During Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in May, students across the country shut down college campuses and spurred mass movement for a free Palestine.

Younger generations are significantly more pro-Palestine than their elders, and according to a November 2023 GenForward survey, younger Asian Americans are the demographic group most likely to sympathize with Palestinians and to believe that the United States is too supportive of Israel. The legacy of U.S. wars waged throughout Asia has historically shaped generations of solidarity-building between Asian Americans and all peoples facing the brunt of U.S. militarism. And as the U.S. continues to fund Israel, militarize the Pacific, and exacerbate tensions with China, young Asian Americans have a particular role to play in challenging the ever-growing U.S. war machine.

In a recent interview, Ji Hye Choi, a young organizer with Mariånas for Palestine, shared that as a Korean woman born and raised on the U.S. territory of Guam, her ancestral legacy and upbringing have shown her how communities across time and space have organized to resist colonization, capitalist-driven militarism, and U.S. forever wars.

Ji Hye said skeptics dismiss her because of her young age, but she is nevertheless determined to stand in solidarity with Palestinians based on a shared understanding of “the global fight for resistance and liberation.” As I listened, I was deeply struck by her clarity and deep sense of purpose, both tied to her ancestral inheritance.

Through her work to build solidarity with Palestinians, Ji Hye is one of many young Asian Americans working to resist U.S. militarism and war. She is continuing a tradition that I have been proud to be a part of through my own work mobilizing hundreds of intergenerational activists across the country to end the Korean War.

While the term “Asian American” has been rightfully critiqued, the origins of Asian America are rooted in an internationalist, anti-war ethos. As Karen Ishizuka describes in Serve the People: Making Asian America in the Long Sixties, it was “no accident” that Asian America was born during the peak of organizing against the Vietnam War, when Asian Americans highlighted the connection between racism and militarism in Vietnam — a perspective they felt the mainstream anti-war movement ignored. U.S. militarism and imperialism continue to fuel anti-Asian violence today.

Past Asian American organizers also applied a class lens to their organizing, demanding divestment from militarism and reinvestment in working-class communities at home. This class-based analysis is even more critical today as Asian Americans have the largest income gap of any racial group. Much of this economic disparity can be tied to the legacies of U.S. wars and militarism in Asian Americans’ countries of origin.

We stand on our predecessors’ tall shoulders and those of preeminent feminists like Margo Okazawa-Rey, a founding member of International Network of Women Against Militarism and the historic Combahee River Collective, a “radical black feminist, socialist, anti-imperialist collective of women.” As a “transnational feminist, U.S.-based African-American and Japanese woman,” Okazawa-Rey has long led movements in challenging militarism and radically rethinking possibilities for intersectional activism in the Asia Pacific and beyond.

Like Okazawa-Rey, our predecessors applied intersectional lenses to their activism. We must learn from them as we advocate for long-term change in all arenas of policymaking by building out a “robust ecosystem” of movements and community power, as urged by veteran movement leaders Ahmad Abuznaid of U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Deepa Iyer of Building Movement Project, and Darakshan Raja of Muslims for Just Futures.

In particular, we must wrest power out of the hands of war profiteers and weapons manufacturers and reclaim the halls of legislative power from corporate interests. U.S. military spending has reached new heights; in April, Biden signed into law a $95 billion military spending package after it was approved by Congress, with $26 billion allotted to Israel and $8 billion to the Asia Pacific. As the U.S. continues to fund Israel, it also expands its military presence in the Asia Pacific in preparation for a potential war with China.

More than half of U.S. national discretionary spending already goes toward the Pentagon, which has failed every single audit ever mandated by Congress, leaving billions unaccounted for. With zero accountability, the U.S. military continues its costly ramp-up for a war against China as it prepares for the Rim of Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC) — highly destructive war drills carried out in the Pacific biennially in coordination with 25 other countries (including Israel, South Korea, and the Philippines). While RIMPAC rages on, U.S. communities lack affordable health care, housing, and education, and are underprepared to deal with the devastating effects of the climate crisis.

In April, Biden also approved a controversial bill after it was passed by Congress, reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). A coalition of leading Asian American organizations opposed this renewal because FISA has been used to “justify mass spying, racial profiling, and discrimination of innocent people,” with harsh consequences for both Asian Americans and pro-Palestinian protestors.

We must continue learning from our collective pasts as we organize during this increasingly precarious time. Our elders have taught us that an identity grouping is only as meaningful as its capacity to be transformative for all peoples. Okazawa-Rey has explained that the Combahee River Collective’s “identity politics” were not exclusionary, but about galvanizing collective power to organize against all systems of oppression.

If we are to continue making meaning out of “Asian America” for all the AAPI Heritage Months to come, we must root ourselves in intersectional principles, draw threads across global and local struggles, and forge new paths toward a world free from U.S. militarism and forever wars.

Cathi Choi

Aaron E. Martinez (AP) and Fatima Shbair (AP)