On October 25, the Bryn Mawr College Asian Students Association invited the president of CAAAV: Organizing Communities Cathy Dang to speak on the current state of race relations and CAAAV’s record of helping Asian Americans in the New York City community. CAAAV is one of the most established Asian American activism organizations in the New York area, and their dedication to lobbying for housing rights, workers unions, and police reform can be traced back to the early 1980s.
Cathy Dang first introduced us to CAAAV’s beginnings. In the 1980s and 1990s, heightened hate violence and police violence targeted Asians and South East Asians. This was especially true in New York City when many refugees moved in after the Vietnam War. One notable case was the 1982 killing of then 27-year old Chinese American Vincent Chin by two White autoworkers who mistook Vincent for Japanese. (At the time, many Americans blamed Japan for the US’s auto industry decline.) In 1986, a group of Asian Americans in New York City created the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence (now known as CAAAV) to address the violence against their people. Their mission changed over time to include organizing around systemic institutional injustice. (We define the system as the perpetuated pattern and the institution as the structure.) These projects included the founding of the Taxi Union in the 1990s and Domestic Workers United.
Dang talked extensively on CAAAV organizing around housing issues. The mass development of land under Mayor Bloomberg and Mayor Giuliani left many Asian Americans, Latinos, and Blacks displaced out of their houses. Now even foreign countries like China, India, and Korea are contributing to the gentrification. They pour money into the USA to improve the quality of life for their people in America, buying up real estate and shooting housing price values up. One such example was when a Chinese real estate company evicted a hospice for lower income people to develop condos. Recent statistics claim 30% of Asians in Chinatown, 60% of Latinos, and 50% of Blacks in Harlem have been forced out. The average median income to live in New York City is estimated at $90,000-100,000, but many lower class minorities in these quickly gentrifying areas make between $15,000-30,000. In some cases, land lords pressure rent stabilized tenants to take buyouts as high as $100,000. In 2007, CAAAV created the Chinese Tenant Union to fight back against capitalism through rent strikes and reporting on land lord harassment on tenants.
You must show up for those who are directly affected by the system before you can show up in solidarity
The other hot topic CAAAV is involved in is police reform, most recently, surrounding the shooting and killing of Akai Gurley by former NYPD Officer Peter Liang. CAAAV supported Gurley’s family and demanded accountability by Liang. Some Chinese and Chinese Americans demanded the non-indictment of Peter Liang based on the numerous non-indictments of White police officers who who killed innocent Black people. They criticized CAAAV for taking a stance that they claimed was against the Asian community. Dang explained that while it is true that Liang was treated differently as an Asian police officer, no one should get away with murder. Another notable shooting of an innocent person by the police was Yong Xin Huang in 1995. Huang’s older sister played an essential role in supporting Akai Gurley’s family and encouraging other Asians to do the same. Elders speaking up in the Asian community play an important role in influencing the stances of others.
Whose side are you on? The side of justice.
CAAAV continues to strive for justice and the voice of minorities. Activism for social change is a complex, long process, but it is important to have community organizations like CAAAV pushing through and challenging the webs of authority and access that surround us. Dang spoke briefly on how she got involved, starting from growing up working class in Elmhurst and Ridgewood, Queens to immigrant Vietnamese parents who owned a nail salon, to organizing with labor rights movements in college in California, and finally to returning back home to New York. She encouraged us college students to get involved in our own communities.
Thank you to ASA for bringing such an inspirational speaker to campus. I hope more Asian Americans in the Bryn Mawr community get involved in the communities around us. I know it is sometimes difficult to commit to activism causes outside of our tremendous academic work loads, but I have personally found it to be a rewarding experience.