Invite Southeast Asians to participate in marches about immigration being organized by your Latino community as well. Show up to support justice for all immigrants and rights for refugees. As Gräble says, “together we are stronger, and when we fight for each other together, we are more powerful.”


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