What was the Asian American Political Alliance?

When Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee were students at UC Berkeley, there was a lot of activism happening on campus. From protests against the American War in Vietnam to Civil Rights and free speech organizing, a new generation of political activists was emerging on campus. However, Ichioka and Gee noticed that most Asian American activists on campus were only participating in these movements as individuals — there was no wider coalition of Asian American people. Thus, Gee and Ichioka decided that they wanted to create an organization to unite Asian American activists. But where would they even start? Gee and Ichioka strategized, and decided to look through the Peace and Freedom party’s roster and invite everyone with an Asian surname to their apartment.  


Thus, one fateful May 1968 evening, four activists — Floyd Huen, Richard Aoki, Victor Ichioka, and Vicci Wong — showed up at Gee and Ichioka’s apartment on Hearst Avenue. These activists had a lot in common — they all were against the war in Vietnam and supported farmworkers, free speech, and civil rights. They were all Asian American —  though the term hadn’t been invented yet. It was on that fateful evening that the group would found the Asian American Political Alliance, sparking the emergence of an Asian American Movement that united Asian Americans of all backgrounds. 

Soon after, the group published a newsletter, leading to the creation of Asian American Political Alliance chapters across the country. The Asian American Political Alliance — also known as AAPA — was important for many reasons. For one, before this group was formed, the word “Asian American” hadn’t even existed. Additionally, they were able to accomplish a lot during their time as an organization. As part of the Third World Liberation Movement, AAPA was able to strengthen the Third World movement through its involvement. They also actively supported the Black Panther Party, the Occupation of Alcatraz by Native Americans, and many other anti-imperialist struggles. 

As activist Richard Aoki described in a 1968 speech: 

“We Asian-Americans believe that American society has been, and still is, fundamentally a racist society, and that historically we have accommodated ourselves to this society in order to survive … We Asian-Americans support all non-white liberation movements and believe that all minorities in order to be truly liberated must have complete control over the political, economic, and social institutions within their respective communities. We unconditionally support the struggles of the Afro-American people, the Chicanos, and the American Indians to attain freedom, justice, and equality … We are unconditionally against the war in Vietnam … In conclusion, I would like to add that the Asian American Political Alliance is not just another Sunday social club. We are an action-oriented group, and we will not just restrict our activities to merely ethnic issues, but to all issues that are of fundamental importance pertaining to the building of a new and a better world.”

If it wasn’t for AAPA and the African American, Chicano, and Native American groups involved in the 1969 Third World Strike at UC Berkeley for a Third World College, we may not have ethnic studies and Asian American studies in U.S. universities today! Though the group disbanded after the Third World Liberation Front strike ended in 1969, AAPA activists continued to be involved in Asian American struggles worldwide, such as the San Francisco I-hotel tenant protest. Former AAPA members would go on to establish the first Asian Film Festival series at Berkeley, an Asian American Studies program at UC Davis, the first Chinatown Workers Festival in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and more. 

Though AAPA is not around today, its legacy is felt strongly, as it provided a model for Asian American activists across the country, and continues to influence Asian American activists today. 

Want to learn more? Check out these resources: 

– Berkeley Historical Plaque Project — Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA)

– FoundSF — Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA) Historical Essay 

– Sarah Kim — Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA) Research Project 

– The National Park Service – Asian American and Pacific Islander National Historic Landmarks Theme Study 

– CNN — The term ‘Asian American’ has a radical history