In the Americas, Europe and Asia, people of African and Asian descent have crossed paths and often find themselves working towards common goals. Presented here is a brief listing of both individual and organizational ventures that have brought people of African and Asian descent together.
Guy Kurose - Guy Kurose was one of the few Asian Black Panthers. He was a Karate instructor for the Black Panthers. In his later life, the Seattle resident continued his activism in both black and Asian communities, making it to the Northwest Asian Weekly's list of "Top 10 Contributors to the Asian Community" in 1994. He was also nominated for the 1995 Black Child Development Award for his work with African American youths and received the Pacific Islanders Gratitude Award in 1996. For more information on his work, see Northwest Asian Weekly article Kurose, 49, 'always did right by the kids'. After a lifetime of activism devoted to people of color, he died in 2002 at the age of 49. See Kurose's memorial on the Black Panther Party Legacy and Alumni site. For more on his karate career, see his Shoyuzin obituary.
Bill Lann Lee - Lee, a Chinese American raised in Harlem, served as legal counsel for the NAACP Legal Defence Fund and headed its West Coast Office. He was nominated as assistant attorney general for civil rights.
Yvonne Welbon - Welbon, an African American woman who studied the Chinese language, started an English-language arts and culture magazine in Taiwan, where she had lived for an extended period.
Harold Hongju Koh - Law professor Harold Koh made an impression on the civil rights scene with his work on changing the U.S. government's unfavorable policies towards Haitian immigrants. He represented hundreds of Haitians before the U.S. Supreme Court during the 1990s. Although the Court ruled in favor of the Department of Justice against the Haitians, Haitian immigrants supported Koh when he was later nominated to be Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights.1
Anne Deveare Smith - Renowned African American playwright Anne Deveare Smith had brought African American, Asian American and Latino actors to work together on her award-winnning play Twilight Los Angeles, 1992. It was the first non-musical show by a black woman to open on Broadway in ten years. In 1999, she was honored by the National Asian Pacific American Consortium for her work.2
Yuri Kochiyama - Kochiyama was a Japanese American activist and a supporter of Malcolm X. The story of their friendship is featured on UCSB's Asian Scope. Photographs of Malcolm X's assassination show Kochiyama holding Malcolm X in her arms after he was shot. Kochiyama wrote and spoke about Black/Asian connections in her later life.3
Lee Lew-Lee - Lee is a human rights filmmaker who photographed the Harlem riots in 1968. He also directed All Power to the People, the 1996 documentary about the Black Panther Movement. For an overview of his career, see his bio on Independent Inervantion. In 1998, he received the Black Filmworks Award from the Black Filmmakers' Hall of Fame. Lee is also an alumnus of the Black Panther Party.4
Richard Aoki - A former Black Panther Field Marshal, Aoki was the only Asian in a leadership role in the BPP, devoted his life to activism, both within the Asian American community and across ethnic lines . He believed in inclusive activism across communities, saying I don't see any other way for people to gain freedom, justice, equality here except by being inclusionist."5
Congressional Black Caucus supported Japanese American-sponsored legislation which called for monetary compensation and a formal apology to the Japanese American victims of the WWII internment. This was passed as the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.
Asians and Africans are often served by the same community organizations. For example, the women's organization Southall Black Sisters serves Asian, African and Afro-Caribbean women in the London Borough of Ealing.6 Mr. Ravi Chand, an Asian, is the chairman of the National Black Police Association. Jane Lam, also Asian, served as chair of the Surrey Black Police Association.7
According to the article For the Love of Mexico, Vicente Guerrero and his Black Indian Family, an estimated 100,000 Asians from Malaysia and the Philippines were brought to Mexico in slavery on the Manila to Acapulco galleons. During the Mexican Independence War, the lieutenant of the future president Vicente Guerrero was General Isidoro Montesdeoca, a man of Filipino origin. Montesdeoca declared "I am African" in a speech to his troops in which he denounced the discriminations he suffered to express solidarity with his troops.
Chinese were slaves in Cuba and Peru. They signed 8-year indentured contracts after the abolition of slavery in those countries, or near the nadir of slavery in those countries. Upon the end of the 8-year contract the hacendado (plantation owner) was to pay a recompensa and send the coolie/culi home. But this typically did not happen. The plantation owners tried to decrease rations and impose 20-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week work schedules, practically working them to death. Their mortality rate was 70%. The capataz on most haciendas were African slaves who subjected the Chinese coolies to severe beatings.8
However, there is a hero in the midst of this misery - he was el titano de bronce, Antonio Maceo of Cuba. Antonio was a man of mixed French and African descent. He organized the insurrections again the Spanish colonial forces. Maceo took in escaped Chinese slaves and formed 2 regiments which consisted of mostly Chinese.
Maceo, who is arguably the most famous mambi (freedom fighter), had an honor guard to protect his life, as the Spanish had offered a monetary reward to anyone who could assassinate him. His honor guard of 24 contained from 12-14 chino-culies (Chinese coolies).
Many Chinese mambi's adopted Spanish names in their dealings with non-Chinese mambis. One Chino-mambi of exceptional heroism was Pío Cabrera, who single-handedly took on fifty Spanish soldiers to protect the escape of his regiment from colonial forces. The Cuban publication Los Chinos - En Las Luchas Por La Liberacion Cubana (1847-1930) tells the story of Cabrera and other Chinese mambi's. Some, like the Chinese doctor Cham Bom-Bia, contributed to the war effort with specialized knowledge, while others, such as Andrés Chiong, helped through the supply of food and provisions.
After the Filipino-American war broke out in the late 19th century, 20 American soldiers defected to the side to the Filipino insurgents.9 A quarter of them were black.10 The leader of the Filipino insurrection, General Aguinaldo, had sent out propaganda targeting black American soldiers, encouraging them to see the US government as the common oppressor of both Filipinos and black Americans.11 Common Filipinos also actively appealed to the blacks for solidarity. Most black troops, though deeply sympathetic to the natives and not at all blind to the fact the white American soldiers treated both black American troops and natives like animals, remained loyal to the US.12 Of the twenty soldiers, both black and white, who defected to the Filipino insurgency, only two were executed by the US for treason. Both of them happened to be Black.13
The most famous defector of them all was never caught by the Americans. He was a black American corporal in the 24th Regiment by the name of David Fagen. Fagen escaped to the native rebels in 1899 with the help of a Filipino rebel officer.14 The Filipinos apparently highly valued and liked him. He reached the rank of captain under the rebels, but his followers called the brave and highly effective guerilla commander 'General Fagen'.15 As the war dragged on and it became apparent the insurgency would be crushed, Filipino leaders tried to negotiate with the Americans for Fagen's amnesty. The American military, who had already been resorting to racial slurs to cover up their frustrated at being continually defeated by a black man, refused the Filipinos' request.16 The US military put a price on Fagen's head, after which a native bounty hunter turned in a decomposed head, claiming he had killed Fagen. The US military closed Fagen's case, but the figure of Fagen took on mythical proportions among the natives, who claimed he fabricated his own murder and was still living happily with his Filipina wife.17 More than a hundred years later, Fagen's memory remains alive, inspiring the historical novel Cousins of Color by William Schroeder.