Asian Americans and Jesse Jackson – From Vincent Chin to the Rainbow Coalition – A Conversation with the Rev. Jesse Jackson
by Eddie Wong with May Louie, Mike Murase, Cindy Ng, Mabel Teng, and Butch Wing.
One of the questions that arose among Asian Americans in the aftermath of the huge demonstrations protesting the murder of George Floyd is how Asian Americans can become allies in supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. The short answer is to speak up, stand up and show up.
Asian Americans have stood with African Americans since the days of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Issues such as fair housing, increased employment opportunities, and voting rights – all championed by African American organizations – were supported by progressive Asian Americans. For example, the Japanese American Citizens’ League sent a 35-member delegation to the August 1963 March on Washington. I’ve also posted articles about Asian Americans who volunteered in the South during the 1960s as participants in the Civil Rights Movement (see East Wind ezine articles on Ed Nakatawase,Tamio Wakayama, Marion Kwan,Vincent Wu,Carl Imiola Young and Joseph Ozawa).
Photo from zoom call composed by Mike Murase.
May Louie, Mike Murase, Cindy Ng, Mabel Teng and Butch Wing who participated in this interview with the Rev. Jesse Jackson are veteran activists from Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo, Boston Chinatown, New York Chinatown and San Francisco Chinatown. A few of us had also worked in support of progressive African American candidates for local and federal offices. But it wasn’t until Jesse Jackson announced his candidacy for President in 1983 that a whole new level of mobilization arose among Asian Americans in solidarity with the African American-led effort for greater democracy and more political representation. Many of us formed Asian Americans for Jackson groups and some of us became campaign staff for Jesse Jackson and later in the Rainbow Coalition. You can learn more about May, Mike, Cindy, Mabel and Butch at the end of this article.
We gathered on Zoom on Aug. 25 to chat with the Rev. Jesse Jackson to discuss some highlights from our past work and today’s political climate and tasks.
Eddie: I’ll start off with that really key moment in May 1984 when you appeared in San Francisco Chinatown with Mrs. Lily Chin after her son Vincent had been murdered. Today, we’re seeing a recurrence of that type of anti-Asian violence directly related to Trump and others blaming Asians or Chinese for Covid-19. First, I want to ask you if you have any special memories of that occasion or of Mrs. Chin. I know Mabel and Butch were there too at Cameron House.
Rev. Jackson: I remember it very well. There had been some interest in the Asian part of our coalition. For some time Asians have been somewhat detached from the political process. We were just beginning to build our relationships and brought Asians into the center of our conversation. I remember when Vincent was killed, and the killers walked away free. They thought he was Japanese.
Needless to say, that’s no different than Amadou Diallo being shot 41 times as he was walking away and (NYC) police saying that he was threatening them.
Shot in the back 41 times. There’s a direct correlation between Vincent Chin and the Emmett Till lynching.
I also want to say that we must go into some background: We came through the Red China scare, “yellow peril,” Japanese internment, Nagasaki /Hiroshima – this has been simmering for a long time. I thought that until we were able to get Asians into the political agenda, we’re only looking at them in the margins. I guess that was running through my mind as I embraced Vincent’s mother.
Photo courtesy of Unity Newspaper/Unity Archives Project.
Eddie: Mabel, do you want to say anything about that day?
Mabel: Reverend, I think that day was transformational for the Asian community and San Francisco in particular. It was the first time the Chinese community was embraced by a civil rights leader, embraced by yourself, and it made a significant and everlasting impression. When the community was in need, you were the one to step into the situation. I think you just changed a lot of minds when you came to Chinatown and marched with the community that day.
Rev. Jackson: You know, Mabel, it seemed rather natural to me that day. I had no appreciation for the historical context of it. I learned so much from you, May, Butch and Murase on the role of the Chinese (building) the railroad from West to East and much more about Asian Americans.
We were living in our own little silos and the attempt of the Rainbow was to find out what we had in common and to connect our histories. And we’ve been working on it ever since.
Butch: Reverend, I remember during your speech about the Vincent Chin case, you were drawing parallels with Emmett Till. Can you talk a little about that?
Rev. Jackson: When Emmett Till was killed, lynched, the jury was out for 30 minutes. Someone asked the jury, “why so short?” and they said, “well, it would have been shorter than that except we stopped for a cigarette and a soft drink.” They couldn’t imagine having a white person going to jail for killing a “N….”. That was the response at that time as quoted in the New York Times.
The lady who set Emmett up and who accused him confessed on her deathbed that it (the assault) did not happen. She lied and got someone killed.
Well, that’s like when Vincent Chin got killed. They thought he was Japanese and therefore he should die. At the time, they (white autoworkers) were outside in parking lots beating up on Japanese car. At that time there was anti-Japanese, anti-import mentality. Now Toyota is in Mississippi and Texas. With auto work a lot has changed since that time with American workers now building Japanese cars.
Frankly, we should write this up while we can write it – the Asian factor in the Rainbow Coalition. That big rally that afternoon in the park, I shall never forget that.
Jesse Jackson rally in Portsmouth Square in SF Chinatown. Photo courtesy of Unity Newspaper/Unity Archives Project.
Eddie: Yeah, the rally in Portsmouth Square in San Francisco Chinatown. Rev. Howard Gloyd asked me to introduce you on the spot. All of a sudden, my mind went blank. I must have nervously muttered something, but I do remember looking up and the park was packed with people of all ages and backgrounds.
I have to tell you a funny story about my dad, who supported you and he was not a political activist. He said to me, “He (Rev. Jackson) agrees with everything I think,” which shocked me and showed me that progressivism can be found in people whom I thought were kind of conservative.
Rev. Jackson: That moment in time, when we build a coalition, what we find out is that the disconnected parts have a role to play. It’s like when we talked with the family farmers in Iowa and they thought urban workers were lazy. And the workers thought that farmers were getting paid and didn’t want to farm, but in fact they were both being eaten up by large corporations.
We just made the connection between urban workers and farmers. We had begun to make the connection with Latino farmworkers in the middle ‘60s, but we had not made a connection with the Asian community. This was the beginning of something great for us.
Jackson rally in Portsmouth Square. (l-r): Pam Tau Lee, Ken Kong, Rev. Jackson, Mabel Teng, Eddie Wong, and Rev. Howard Gloyd. Photo courtesy of Unity Newspaper/Unity Archives Project.
Eddie: There’s been a huge increase of violence against Asians during this pandemic. Over 2,000 incidents reported up to now. And that’s just the reported ones. But there’s also been a huge rise in incidents against African Americans, Latinos and even Jews because they are being blamed by the weird conspiracy nuts. Why is this racial hostility so persistent in America? What can we do about it?
Rev. Jackson: Well, President Trump has used the highest platform in the nation to encourage this kind of division. Charlottesville – Heather Heyer was killed and they’re marching in the streets with Tiki lamps. Trump made the equation that there were ‘good people’ on both sides.
(Trump said) There’s a Mexican American federal judge and he couldn’t be a justice because he’s Mexican American. (Trump said) Haiti and Africa were shit holes. Then, of course, the kids on the border.
Our obligation as a coalition is look at all these incidents and fold them into the family. That guy in Kenosha, Wisconsin shot in the back, seven times in the back…the guy shot in the chest in Lafayette, Louisiana. There’s a sense that this is not normal, but it’s become natural. The stoking of fears plus the access to guns is wreaking havoc on those who are non-white.
Eddie: Millions of people are marching, people of all background young, old, African American, Latinx, Asians, whites, and these demonstrations are led by Black Lives Matter for the most part. What do you think can emerge from this energy, from this moment of wokeness?
Rev. Jackson: Black Lives Matter is emerging as a school of thought and not just skin color. You look at Portland for example; it’s mostly whites. The Blacks are, at least, standing up, fighting back in protest and the whites are no longer shamed by protest. We’re finding now that whites care about police because they’re brutes and when they hit one of us, they see they’re racists. They’ve (whites) been silent too long about this brutal force.
I think that whether we are in South Africa or Poland, the police have an unusual level of power. In South Africa, particularly, they were brutal. The police patrol, they don’t control. They’re usually public servants and sometimes they are white supremacists who are masked, camouflaged, as policemen. And in reality, it means they have a gun and badge and with privilege, they have the right to kill us and get away with it. When police shoot somebody, the police judge the police. It’s a corrupted process, antithetical to democracy.
But let me say what you guys have done as a relationship and as we are reconnecting with our children and our grandchildren, May. We must broaden the base and fight. You really gain character when you fight. If I was just fighting for Vincent Chin, that’s one thing, but this is another dimension. We must have the capacity to fight for others than ourselves. That’s where our strength really is.
Black Lives Matter rally in Minneapolis, MN.
Mabel: You did a lot to galvanize people of color and communities in building the Rainbow Coalition over these past decades. And we have observed the center of the Democratic Party really has not embraced the Rainbow Coalition or anything that is led by people of color especially during the Clinton Administration. And right now, we are seeing the Biden/Harris ticket. What is your perspective on the trajectory of the Democratic Party? Do you think the Democratic Party is able to embrace leaders from communities of color in particular?
Rev. Jackson: Those at the bottom, we’re not the problem, we are the foundation. In terms of how we are treated, we don’t go out every day waiting for them to embrace us. We must demand it.
I remember in ‘88, we put (Arab American) Jim Zogby on the Democratic National Committee as one of our delegates. In those days, the Democratic Party returned donations made by Arab Americans. It’s changed somewhat now.
Even in the case of Kamala Harris now emphasizing that she is part Asian. Her mother is Indian, her father is Jamaican and in some sense on one level we might react to that. And in other ways, it’s not such a bad thing that she’s part Asian, part Jamaican dash African. It means that we are accepted in some way beyond our own reach.
I wish I could put that better. When Barack ran, his emphasis was on his white mother rather than his Kenyan father. Now we see Kamala on the ticket. We keep broadening the base. I’m inclined to be optimistic about these changes.
When Eddie asked about Black Lives Matter, for example, Denver has less than 5% Black. There’s a Black Congressman in that county now (Joe Neguse, D- 2nd CD) and a Black mayor (Michael Hancock).
More and more whites are beginning to vote for Blacks in ways that never happened before, e.g., the coalition in Alabama that elected Jones over Moore.
I sense some new possibilities coming out of this coalition. But we must be insistent upon it because it will not happen automatically, only because of our insistence.
Jesse Jackson delegate and family farmer at 1984 Democratic Party convention in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Unity Newspaper/Unity Archives Project.
Eddie: There were Black Lives Matter demonstrations in cities and towns all over America that have very few African Americans and there was even a demonstration in Tokyo. I see a parallel between this moment and the early days of the Civil Rights Movement when there was a call for moral courage on people’s part. As someone who was right there at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, do you see that parallel?
Rev. Jackson: You know, in the 1800s (there were) demonstrations in France and Britain for the abolition movement. As a matter of fact, the Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French abolitionists to America for ending slavery after saving the Union. The narrative is that it was a gift to America welcoming Europeans to New York. So in some sense our movement has always been international. It is our duty to keep it international. When we go to Japan or China we really try to relate on a humane level. I remember May used to talk about the attempt to starve North Korea into submission. We just can’t let it happen. What affects any of us, affects all of us indirectly.
Rev. Jesse Jackson with Dr. Martin Luther KIng, Jr. and Rev. Ralph Abernathy. Photo from History.com.
Eddie: You were in Washington, D.C. a few months ago for the commemoration of the 52th anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign, and so many of the issues that Dr. King raised are still relevant today. Could you talk about that phenomenon, because we’re seeing rising poverty today with the pandemic and unemployment. How do we make some of those issues more on the front burner?
Rev. Jackson: I think that when we used our combined skills like the role May played in running the Rainbow for such a long time or Butch in Silicon Valley, we make things happen.
The core of us on the phone – when we work together, we had the power to make things happen. If the issue is a man being shot in the back seven times in Kenosha Wisconsin, or shot in the chest in Lafayette, Louisiana, we have an obligation as the Rainbow to speak to that.
You never quite know who in those towns will ally with us until we show up and stand up. I also am convinced now more than ever that what Dr. King said was right – when he said when you look at poverty, we all look amazingly the same in the dark. And that is what Rev. Barber is trying to say and I think he’s right. (Note: Rev. William Barber II and Liz Theoharis co-lead the The Poor People’s Campaign: A Call for Moral Revival)
Eddie: How do you stay hopeful when there is so much pain and suffering?
Rev. Jackson: I guess the broader picture is that when I look at an African American mayor in Montgomery, Selma, Birmingham and Richmond (Virginia), the former head of the Confederacy; 60 blacks in the Congress now; more Latinos (38 Congressional Reps and 4 U.S. Senators); more than 20 Asian Americans and two Native Americans, that’s progress.
While Trump is in control, there’s a momentum that keeps on moving. It’s like swimming from England to France (across) the English Channel. What makes the waters powerful is not just distance but the undercurrent. We are an undercurrent. We won’t go away.
Last election in New York, three more Blacks in the Congress, and one in Northern Virginia. There are two now. (Rep. Bobby Scott and Rep. Donald McEachin). There are 20 Asian Americans in the Congress today and two Native Americans. In fact, we have put a Native American on our board (The Rainbow/PUSH Coalition Board of Directors), head of the Cherokees, intentionally, trying to connect with the Native American population.
The Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and Blacks are more powerful together; they are the heart of the progressive coalition that controls the House now.
We are going to have Senators this time around. We can very well win the race in South Carolina (Jamie Harrison (D) vs Sen. Lindsey Graham (R)). We could. We have a fighting chance in Mississippi, in Georgia, in North Carolina. We are turning the red South, purple and blue.
The other thing that makes me be somewhat hopeful is that when I look back, I was arrested on July 6, 1960 trying to use a public library (in Greenville, South Carolina). The idea of a Black sitting beside a White was offensive. When Clemson plays Alabama in the big football game, the same Clemson that I couldn’t apply to, where Harvey Gantt went with federal patrols in 1960, Autherine Lucy went to Alabama with federal patrols.
There is a level of socialization through athletics in a strange way. When Clemson plays Alabama, it is the Tigers versus the Crimson Tide, you’re either a Tiger or Tide, you know what I’m trying to say? We sometimes miss the cultural impact of these athletics. People by the tens of thousands or by millions watch Team A vs Team B, so it’s no big deal now to have a Black basketball or football coach. It’s no big deal now to have a Black quarterback. That was not always the case in our lifetime.
Despite the fact that Trump brings an unusual level of racial hostility, our coalition really seeded a movement.
Rev. Jesse Jackson at rally in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. L-R: Mike Murase, Rev. Jackson, and Irene Hirano. Photo courtesy of Unity Newspaper/Unity Archives Project.
Eddie: You brought leaders from each of the communities together in the Rainbow Coalition. It was a hard thing to do. Do you see something like that happening today?
Rev. Jackson: Like Emmett Till triggered our movement in the South, Vincent Chin was the Emmett Till of the Asian movement. It made us have something concrete to react to. Vincent Chin sort of summed up the notion that walking around Asian is dangerous.
When Trump blames China for unleashing a germ on us, a kind of germ warfare, it affects Asian everywhere. It’s not true. We must defend Asians in that sense. We must defend each other. We have to cover each other’s backs.
It’s a relationship and it’s communication. Little Tokyo wouldn’t mean that much to me except for Mike Murase. We learn by relating to each other. We survived apart and are now learning how to live together. We survived in our silos, but we can’t develop political power in our silos.
Eddie: I remember when you came to the Day of Remembrance ceremony in San Francisco. People remember it and still talk about it and you brought a lot of focus to redress and reparations. I thank you again for that.
Rev. Jackson: I keep calling your names because you don’t know what you, May, Cindy, Mabel, Mike and Butch mean to me in my soul, in my person, in my development. You brought more to me than I brought to you. We all as a team made amazing things happen.
For example, in 84 we got 450 delegates. They tried to equate us with the Shirley Chisholm campaign, which got 27 delegates, Al (Sharpton) got 28 delegates. In 1988, we got 1,200 delegates off of $19 million, I might add. We built our coalition, 1200 delegates out of $19 million dollars.
Cindy: Reverend, I remember the ‘84 campaign in New York and in Chinese Progressive Association, we were the younger people then. We were talking about how we were going to get the older immigrant members to endorse your candidacy because of anti-Blackness in our community. And the first person to speak was a 50-year old immigrant Chinese seamstress who got up and looked at us and said, “Of course, we’re going to endorse Jesse. If a Black man can’t be president in this country, then Asians don’t have a hope.”
So, I think the understanding of how our struggles are connected, that was the foundation of our coalition. So, I just remember those times and the advances we made because of that. And today, there’s no Ethnic Studies in the high schools, young Asian Americans don’t understand this history and they don’t understand how the struggles are connected. They don’t understand how Black liberation is foundational. I think your request that we write up our experiences is really important because these younger folks really want to know this history and understand it because they don’t have that foundation.
Jesse Jackson rally in New York. L-R: Alex Hing, unidentified man, and Rocky Chin. Photo courtesy of Unity Newspaper/Unity Archives Project.
Rev. Jackson: Well, Cindy, we need to take a couple of days in Chicago or Boston or some such place and stay locked up in a room and write this history. For example, when July 4th came, we noted that Blacks have been here 157 years in slavery. But the Native Americans had been here 200 years before we got here. We’re determined to bring them into the fold. Tallahassee is an Indian name. Mississippi, Alabama are Indian tribal names. They have been here longer than us. So, we have some obligation to add the Native American factor into the equation.
One of the lawsuits said Indians own half of Oklahoma and the Supreme Court ruled in July that half of Oklahoma is within a Native American reservation.
We’ve survived apart, we must learn to live together. And by doing so, we really are foundational. We were all exploited. Asians were exploited something about their (slanted) eyes; Blacks, something about our hair. They’re always some mess picking at us, but again, we won New York City, right? We became mayor with that coalition (referring to the David Dinkins campaign of 1989). We became mayor of Chicago with that coalition.
Your contribution was maybe not in numbers but in your influence and your ability to write and think things through. I wish we would decide right now to put together a document of what we have done.
Butch: Does anyone think that Reverend wants us to write something? (Everyone laughs.)
Eddie: We’re going to put this together for an article for East Wind ezine, for sure, but this moment is unlike anything in time because it is a global pandemic and it makes people question how badly the system provides for us. Do you have any thoughts about what we can do with this moment?
Rev. Jackson: First of all, in this world there are no more foreigners. We have many languages but one message.
I went to South Africa in 1979 and when I got there, I was naive. I thought I would ease into the country, and the press was at the airport, asking “Why are you here?” Well, I’m here to see some friends? “Why are you really here? What are your politics?” Well, I’m for human rights for human beings, measure human rights by one yardstick. That was a threat (to the authorities). Simple human rights for all human beings and that’s true everywhere, right Butch? We were with the poor people of Eastern Europe, Polish people… the Sinti Roma people.
I think that a core of us, maybe us on the phone, we may who we’re looking for. We may be who we’re looking for. It’s our experience. Butch and I went to Silicon Valley four or five years ago and there were 186 whites, and 36 white women three Blacks and one Latino on the boards of major tech companies. Now, there are some 30 Blacks on the board and more women and more Asians on the board. That’s basically the work Butch and I did that by ourselves.
I really think we should not underestimate our own capacity, our own collective experiences. Look at what Mabel has done in San Francisco. She’s hung in there and become a force within that community. I keep coming back to Mabel but May meant so much to me then and now. Thank you, Miss May, grandma May, and grandpa Butch too.
Eddie: I don’t want to keep you too long. Does anyone else want to add anything?
May: One of the things that I feel was so unique and powerful about the work that we all did together was that in building the coalition, Reverend, that you embraced every part of it. What you just said about how we’re all exploited – you, in your heart, you completely owned that, and you took that message everywhere you went. And so I remember being in Jay, Maine with you with the International Paper workers (who were on strike) in rural White America and you were talking about redress and reparations (for Japanese Americans), you were talking about LGBTQ rights, you were talking about things that you were bringing to the Coalition.
Through the Rainbow Coalition, you were bringing us to each other in a very profound way. And I think that if we were to say that today we have a task to do, it is that. It’s putting all the siloed pieces of our movements to understand how we’re related to each other.
International Paper workers rally at union rally. Photo courtesy of Unity Newspaper/Unity Archives Project.
Rev. Jackson: We’ll have a lot of catching up to do in terms of where our sensitive points were. The reason I’m leaning on somebody do some writing is because we got bigger than ourselves.
You know in ‘84 winner take all, 400 delegates. In ‘88 under proportionality, we had 1200. Now under ‘84 rules (winner take all) Hillary would have won the (primary) campaign (against Barack). She won TX, CA, OH, PA, we found (that if this were before) the changes (to proportional representation of delegates) we made, she was the winner. We changed the rules.
Likewise, we tried to change the rules on states’ rights vs Constitutional right to vote. That’s why Gore lost. Gore margin was 544 votes and they didn’t count Duval (County), 27,000 Blacks. That’s why he lost. State’s rights.
When Hillary won, she beat Trump by 3 million votes but lost in the Electoral College, so our work is not limited to just Black and Asian affairs. Our influence is not limited to our grouping. You follow what I’m trying to say.
We have time to regroup now on this issue of Constitutional right to vote vs states right to vote. The Electoral College is a slave states formula. Get that out of the way. We have the issue of comprehensive health care. While progressive show maturity by choosing Biden over Trump, we’ll have our hands full Jan. 21, guys. There’s a rightward lean in the Democratic Party today that is going to have us fighting like hell right after Jan. 21.
Eddie: Right, that’s why all the movements at the city level matter. Chicago has undergone a change with more progressive on the City Council. And that’s happening in a lot of cities. Where we can win, we should win. Accumulate our forces and take on bigger and bigger things like the Democratic Party.
Rev. Jackson: We’re building a new website, Rainbow/PUSH.org. I want you to get your membership cards today. We’ve maintained the organization. We’ve kept building. We’ve kept growing. I want you to join.
We’re trying to have a thousand people in key places like Boston, May. Right now, we can’t demonstrate in the street as such, but we have a powerful capacity to do consumer education, build coalitions, leverage the boycotts. No other company or any bank can survive if we have 1,000 people in 50 markets. We have the power to make many things happen. (Note: You can support the Rainbow PUSH Coalition,here.)
Rev. Jesse Jackson and Mabel Teng, who introduced JJ at the 1984 DNC becoming the first Asian American woman to do so before a national TV audience. Photo courtesy of Unity Newspaper/Unity Archives Project.
Mabel: I am not totally hopeful that the traditional Democratic party leadership is capable of inspiring and leading the young generation and the communities of color. What are your thoughts?
Rev. Jackson: Mabel, we were independent Democrats. We had a de facto party. We had a movement and not just a party. – Cranston in California, Brewer in Louisiana, Graham in the Florida. Democrats regained the Senate in 1986 because of us (the Rainbow movement of 1984).
We must tell our story, And our story cannot be denied. It can be verified. What we did in Burlington, what we did in Jay, Maine – that’s our story and it took our combined strength.
I mean how did we do so much with so little money. The volunteer help that you guys were able to get was worth millions and more than that in influence. I think sometimes we can doubt ourselves too much. This conversation today inspires me to the hilt.
Jesse Jackson delegate at 1988 Democratic Party convention in Atlanta, GA. Jackson espoused a progressive foreign policy platform including recognition of Palestinian rights. Photo courtesy of Unity Newspaper/Unity Archives Project.
Butch: In ‘84, you inspired so many people to run for office and you registered so many voters to supply the base for a new electoral movement. And they were taking out some of the incumbents who are standing in the way. What are your thoughts about the new wave and about AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) and the Squad and the parallels between the ‘80s movement and what’s happening today?
Rev. Jackson: If they don’t have our narrative written down to read, they’ll think it just happened. When Barack won, they said he won because of social media. They detached him from our campaign. But he still lost California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and New York. He won because of proportionality, not because of social media. Do you follow what I’m saying? He won because we changed the rules. And Gore lost because we didn’t change the rules.
I wrote a column in the Chicago Sun Times about the Democratic Party (after the convention). They passed the character test. There are good people who are better than Trump and Pence.
But what about the agenda test? What about health care? What about the issues that matter? The agenda will drive us forward. We must put it together. Together, we can do it.
Jackson rally in Corpus Christi, Texas. Photo courtesy of Unity newspaper/Unity Archives Project.
Eddie: I see a lot of coalitions developing at the local level around a People’s Budget. In places like Long Beach, it’s an Asian, Black, Latino coalition that is putting together the People’s Budget and they have a gay Latino mayor. In Jackson, Mississippi, primarily African Americans, they have a very progressive leadership and agenda. I see hope. Coalitions are built in struggle; they’re not built in the abstract. People have to work together on issues. Reverend, you brought us together because you ran for President and that highlighted the need for representation. So I see those same patterns happening again, but we have to remember history’s lessons.
Rev. Jackson: Many people are benefiting from our coalition but didn’t know where things originated from. That becomes our collective task. It comes from telling our own story, from our own experience.
Vincent Chin wouldn’t have meant nothing to me without Mabel, Butch and you. It wasn’t part of my world, get my point. But It became part of my world. I didn’t know anything about Japanese internment camps if you guys hadn’t pushed the issue, because we had our own camps.
We survived apart and must learn to live together. It’s a big deal. We intended to learn to live together. We intended to meet each other. And that’s our obligation, we must intend to tell our story and keep building so generations know about what we did for them, and what they can do for the future.
Rev. Jesse Jackson at educational rights rally in Sacramento, CA. Photo courtesy of Unity Newspaper/Unity Archives Project.
In the course of this interview, the Rev. Jesse Jackson graciously conveyed his appreciation of the contributions May, Cindy, Mabel, Mike, Butch and I rendered in service to his presidential campaigns and to the Rainbow Coalition. I / we truly appreciate his kind words, but whatever we did was alongside of hundreds of other people from the African American, Latinx, Asian and white progressive communities. Everyone poured their heart and soul and countless hours of volunteer labor to create a singular moment in American history. While the Rainbow Coalition has evolved into the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and still operates out of Chicago and nationally, the Rainbow lives on wherever people of good will unite in mutual respect to fight for peace, justice and equality.
May Louie played various volunteer and staff roles in the 1984 and 1988 campaigns, as well as in the National Rainbow Coalition, including New England Coordinator, Executive Assistant, Board Member, Chief of Staff. She was a founder and one-time chairperson of the Boston Rainbow Coalition (formed in the aftermath of Mel King’s historic run for mayor). She spent 20 years as a senior staff member at the Dudley St. Neighborhood Initiative, a model for resident-led, community controlled urban neighborhood revitalization. Now mostly retired, May does some teaching and support for emerging generations of activist-organizers.
In 1988, Mike Murase served as the California Campaign Director for Rev. Jackson’s presidential campaign and was the chief whip for the California delegation at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. He also did international support work to dismantle apartheid in South Africa as the coordinator of Los Angeles Free South Africa Movement and served as Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ district coordinator for 14 years.
In the late 60s, while a student at UCLA, Mike became involved in the struggle to establish ethnic studies and was a co-founder of the Asian American Studies Center. He also co-founded GIDRA, a publication which came to be known as the “voice of the Asian American movement.” More recently, he has been active in the Little Tokyo community working with a social service agency and Nikkei Progressives, a grassroots organization building solidarity among various movements of POCs.
In 1984, Cindy Ng helped organize New York City’s Asian Americans for Jesse Jackson and accompanied Reverend Jackson on a tour of New York City Chinatown. He was the first Presidential candidate to visit Chinatown. During that same visit, she spoke on behalf of the Asian American community at the Harlem Rally for Jesse Jackson. In the 1988 campaign, Cindy served as the Co-Chair of the New York State Rainbow Coalition and was a Jackson delegate to the 1988 Democratic Convention in Atlanta. She is a former speechwriter for David Dinkins, the first African American Mayor of New York City. Cindy is currently the Associate Dean of Students and Director of the Stanford Asian American Activities Center, where she advocates for and supports Asian American and other students of color.
Mabel Teng was inspired to run for office after her work with Jesse Jackson, becoming the first ever-elected Asian American woman of San Francisco Board of Supervisors in a city–wide election in 1994. Mabel served as the co-chair of AA for JJ in 1984 and northern California co-chair of the JJ for President campaign in 1988. In a pioneering public service role, Mabel cultivated a broad network of political leaders and government officials. This network allowed her to leverage her years of grassroots leadership in the social justice movement, from organizing, advocacy to community building. Mabel’s public elected office spanned from 1990 and until she retired as the Assessor of the City and County of San Francisco in 2005. She parlayed her career in public office to return to Chinatown to mentor young leaders and serve the people.
Butch Wing was a co-founder of Asian Americans for Jesse Jackson in 1984, and later served as a regional field coordinator, assistant lead advance and on the platform committee of Jesse Jackson for President 1988. Following several years as a volunteer leader of the San Francisco Rainbow Coalition, he joined the national staff of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition in 1997 and served as speechwriter, political and public policy strategist and director, led the organization’s diversity, inclusion and equality ‘push’ in the tech industry, and accompanied Rev. Jackson on numerous U.S. and international economic, trade, peace and humanitarian missions. He retired in September 2020.
Eddie Wong is the editor and publisher of East Wind ezine. He is a longtime activist in the Asian American movement and was one of the co-founders of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center and of Visual Communications, the nation’s first non-profit community-based media production company. He served as one of the regional coordinators of the 1984 Northern California Jesse Jackson for President campaign and was named National Field Director for Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign. He served for several years as Western Regional Director of the National Rainbow Coalition before returning to the Asian American community as executive director of NAATA/Center for Asian American Media and the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation.
Acknowledgements: I wish to thank Alanna Ford, social media coordinator for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, for her assistance on this interview. Thanks also go to Ken Yamada and the Unity Archives Project for the use of their photographs.
“Keep Hope Alive” was the main slogan in the 1988 Jackson for President campaign. Photo by Eddie Wong.