UC Berkeley diaspora studies honors Asian American history, calls for unity

Ketki Samel/Staff

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UC Berkeley’s Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies, or AAADS, program celebrated its 50th anniversary Thursday with a panel on past human rights violations in the United States, connecting history to current events.

About 70 people attended the event held at the UC Berkeley School of Law, where they listened to three speakers: Executive Director of the San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Zahra Billoo, Managing Partner with Minami Tamaki LLP Don Tamaki, and the Director of California Policy and Programs at the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center Nkauj Iab Yang.

“I really liked how they drew parallels between different communities of color and through history. It was really helpful to see the parallels,” said graduate student in social welfare Sarah Brown. “Oftentimes, we become siloed in our communities and stuck in our own story.”

The panelists discussed parallels between the treatment and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II with the current treatment of Muslims under the Donald Trump administration, including the U.S. travel bans for certain majority-Muslim countries. Panelists also discussed justification for such actions — including national security — that lead to arrest, removal and exclusion of certain populations.

The event began with each panelist delivering a speech. Audience members then inquired about related topics, such as affirmative action and the role of immigrants in the U.S. economy, during the Q&A portion of the event.

Billoo spoke about the uptick in hate crimes since the 2016 election. She claimed that there were more hate crimes after Trump’s election than in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Billoo added that while many people look to courtrooms for justice, they are often disappointed.

“ ‘Make America Great Again’ has come to mean ‘Make America White Again,’ ” Billoo said.

Billoo also talked about the need for members of Congress to be more “courageous” and be willing to risk being arrested, being unpopular and being chastised.

Yang discussed the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War and the livelihoods of Southeast Asian Americans living in the United States since then. She focused on the U.S. legal system and the increase in incarceration and deportation of Southeast Asians.

Yang also emphasized the importance of standing up against racism, regardless of one’s racial background. For example, she said Asian Americans need to advocate for Black people.

In addition, Tamaki reminded the audience that society takes so much for granted and that throughout history, students have incited mass change.

“Think of yourself as a leader,” Tamaki said. “We can lead on this issue.”

The event concluded with a call to action, urging attendees to vote in the upcoming November elections to “protect our democracy.”

“When we realized the forces are very similar, then people bind to what makes us together rather than what makes us different,” said UC Berkeley student Ben Wang.

Contact Mallika Seshadri at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SeshadriMallika.