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Embracing Juneteenth: A South Asian Perspective on Solidarity and Belonging by Swati Narayan, Director of AAPI Community Safety and Belonging



As we commemorate Juneteenth on June 19th, we honor the liberation of enslaved individuals in the United States, a day that traces its origins to Texas in 1865 when enslaved people were declared free in accordance with the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation.


Understanding Juneteenth and Its Relevance

Although the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on Jan 1, 1863, word of the edict did not officially reach Texas for another two and half years — June 19, 1865. “Freedom Realized, and Freedom Delayed,” Juneteenth marks our country’s second independence day, marking a critical step toward freedom and equality. However, the subsequent years for Black Americans were far from free. The 20th century saw systemic racism manifest through Jim Crow laws, economic and social oppression, and racial violence. This era of intense discrimination has continued into the 21st century, marked by police brutality, mass incarceration, economic disparities, and systemic bias  Officially recognized as a federal holiday by the Biden administration after years of advocacy, Juneteenth reminds us that the United States was fundamentally built on the suffering and exploitation of Black individuals. This day provides an opportunity for us to reflect, learn, and contribute to a more inclusive and equitable society.


The Intersection of Black and South Asian Activism - Solidarity and Shared Struggles

In recent times, as dialogues around race have intensified, it is vital to recognize the historical ties between South Asian and Black communities in the United States.The solidarity between Black and South Asian communities extends beyond American borders: Understanding these roots helps highlight how Black activism has paved the way for broader minority rights, including those of South Asians. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s not only fought for African American liberation but also paved the way for the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, dismantling racist quotas and allowing more immigrants of diverse backgrounds to enter the U.S.

  • 1893: Swami Vivekananda condemned racial injustice in the US at the World Parliament on Religions in Chicago

  • 1938: KA Abbas supported African American equality at a New York conference.

  • Early 20th century: Growing parallels between European colonization in India and African American oppression.

  • Early 20th century: BR Ambedkar highlighted these parallels; Dalit Panthers drew inspiration from the Black Panther Party.


Significant collaborations:

  • 1947: Sept 18 letter from NAACP to the UN General Assembly recognizing India’s role in promoting world peace and the nefarious effects of "white domination of dark people" constituted by the colonial framework

  • Langston Hughes' poems on South Asian freedom fighters.

Black revolutionaries supported India's independence movement and drew inspiration for their struggles. Notable figures like Angela Davis and Martin Luther King Jr. have voiced their support for these interconnected movements. Martin Luther King, Jr., stated that the Gandhian philosophy of nonviolence was “the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom”, influencing the US Civil Rights Movement, which eventually led to the:

  • 1965: Immigration Act ended restrictive quotas, aiding South Asian immigration growth.

Recognizing that South Asians are not a monolith, it is essential to understand that various forms of oppression are interlinked—whether they pertain to race, caste, religion, gender, or sexuality.


Reflection and Action on Juneteenth

As an organization rooted in social justice, Daya Houston recognizes Juneteenth as a powerful call to action. We must engage in critical self-reflection, confront personal biases, and reject the insidious forces of colorism, extremism, and harmful stereotypes that perpetuate systemic injustices and health disparities.


Today, and everyday, may we stand in solidarity with our Black siblings, amplify Black voices, challenge narratives that erase Black experiences, and foster dialogue between South Asian and Black communities. This collaboration strengthens relationships and drives meaningful racial justice initiatives.


Let us embody Juneteenth's spirit by dismantling oppressive systems, advocating for survivors' rights and dignity, and working tirelessly towards a just, equitable society where all can thrive without fear. Every justice oriented action, no matter how small, brings us closer to this vision of collective liberation and belonging.


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