The Formation of an Asian-American Identity and The Role of Asian-Americans in the Third World Liberation Front (by Calla Li)


History-Social Science Content Standard for Grade 11

11.11 Students analyze the major social problems and domestic policy issues in contemporary American society

1. Discuss the reasons for the nation’s changing immigration policy, with emphasis on how the Immigration Act of 1965 and successor acts have transformed American society.

Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies

1) Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole (Key Ideas and Details)

6) Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing author’s claims, reasoning, and evidence (Craft and Structure)

9) Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources (integration of knowledge and ideas)


This lesson will focus on Asian-American activism through the lense of the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) movement that occurred in the late 1960s. The primary source is an editorial by Ling-Chi Wang, a prominent Chinese-American activist, who makes the claim that Chinatown is a ghetto and a manifestation of white supremacy. The source also incorporates the demands of the Intercollegiate Chinese Student Association (ICSA) during the 1968 TWLF strikes at SFSU (then-called SFSC). The secondary sources seek to further explain, explore, and analyse the formation of the Asian-American identity and Asian-American activism in the late 1960s.

The first part of the lesson will teach students about the formation of the Asian American identity and the importance of an inclusive, panethnic identity in galvanizing Asian American activism. Students will read an overview of the state of Asians in America in the 1960s and Ling-Chi Wang’s piece, as well as interact with narratives from activists of various Asian ethnic groups, in order to gain an understanding of the challenges faced by Asian Americans at the time, the motivations for their increased activism, and the role that identity plays in said activism.

The second part of the lesson will allow students to experience the difficulties of activism and organizing through a controlled simulation of drafting demands for the TWLF strikes of 1968. This exercise is intended to help students place the struggles of Asian Americans into the greater context of resisting eurocentrism and white supremacy in the American educational system, while also challenging students to work with their peers and think critically. The goal is for students to integrate their knowledge from the first part of the lesson into their actions/demands during the simulation. Students should come away from the activity with an understanding of the role of Asian Americans in the TWLF strikes and the challenges faced by minority movement organizers.


Students will learn about the formation of the Asian-American identity and the challenges faced by Asians in America in the context of the Third World Liberation Front Strikes of 1968 through the analysis of primary sources and an in-class simulation.


  • How did Asian-American activism in the late 1960s fit into the wider Third World Liberation Front movement and other resistance movements against eurocentrism?
  • What was was the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) movement and what were its goals?
  • How does the creation of the term “Asian-American” represent a turning point in Asian-American activism and in Asian-Americans’ role in politics?
  • What are the challenges faced by minority movement organizers and how can they be overcome?


Third World Liberation Front: a coalition of the Black Students Union, the Latin American Students Organization, the Pilipino American Collegiate Endeavor (PACE) the Filipino-American Students Organization, the Asian American Political Alliance, and El Renacimiento, a Mexican-American student organization, formed at San Francisco State University (SFSU) and UC Berkeley to call for campus reform

Third World: referring to the developing countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the nations not aligned with either the United States or the USSR. This usage has become relatively rare due to the ending of the Cold War.

Asian American: a term referring to Americans of Asian ancestry, a panethnic group that includes diverse populations, which have ancestral origins in East Asia, South Asia, or Southeast Asia, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau

White Supremacy: a political, economic and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings (Newkirk 2017).


In this lesson, you will learn about the formation of the Asian American identity through the lense of the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) strikes of 1968.

Although Asian Americans have a long history in the United States, they did not unite together into one panethnic movement until the 1960s. While other minority groups such as African-Americans and Chicanos already had a history of political participation, the establishment of the AAPA (Asian American Political Alliance) at UC Berkeley in 1968 marked one of the first times that Asian-Americans organized on the basis of race/ethnicity for a common political cause.

The entrance of the Asian-American community onto the political stage is manifested in the novelty of the term “Asian-American”, coined in 1968 by Yuji Ichioka, a Japanese-American activist who founded the AAPA.  Prior to 1968, Asian-Americans were referred to by pejorative terms such as “orientals” and other ethnicity-specific slurs (“chink”, “jap”, etc). However, with the establishment of an inclusive term that articulated a distinct, non-white identity, Asian-Americans were able to join other minority groups in resisting eurocentrism in the education system, as well as institutional racism in America as a whole.

The TWLF strikes of 1968 exemplified this resistance against white supremacy. The Third World Liberation Front was a coalition of ethnic/minority advocacy groups made up of college students mainly from San Francisco State College (now SFSU) and the University of California, Berkeley. The TWLF advocated for Ethnic Studies departments on college campuses and led two large-scale student strikes in 1968 in an effort to accomplish its goals. Asian-American activists, specifically the Asian-American Political Alliance (AAPA), Intercollegiate Chinese Students Association (ICSA) and Pilipino American College Endeavor (PACE), were part of the TWLF coalition and participated in the 1968 strikes.

The strikes shut down SF State from November of 1968 until March of 1969, and were met with harsh resistance from school administrators and police forces. After four long months of protests, negotiations, and attacks from police, the students finally ended their strike when the administration agreed to establish a College of Ethnic studies, hire more diverse faculty, and increase admissions of minority students. The strikes and the instrumental role that Asian Americans played allowed for unprecedented reforms in higher education that opened the door for not only the diversification of the student body and faculty at American colleges, but also the formation of extremely influential and impactful areas of study in academia.



Day 1: Formation of the Asian-American identity

  • Prior to class, assign all students to read pages 284-300 of The Making of Asian America by Erika Lee (Chapter 13: Making a New Asian America Through Immigration and Activism)
    • Have students read and annotate “Chinatown is a Ghetto” by Ling Chi Wang
  • Open the class with video “Why We Say ‘Asian American’ and Not ‘Oriental’ ” (
  • Split students into 4 groups, each group will read a different essay from Asian Americans:The Movement and the Moment by Steve Louie and Glenn Omatsu
    • Group 1: The Chosen Road by Carol Ojeda-Kimbrough (Filipino-American Activism)
    • Group 2: Wherever There is Oppression by Ray Tasaki (Japanese-American Activism)
    • Group 3: It’s Never Ever Boring by Miriam Ching Yoon Louie (Korean-American Activism)
    • Group 4: Drinking Tea with Both Hands by Nancy Hom (Chinese-American Activism)
  • Ask students to discuss in their small groups and fill out attached worksheet (Movements and Moments Worksheet). The worksheet is intended as a guideline for the discussion, so students may respond in bullet points.
  • Full class discussion
    • ask each group to briefly share their answers to question 1 and 2 of the worksheet (in order for the whole class to have a basic understanding of the contexts of the specific ethnic groups within the Asian-American movement i.e Japanese Internment, Chinese Exclusion, etc)
    • Full class discussion (socratic seminar style) on questions 3, 4, 5, 6 of the worksheet
      • Facilitate discussion and pose more questions to students as needed. The goal is for students to come away with an understanding of the formation of the Asian-American identity in relation to the historical context of the era
  • Assign for hw: 26-30 of “On Strike!: San Francisco State College Strike, 1968–1969: The Role of Asian American Students” by Karen Umemoto
    • Randomly assign each student a role as either a PALE, ICSA, or AAPA representative, and read the relevant section to their particular group in the Umemoto article
      • ICSA: pgs 32-35
      • PALE:: pg 35-37
      • AAPA: pg 37-40
    • All students should read pgs 40-46 (TWLF, Resistance to Challenge, and Strategy and Tactics)
    • Students should draft a half-page response to the question “What would you do as an ICSA/PALE/AAPA student leader at SF state in 1968? What are some demands you might have? What tactics would you use?” in preparation for an in-class simulation the next day

Day 2: Identity and Activism Simulation

  • Allow students 10 minutes to meet with their respective groups to discuss strategies and share their responses
  • Split students into three groups (make sure there are approximately equal numbers of each organization in each group) to form three “mini alliances”
  • The goal of each group is to come up with a set of demands to represent the needs of Asian-American students in the context of the SF state strike
  • Pass out the ICSA demands (primary source) as a guideline
  • After 20-30 minutes, have each group share their list of demands and formulate a set of 10 demands for the whole class.
  • For homework: have students read pages 46-54 of the Umemoto article and write a one page reflection on their experience during the simulation
    • Guiding question for the reflection
      • Did your planned strategies/demands that you came in with go with what you ended up drafting?
      • What were some challenges of working in a group?
      • How did your experience in the simulation demonstrate the challenges faced by organizers?
      • How did your demands compare with the ICSA demands?
      • What would you do differently if you were to do this simulation again?


Aguirre, Adalberto, and Shoon Lio. “Spaces of Mobilization: The Asian American/Pacific Islander Struggle for Social Justice.” Social Justice, vol. 35, no. 2 (112), 2008, pp. 1–17. JSTOR,

Asian American History In 4 Minutes – YouTube. Accessed 7 May 2019.

Fujino, Diane C. Samurai among Panthers: Richard Aoki on Race, Resistance, and a Paradoxical Life. University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Uyematsu, Amy. “Five Decades Later: Reflections of a Yellow Power Advocate Turned Poet.” InFlashpoints for Asian American Studies, edited by Schlund-Vials Cathy J., by Nguyen Viet Thanh, 21-35. New York: Fordham University, 2018.

Vann, R. Newkirk. “What Is White Supremacy?” The Atlantic, 6 Oct. 2017,