“There was a time when the term ‘Asian American’ was not merely a demographic, but a fight you were picking with the world.”

Jeff Chang, Journalist
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Serve the People Lesson Guide

“Serve the People” focuses on only a few of the issues during Asian American Movement in the 1960s to 1970s. From local to international battles, Asian Americans made it well known that they were not quiet, nor were they submissive. They fought for affordable housing, immigration rights, reparations, labor rights, gender equality, and more.

Historical Players

  • Dalit Panthers: Inspired by the Black Panther Party, this organization sought to combat caste discrimination. Founded by Namdeo Dhasal, Arjun Dangle, Raja Rhale, and J.V. Pawar, this movement lasted from the 1970s to 1980s. The term Dalit referred to lower-caste communities and was used as a way to reclaim and invigorate the term. They were later joined by many Dalit-Buddhist activists.
  • Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (Hart Cellar Act): This legislation abolished an earlier quota system based on national origin and established a new immigration policy, prioritizing immigrant family reunification, skilled laborers, and refugees of violence and unrest. In the first five years of the bill’s passage, immigration to the United States from Asian countries quadrupled. It’s also important to note under past policies, Asian immigrants had effectively been barred from entry.
  • The Redress Movement: Refers to the “efforts to obtain the restitution of civil rights, an apology, and/or monetary compensation from the U.S. government” for World War II’s American concentration camps of Japanese Americans. During the 1960s-1970s, activists fought, protested, and pursued redress in court and in Congress. This resulted in the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, providing a national apology and individual payments of $20,000 to surviving detainees.
  • Vietnam War: This war between North and South Vietnam lasted between 1955-1975. Due to paranoia of communism, the United States became heavily involved in supporting South Vietnam. Across the world in the United States, a new generation of Asian Americans were grow up, forming their own values and beliefs that differed from their parents. Young adults were beginning to form an Asian American identity during this war and seeing Asian faces as the enemy were conflicting for many. Kazu Iijima of Tripe A said, “The Vietnam War made Asian identity much more clear. It clarified in many minds what racism was all about.”
  • Yellow Pearl: An Asian American folk music group of the 1970s. Composed of Chris Iijima, Joanne Nobuko Miyamoto, and Charlie Chin, they performed around the country, spreading their message of Asian American pride and need for change in institutional systems. Asian Week columnist, Phil Tajitsu Nash stated, “Asian-derived people who had been classified in the Census as ‘Other’ suddenly realized that they had an identity, a history, and a place at the table.”

Topic Overview

The 1960s and 70s were tumultuous times to say the least. This era saw the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, Black power, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, feminist movements, and the Summer of Love. President Johnson developed a set of programs that would help low-income families and elderly, including Head Start and Job Corps – both in which still exists today.

And in the midst of the organized chaos, there was the Asian American Movement. In 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was signed, giving priority to family reunification, individuals with specialized skills, and refugees . This new era was so significant that it was signed at the feet of Lady Liberty. With the rise of new immigrants coming to the United States, an international, intergenerational, and interdisciplinary movement was born and they were making themselves known all around the country. In major cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York City, Chicago, and more, Asian Americans were fighting for change in their communities. The term “Asian America” was rooted in a “pan-Asian identity that would harness the power of a ‘solidated yellow people’ against the forces of racism and imperialism” (Densho).

Inspired by the Mao Zedong’s slogan “Serve the People,” they demanded issues like affordable housing, ethnic studies, bilingual education, higher wages, and reparations be brought to the table. Alongside their many allies, Asian American community and student groups wanted the U.S. government to take responsibility for the damages that had be committed upon Asians and Asian Americans for centuries. Some issues won and others are still being debated upon. By the 1980s, many of these groups founded nonprofits and to this day, continue to fight for equity and justice.

Interpretation Guide

The Fist of Solidarity


  • Who does this fist belong to?
  • What is this person doing?
  • What do you think this means?

The Redress Movement


  • Who are these people?
  • What are they saying?
  • What do they stand for?
  • Why do you think this?

Hint: It has something to do with the scene behind them… It’s not the bull!

Power to the People

Read the sign.


  • Have you ever been to a protest? If so, what happened? If not, why do you think people do at protests?
  • Why do people protest?


  • What does it mean to have power?
  • What happens when one person has power? What happens when a group of people have power?
  • Do you agree with the message?
  • Who is holding the sign? Do you think it matters? Why or why not?

Yellow Pearl


  • What is your favorite song? Why so?
  • Why do we listen to music? Why is music important?


  • What is the song about?
  • Why do you think this song was significant in the 1970s?
  • Is it still relevant to today? How so?
  • How does this relate to the the title “a song for ourselves”?

Serve the People

Read the large text.


  • What does it feel like when you help your community?
  • Why do we help people? Describe the feeling.


  • What does it mean?
  • Do you agree or disagree?
  • How does it relate or not relate to your community? Explain.

Discussing Art

  • What is the artist’s message?
  • What is the story that’s being told?
  • What colors did the artist use? Why so?
  • What are three (3) strengths of this poster?
  • What are three (3) weaknesses of this poster?
  • What questions do you have about this piece?

Follow Up Questions

  • What is a community? Describe who is in your community. What do you have in common? What makes your community different than others?
  • What issues are occuring in your community? What can you do to help? Describe a problem and a solution you’re proposing.
  • Listen to Charlie Chin, Chris Iijima, and Joanne Noboku Miyamoto’s song, ‘We Are the Children’ and ‘Something About Me Today.’ How are they similar? How do they differ? Which one do you connect with?
  • Analyze the quote said by Jeff Chang at the top of the page. What feelings come to you with this quote? Do you agree with this statement in this day and age?
  • Research the community groups in your area and find one with values and a misison that you personally connect with. What do they do? Why so?
  • Because of these historical moments and players, what do we know now that we did not know before? What will you do so that future generations can stand on your shoulders?

This page is subject to change. Please visit for the most up-to-date discussion questions. Our goal is to make these lesson guides as welcoming and obstacle free as possible. If you do this as an activity in your course, please do reach out. We would love to hear your feedback and see how we can best improve upon these guides.

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