We Are the Leaders We’ve Been Waiting For

Posted October 13, 2015 by Nicholas Chan

The hearts of many activists around the nation have been heavy and hurting after hearing the news of Grace Lee Bogg’s passing. A true revolutionary, she’s a fearless Asian American woman who has organized on monumental labor and civil rights actions. Her complexity in character, brilliant mind, and the love she radiated was truly a gift to this world.

Grace Lee Boggs was a Chinese American born only a few decades after the Chinese Exclusion Act and her legacy is a powerful narrative of people who should not have made it in this country. She touched on various issues throughout her lifetime. Her experiences with discrimination started early on when she could not find work after getting her education. Lee Boggs recounted signs in stores stating, “we don’t hire orientals.” Forced to live in poor living conditions, she became connected with predominantly Black community members and eventually organizing for the Black Power Movement with her husband, James Boggs.

Grace has been a powerful symbol and role model, especially for the Asian American community. The Asian American term and identity is entirely political. It’s used in political contexts, because the Asian American/Pacific Islander umbrella is incredibly diverse spanning a myriad of ethnicities, languages, histories, and cultures. As a rapidly growing immigrant population, iconic leaders are rare, but engrained deep in our history in this country. Heros like Dalip Singh Sound, Vincent Chin, and Grace Lee Boggs are champions in progressing not only the Asian American movement, but also in the overall social justice movement in this country.

One big takeaway from Grace for activists is to reach the point of thinking beyond just your own identity, and beginning to think about how these identities interact with the other intersecting and complex identities of others. When reflecting on her own Chinese American identity in the context of her work, she shares “my radicalization was not through growing up Chinese, but through the role that the black people were playing at the beginning of World War II…” History, and the context of laws, policies, and politics impacts those most marginalized. Grace showed us that our work should be focused on those most on the margins and move them to the center of our activism, ensuring their safety, protection, and survival.

Grace Lee Boggs believed in community building and recognizing how much economic wages influence our humanity. The community is so drawn to her presence and brilliance and she admits herself “people are really looking for some way whereby we can grow our souls rather than our economy.” Grace gave us that and will continue to give us that growth in our soul–warm, loving, and fearless.

Thank you Grace Lee Boggs.

Rest in power.