Hundreds of Asian Americans came together online to co-author an open letter to “Mom, Dad, Uncle, Auntie, Grandfather, Grandmother,” explaining #BlackLivesMatter and the importance of solidarity with African Americans and other communities of color.
Currently available in English, the group is working to translate the letter into as many Asian languages as possible — including Bengali, Bahasa, Chinese, Hmong, Punjabi, Tagalog, and more — by Monday, as well as create animated, video, and audio versions. (On Friday, a Spanish translation was also created and posted in the Google Doc.)
The open letter began as a response to early rumors Thursday afternoon that the police officer that shot Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, might have been Asian American. (The officer was identified Thursday night.) Started by Christina Xu of New York, Xu wrote that she worried about how the shooting might lead to divisiveness within the community, similar to when thousands of Chinese Americans across the country protested in support of former police officer Peter Liang who shot and killed Akai Gurley in 2014, while many other Asian Americans advocated in favor of police accountability and solidarity.
Xu created a Google Doc and hundreds of people joined digitally to discuss talking points, word choice, pronoun agreement, and translations. Xu also tweeted that journalist and activist Jose Antonio Vargas volunteered to make final edits on the letter.
“This is primarily a call for empathy and understanding. The Asian immigrant community as a whole doesn’t see police brutality against black people as ‘their problem’ and are sometimes even anti-Black themselves. This is a conversation starter to ask for a willingness to stop and listen rather than getting immediately judgmental/defensive when we broach these issues with them," explains the notes guiding the letter's vision.
Rohin Guha, executive editor of The Aerogram, told NBC News he took part in helping to write the letter because he wanted the community to engage their families in a conversation about Black Lives Matter, and "the importance of leading with love."
“Too frequently, at least within my own desi community, I find there is an apathy, or perhaps a cognitive dissonance among South Asians who somehow feel as if Black Lives Matter is not relevant to their experiences and that they have no responsibility to amplify and provide support,” Guha said. “This project has allowed me to find a community of people from this particular immigrant experience–not just of South Asian descent, but from across the entire continent–so we could unite and amplify our solidarity with this movement, amplify love and support, and furthermore, teach generations before us who may not understand the importance of this movement why it is important for them to similarly love and support.”
The result of the crowdsourced letter is a powerful appeal to an older, mostly immigrant generation about Black Lives Matter, and why the movement matters to Asian Americans. It reads: “In fighting for their own rights, Black activists have led the movement for opportunities not just for themselves, but for us as well. Many of our friends and relatives are only able to be in this country because Black activists fought to open up immigration for Asians in the 1960s. Black people have been beaten, jailed, even killed fighting for many of the rights that Asian Americans enjoy today. We owe them so much in return. We are all fighting against the same unfair system that prefers we compete against each other.”
The letter ends with a hope for an American Dream not just for one’s own children, but for all.
This article has been updated to correct the timeline of when Philando Castile was shot.