May is Asian Pacific Islander American Heritage Month

Today there are more than 300,000 living Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander American people. Our nation has seen a rise in racist, violent acts against Asian Americans all across the country, according to STOP AAPI HATE

Anti-Asian racism has a long history in the United States, and even the labor movement has not been innocent of violence against Asian American workers. From Samuel Gompers’ campaign for the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act to Vincent Chin’s murder at the hands of U.S. auto workers and messages that push China as “the greatest enemy.” The labor movement has often either expressed indifference to anti-Asian discrimination or actively contributed to the climate that leads to violence against Asian Americans. But with agitation and collective action by working people, we have seen a significant force the labor movement can be for Asian Americans (Asian Pacific Heritage).

IAM District Lodge 751 Chief of Staff Jason Chan knows this all too well. “When the pandemic first started, there was a lot of misinformation and opinion,” said Chan.  “I heard the term “Chinavirus,” and my daughter and son, who were in high school at that time, heard snide comments such as “Coronavirus” and “Chinavirus” from other students. I think that people fear the unknown. Many things we all took for granted were taken away or had to be adjusted.”

“I believe it’s an outcome of ignorance and fear,” said Diana Noinala, IAM Local Lodge 751F. “There will always be those who lash out for incorrect reasons, perceptions, and beliefs.” There is much misinformation out in the world, and we as citizens are victims of this misinformation. Especially around social media where billions of people have the power to send out this false information with the single push of a button.”

Like other communities of color, Asian Americans are also targets of gendered racism. Asian American women are viewed as sexually desirable, exotic, and passive, while Asian American men are often seen as effeminate or asexual. These stereotypes create the perception that Asians are disposable or easy targets and contribute to violence against communities. An example of this is the March 16 shootings in Atlanta massage parlors that resulted in the death of six Asian women workers. Not all racism appears hateful. Jokes or compliments that reinforce these stereotypes can contribute to the climate that leads to violence (Asian Pacific Heritage).

“Asian Americans are one of the fastest-growing demographics and are the most underrepresented and marginalized groups in the USA,” said IAM Western Territory General Vice President Gary R. Allen. “Having leaders with various backgrounds only stands to produce the most creative and powerful ideas to move our union forward. Our Union values the contributions of our Asian American leaders, and by honoring the heritage of these members, we stand to broaden the dreams of their children in our country so they too can become courageous to seek justice for all people.”

“The mindset of “me” needs to change,” according to Janet Suster, IAM Local Lodge 1998. “How is this person different from me? How has this person’s race affected me? We need to become a “WE” culture: What are our similarities? How can we be better? We all want to be accepted for who we are, not what we are. Unions break down every barrier that could divide us: race, gender, sexual orientation. We encourage a sense of belonging and acceptance. We are the united front that addresses the REAL issues: equality for all, dignity, and respect”.

“In my opinion, the increase of systemic racism and hate crimes against Asian-Americans is mainly due to negative information being broadcast through different social media outlets,” said Kristy Nguyen, IAM Local Lodge 63. “Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but I feel that the Union helps bring people from different backgrounds and ethnicity closer.  I feel that the Union has given me a chance to voice my opinions and share my Vietnamese siblings’ input on important matters with them.  I have recently learned more of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance(APALA) through a dear sister-friend and registered to be a member since I strongly support their work.”

Sister Noinala believes in unions with all her heart. “Unions are a sanctuary and safe harbor for all, striving for unity and equality in every world aspect and helping their members and the community surrounding them,” said Noinala. “I look at unions as a home that welcomes every walk of life. That is a place that looks at people as their children because we are all brothers and sisters fighting for humanity. Unions help with this adversity by continuing to fight for people. Fighting for what’s right and understanding, we all are responsible for the outcome of the world. Personally, IAM District 751 has been helping with this adversity by being welcoming to all and having our leadership reflect its membership. DBR Jon Holden recognizes that it is important to have strong leadership from all walks of life. Recently I was appointed to the Local F Vice president role and am the first Asian VP for Local F. Additionally, in Local C, we now have the first multi-racial female leader in their Vice president position. By supporting people of color and giving them a chance to be in these leadership roles, unions will help fight racism and hate crimes against Asian-Americans.”

Constituency groups like APALA help fight for justice in these areas. Brother Chan is the IAM representative on the APALA National Executive Board and is active with the Seattle Chapter.  APALA is engaged in many civic activities that could materialize in voter registration, worker and union rights education, rallies, community meetings, and, most importantly, union organizing.  Building those relationships helps empower members of AAPI communities who may have come from a past that did not allow them to have a living wage or middle-class job.

May is the month we honor and celebrate Asian Americans, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders as they continue to play a significant role in the fabric of our nation. Their achievements deserve to be recognized,” said IAM International President Robert Martinez Jr. “They have also helped grow the labor movement and empower workers in workplaces all across our country.”

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Labor Toolkit on Anti-Asian Racism – APALA (

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Updated: May 12, 2022 — 9:05 am