Office of Inclusive Excellence

Reflection on My Participation in the Coalition for Asian Justice

May 17, 2022

By Angie Ngọc Trần

Almost one year has passed since we organized a very successful Anti-Asian Hate rally, on April 24th, 2021, in front of the Monterey City Hall. On that day, I recited two Vietnamese proverbs that I learned in kindergarten in Vietnam and still find relevant today: “Đoàn kết thì sống, chia rẽ thì chết” (unity brings life, division brings demise) and “Một cây làm chẳng nên non/ Ba cây chụm lại nên hòn núi cao” (one lone tree cannot make a mountain, but three trees together can create a high mountain). Reflecting on a year of activism, those wise sayings continue to encourage me to go out of my academic comfort zone to engage in these social causes, right here in Monterey County where I teach and live.

After that rally, we founded the Coalition for Asian Justice (CAJ), a group of like-minded individuals from diverse ethnic backgrounds who immediately engaged in activism to achieve racial justice for all Asians residing in the U.S., beyond just Asian Americans. We participated in the movement and successfully eliminated the Feast of Lanterns, a racist pageant that deeply offended the Chinese community by using caricatures of the facial features of the Chinese people, ridiculing Chinese culture, and omitting historical events that led to the eviction of the Chinese from Pacific Grove in 1906. We signed on the petition and spread the word, getting support and testimonies from social-justice affinity organizations and speaking at the February 16th PG City council meeting. All these activities led to the permanent cancellation of the Feast of Lanterns.

The cross-ethnic and cross-race solidarity continues to fire me up to fight for social justice. We were successful in these actions because we have actively built coalitions with many affinity social justice groups such as NAACP, LULAC, and UFW. We won these fights because we received support from our allies. At the February PG City council meeting, there were many non-Chinese people (white, black, brown, and other Asian ethnic groups) who spoke up late into the night in  support of this movement because they believed in solidarity, strength in numbers and that "an injury to one is an injury to all."

During the March 17th AAPI panel organized by the CSUMB World Languages and Cultures , an African American audience member made a comment and asked questions that really made me think about my positionality. He appreciated that our talks gave him “a look inside the minds of the Asian mindset” and that “if we close our eyes it sounds like the same cries Blacks, Hispanics, and other POC [people of color] have been crying about for 60-70 years possibly more.” I agree with him wholeheartedly.

During that panel discussion, I did share a bit of my own “Asian mindset”: an appreciation of cross-ethnic and cross-race solidarity that got me to the U.S. I came here as a boat-person refugee in 1980, five  years after the end of the bloody US-Vietnam war in 1975. But I am only one of the thousands of Vietnamese refugees who benefitted from the efforts of the African American community who in 1978 called on the Carter administration and Congress to accept “Indochinese refugees” from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia into the US on the grounds of human rights and freedom, in the same spirit of the US accepting refugees from Apartheid South Africa. I have a deep gratitude to the African American community who argued that they could not compartmentalize their own struggles for human rights, and economic and political justice from the plights of other refugees in search of freedom.

While I don’t have all the answers to his excellent question: “how can we bring the Asian and other POC together? We know racism and stereotypes are used to divide us. What steps can the elders, those in power within the various Asian groups do to bring us together?” I shared some overarching thinking. I started by acknowledging that the attacks on Asian and Asian Americans are part of the same global capitalist system that thrives on division among people of color and attacks on Blacks and Latinx. So, to deal with these structural forms of racism, we need to see things beyond a yellow-white problem, but our collective problem, to combat systemic racism which raises its ugly head in many contexts.

Moreover, I shared some small and incremental steps that CAJ members have done to bring us together, such as building our CAJ website: and contributing to the planning of the May 14th Walk of Remembrance with the Pacific Grove Museum staff to celebrate Pacific Grove’s pioneering Chinese Fishing community of the nineteenth century. In the longer term, we plan to promote awareness of the contributions of Asians to communities in Monterey County and create archival materials of Asian communities’ histories and contributions, to be housed at CSUMB Library for education purposes.

We have a lot of work in front of us, but reflecting on the Vietnamese proverb that I spoke at the rally last year, I realize that we are no longer having just “three trees” but are in solidarity with many allies from different races and ethnic groups to “enact concrete changes towards justice through education, local activism, support networks, and advocacy.”

Angie Ngọc Trần, Ph.D, is a professor in the School of Social, Behavioral & Global Studies