“It was through my initiative that Sartre’s preface to The Wretched of the Earth was removed. Let us say that from a western point of view, it is a good preface. Sartre understood the subject matter in The Wretched of the Earth. But in June 1967, when Israel declared war on the Arab countries, there was a great pro-Zionist movement in favor of Israel among western (French) intellectuals. Sartre took part in this movement. He signed petitions favoring Israel. I felt that his pro-Zionist attitudes were incompatible with Fanon’s work. Whatever Sartre’s contribution may have been in the past, the fact that he did not understand the Palestinian problem reversed his past political positions.”
(The Wretched of the Earth, especially the edition with the Sartre preface, has been read by many Asian Americanists.)
“Borne of adversity and spun of diversity, we poets formed a loosely aligned “tribe.” In the West, the term “tribal” has been used to define the “other”—non-western, primitive, Indian, African—or to those who live in Africa, the Near and Middle East, and parts of Asia.(8) But we must drive the term back to its roots—to affiliation based upon blood and generational lines, upon folk and cultural ties. Tribal bespeaks of the consciousness of the third world—of attempts to rescue memory and culture from total colonization, or to reclaim and transform that which is left from annihilation. ‘Tribal” is based upon shared experience—even the shared experience of subjugation—and on an integration of self with community. Rather than accepting the divisive ideologies and splintering imagery of the Eurocentric West, we can use tribalism to unlock the original keys to memory, and to provide a base for unity. (9)”
Russell Leong, “Poetry within Earshot: Notes on an Asian American Generation 1968-1978,” Amerasia Journal 15:1 (1989), 166-167.
8. Edward Said, Orientalism (New York, 1979) especially on cultural hegemony of the West, introduction, 1-28.
9. Teshome Gabriel, “Third Cinema as Guardian of Popular Memory: Towards a Third Aesthetics,” manuscript, forthcoming in Paul Willeman and Jim Pies, eds. Third Cinema: Theory and Practice (London, 1989). Also Kazue Matsuda, Poetic Reflections of the Tule Lake Internment Camp 1944 (California, 1987), and Wakako Yamauchi, “The Poetry of the Issei on the American Relocation Experience,” in Calafia, lxxi-lxxviii.
A few years ago, in teaching Philip Vera Cruz’s oral history in an Asian American labor history class, my students and I talked about Vera Cruz’s long involvement in the United Farm Workers (UFW), and his efforts on behalf of farmworkers. As part of our discussion, we also covered Vera Cruz’s description of Filipina/os in the UFW as a “minority within a minority,” and Vera Cruz’s criticisms of César Chávez, the head of the UFW. In the text, Vera Cruz tries to balance his portrayal of both Filipina/o and Chicano/a participation. He also is quite open in his criticisms of Chávez’s leadership style, and addresses controversial events like Chávez’s trip to Manila through the invitation of Ferdinand Marcos. Because of his differences with the union leadership, Vera Cruz eventually left the union after twelve years of service, although he remained supportive of the farmworkers’ movement as a whole.
One of my students, a Chicana, spoke up during the course of the discussion because she was upset. She said it was very difficult to read these criticisms because of the reverence that her family, who were longtime agricultural laborers in California, held towards Chávez. Despite Vera Cruz’s negative comments about Chávez and the UFW, she reminded the class that Chávez and the union had done much for farmworkers. Her distress and anger at reading about the events discussed by Philip Vera Cruz were very real.
The student’s comments have stayed with me. They reveal not only some of the difficulties of teaching Vera Cruz’s text, but also how his words open up important issues about coalitions, race, and labor, particularly between Chicano/as and Filipina/o Americans. It is challenging to raise these issues of conflict, particularly when this commentary might be interpreted as criticisms against the movement as a whole. In their introduction, the book’s authors, Craig Scharlin and Lilia V. Villanueva, reveal that the manuscript for the book was well on its way to publication two decades ago at a university press, when it was rejected. The authors later found out that the project was refused by a reviewer “who did not agree with the criticism of the UFW leadership — and more important, any specific criticism of Cesar Chavez” in the Vera Cruz book. In the face of these kinds of silences, particularly in dealing with these two communities that have been economically and politically oppressed, how do we open up spaces to speak openly about differences within political movements?
These issues speak centrally to political dynamics long debated and discussed not only within the Asian Pacific American community, but also in the relationship of Asian Pacific Americans to other communities. Social movements provide opportunities to analyze the concentrated mobilization of resources by different groups, and the ways that these groups do and do not coalesce. By doing so, they not only provide a window of opportunity to consider community formation on an internal level, but also allow us to explore how community formation is shaped and determined by other groups, and by American culture at large. This is one reason, to give an example, why strikes are such illuminating sites of inquiry for Asian Pacific American studies. These issues take on increasing urgency as we begin the next century, particularly because of the continued economic hardships that many face, hardships that are regularly compounded by racial discrimination.”