Roughly 400 people across the country have signed an open letter dated Nov. 11 condemning Asian American organizations at the College for failing to co-sponsor a walk-out in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status earlier this week.
The letter — titled “An Open Letter to the Asian American Community” — referenced a demonstration held Monday that was co-organized by student-led immigration advocacy group Act on a Dream and Harvard Asian American Womxn’s Association, among several other organizations. Organizers timed the walk-out ahead of Tuesday’s Supreme Court hearing on DACA, an Obama-era program that allowed children brought to the United States by their parents to live and work in the country.
Twenty-one campus organizations, including the Harvard Black Students Association and Native Americans at Harvard College, co-sponsored the walk-out. The only Asian American groups to co-sponsor the event were Harvard Task Force on Asian and Pacific American Studies, Harvard Philippine Forum, and the Khmer Student Association.
Despite AAWA’s “active efforts” to involve Asian American organizations, most did not respond to invitations to co-sponsor and those that did declined due to a lack of support on their boards, according to the letter. Those groups include the Asian American Association, Chinese Students Association, Harvard Korean Association, South Asian Association, South Asian Women’s Collective, South Asian Men’s Collective, Harvard Vietnamese Association, and Asian American Brotherhood.
“This is not without consequence. In doing so, you have outed yourselves as non-safe spaces for undocu+ people within the Asian American community,” the letter reads. “Many of your Asian American peers, staff, co-workers, tutors, professors, and friends on campus are among those impacted, as well as our friends and families beyond these gates.”
AAA, CSA, SAA, SAWC, AAB, and SAMC leadership did not respond to multiple requests for comment. HVA President Catherine H. Ho ’21 and KA Co-Presidents Joyce Kang ’21 and Joon Y. Kim ’21 declined to comment.
The letter argues that immigration is an issue of “high importance” to Asian Americans. In 2017, there were approximately 1.5 million Asian undocumented immigrants in the United States, according to Pew Research Center.
The letter has garnered signatures from not only Harvard affiliates, but also students from other universities, including Stanford University, Yale University, Northwestern University, University of Pennsylvania, and the University of São Paulo.
Larry Liang ’20 said he signed the letter to signal support for groups to “shift” their own politics. He said he believes in the importance of supporting other minority groups.
“I think Asian Americans should stand in solidarity with all immigrants because the majority of ourselves, we were all immigrants at one point,” he said.
Though several Asian cultural organizations have attempted to remain apolitical so as not to alienate members with different political views, the letter contends that an “apolitical cultural community is a pernicious lie.”
“It is literally impossible to live as a person of color on the stolen land that is the United States without either being political or being politically instrumentalized by oppressive structures,” the letter reads. “Therefore, the choice to disengage is indeed a political choice, and an extremely dangerous one at that.”
Several signatories said they support the letter because they believe they have an obligation to do so.
“I signed the open letter because I believe Asian-American is a political term and Asian-American cultural organizations have a responsibility to engage politically,” wrote David J. Moon ’21, a member of TAPAS and KA, in a text.
The sentiments included in the letter are not new to Harvard. Last semester, a series of posts on the Harvard Confessions Facebook page sparked a contentious two-hour long forum in Winthrop Senior Common Room about the role of Asian cultural organizations.
Students from several Asian affinity groups convened to discuss topics including exclusive membership policies, underrepresentation of Southeast Asians and South Asians, and the lack of political advocacy among cultural groups.
Liang said he is encouraged by the letter and the support it has received; he believes it will start conversations about the role of Asian affinity groups on campus.
“I'm hopeful that this letter will move things in the right direction or move the conversation in the right direction,” he said.
—Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @amandaysu.
—Staff writer Amy Y. Li can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @ilyma39.