LOS ANGELES—Activists, organizers and faith-based representatives braved inclement weather to attend a night of performances and art to build Black and Asian unity at the Strategy and Soul Session Movement Center in the historic Crenshaw District.
Amina X Lei, a Muslim artist who attends Muhammad Mosque No. 27, spearheaded the event, themed “Under the Sky-One Family.” The illustrator and educator is well-known for her calligraphy, painting and engraving event artistry. Amina X desired to share her sentiment of self-love and self-pride as an Asian person, working in solidarity with the Black community.
“That that can happen together in an exchange of knowledge, in an exchange of a collaboration (which) is very important. … We’re here to speak about self-love, self-pride, and that is a direct threat to our open enemy,” Amina X said.
Her purpose for the event was to also show the impact of the Teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad on both communities, she stated. “We’re not going to have White supremacy tell us who we are. We tell the whole history, and this education system doesn’t provide the whole history of who we are,” she continued.
“I wanted to share the history and give gratitude and honor for those that have paved the way for the current movement to stand on and reclaim our history,” she added. She did that, in part, by sharing the rich history and solidarity between Asian and Black communities; from the Bay Area’s San Francisco Chinatown where she was born, to Los Angeles, where she currently resides.
“There’s a thinking that Asians are White-adjacent (close to) or a model minority, or don’t stand up against the system. But there has been a strong history of Asian activism,” Amina X told The Final Call. For example, in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Asian activists fought along with Blacks, Black Panthers and Black activists in the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement, she said.
“There’s a Chinese youth organization, for example, called the Red Guard, the IWK (I Wor Kuen), who had their own 10-point program that was inspired by the Black Panthers, who had their program inspired by the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim Program. So I, for myself, saw the connecting factor of activism and how we fought together and that we owe a lot to the Black community in inspiring us to stand up and speak up for ourselves,” Amina X continued.
She pointed out some of that history that is contained in the film, “Chinatown Rising,” which showcases Asian youth organizations fighting for justice with the Black community. Some within the Asian community said it was the first time they’d ever seen the film or heard of that history, and they felt that was all by the design of those who do not want to see the communities unite.
The gathering, “Under the Sky-One Family,” was held March 11, and people from various groups attended. Asians With Attitude; Eric Mann, director of the Strategy Soul Session and co-founder of the Bus Riders Union; Student Minister Landon X who attended on behalf of Nation of Islam Western Region Representative Abdul Malik Sayyid Muhammad; David Monkawa of Progressive Asian Network for Action; Brian (last name withheld) of Asians With Attitude, and Billy Tang of API Rise were among participants. The standing-room-only audience also included men and women from the Nation of Islam.
“The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad has always taught us that Black is not a color but that Black is the essence from which all color comes,” shared Student Min. Landon X. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught that the Black, Brown, Red and Yellow man and woman are all a part of the Black nation and they are Original People, he explained.
Mr. Mann shared remarks and stated that he has great respect for the Nation of Islam in all it’s done for the community and the courage demonstrated by the Muslims at times they were under attack.
Mr. Monkawa shared the history of Asian people in post-WWII Los Angeles, and their revolutionary work with Black people. “We’ve got to study. We’ve got to look beneath because the things that oppress us are very strong,” he said. When he first arrived in Los Angeles, he could barely speak English but he learned through “playing the dozens,” he said. Some in the audience laughed as he recited a few “jokes,” and declared that he remembered about 100 of the derogatory utterances, 55 years after he said them, right at that moment.
But the space fell silent when he asked, “Why? Why do I remember everything about being dark and being poor as being negative?” “Isn’t that powerful? I learned all that … before I learned U.S. history,” Mr. Monkawa said.
“We need to see White supremacy is stuck inside of you, because it doesn’t matter what color you are. White supremacy is a code. It doesn’t care about the color of your skin,” he said.
Brian emphasized that real unity doesn’t always mean “same,” or unification by race; but it is when people are mature enough to put racial differences aside and agree that they hate seeing the injustices happening in each other’s communities. “We put aside our differences because we agree that we hate that I consistently see Black mothers on the news crying because they lost their son because their son got murdered in the streets,” Brian said. “Are we that desensitized where we can watch these things, and a mother is crying for her son that she’s had for like 20 years, and he’s gone?” he questioned.
Brian further called out the atrocity of Asian elders getting pistol-whipped at stores, choked, or in one case, he said, a grandmother getting jumped and kicked in the face by three guys in hoodies. “What happened to codes of conduct, rules to the game? These are major no-nos. These should never happen, and we should be outraged,” he said.
Mr. Teing, a Chinese refugee immigrant who was born in Cambodia, shared that he was promised $25,000 to go into the U.S. military. He didn’t mind so much being called “Bruce Lee” after the martial arts legend and actor, he said and chuckled. But he felt so alone in that space, he added. There, he experienced racism, and also in prison. When he returned home from the military, he fell back into gang life and was also incarcerated in the California state prison system for more than two decades after robbing a tour bus headed to Las Vegas at age 19.
“I traumatized people. I acknowledged that. No one was hurt. No one was killed in that crime. … I had a public defender. My family couldn’t afford lawyers. I asked the question: If I was a White kid, would I have that much time?’” stated Mr. Teing. He also explained he learned a lot about race while locked up.
“Automatically, I’m not even an Asian race. I’m ‘other!’ I mean, how invisible do I feel,” Mr. Teing said. “I come in here. You’re not Black. You’re not White. You’re not Hispanic. You’re ‘other.’ I spent 21 years in prison being an ‘other,’” said Mr. Teing. But behind the walls, he shared that he learned that when they came together—Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, Islanders—they got programs changed, he said.
Currently, Mr. Teing works toward curbing the cultural stigma of silence and apathy in the Asian Pacific Islander community regarding criminal justice issues.“Under the Sky-One Family” concluded with a panel discussion and Q&A with Mr. Monkawa and Student Minister Landon X.
Amina X explained that she understood the origins of divisions and the rhetoric being spoken and fueled between both communities, especially by the media. “I really felt the need to share the universal Teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad with freedom, justice, equality for the Original Family,” she stated. “I felt the need to expose the hidden hand behind all of this, which is the one that created the systemic racism that put us against each other,” she added.
In late 2022 several events gave members of Black and Asian communities an opportunity to work with one another. Some of the F.O.I. along with Asian organizers secured a prayer vigil for 56-year-old Tommy Du Lee, fatally stabbed on Oct. 1, 2022, during a robbery in L.A.’s Fashion District. On November 20 of last year, members of Asians With Attitude and Black and Asian Souls Unite attended the 10th anniversary of the Southern California Peace Rides to show their support. They helped the F.O.I. with food packaging for distribution and called for an end to street violence, Amina X stated.
After a gunman killed 10 people and wounded 10 during a kickoff to the first Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park on January 21, 2023, Student Minister Abdul Malik Sayyid Muhammad and men and women from the Nation of Islam visited the site of the tragedy the following weekend for a prayer vigil and to pay their respects. “I think it was a big moment. They (the Chinese and Asian community) never saw anything like that,” Amina X said.