GROWING UP in California, my parents never talked about the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. To them, the plight of African/Americans and their fight for equality were distant events
To them, the March on Washington was for African/Americans. It didn't affect Filipinos or Asian/Americans. (In fact, the term "Asian American" hadn't even been conjured up until the latter half of the 60s.)
I can't remember any of my teachers in my racially diverse high school discuss what was happening in Little Rock, Selma and other parts of the South. The Vietnam War had yet to reach our living room TV screens.
I'm embarrassed to say, that post-WWII generation immigrants of my parents -- as much as we owe them and love them -- there was an awful saying they repeated from a popular racist ditty: "If you're white, you're right; if you're black, get back; if you're brown, stick around." (Ooo, boy, that was difficult to write.)
Through the decades, that mantra has thankfully and gradually disappeared although it is showing signs of revival among the new immigrants from Asia who have no grasp or background of Asian American history.
As AAPI people have become more attuned to the realities of America and it's dreams, as a group, we still struggle to find our place in our country -- as individuals and as a political construct -- and rid ourselves of the "otherness" imposed on us by other people.
The events of Charlottesville, the uprising of white supremacists and the rise of Donald Trump, a leader who has no grasp of history and no empathy for people of color is forcing us to once again, seek a place in this current battle for America's soul because, whether we like or not, it is better at the table discussing these issues rather than retiring to the kitchen letting others duke it out.
The Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a coalition of five legal aid organizations, recently put out a call that perhaps best sums up why Charlottesville affects us why we should prepare ourselves the debates that are going on and the battles that are sure to come over race and what it means to be an American.
Here is the AAAJ's clarion call:
While few Asian Americans trace our roots to the Civil War, our history in this nation is deeply intertwined and impacted by white supremacy and nativism. At the turn of the 20th century, white mobs threatened -- and even lynched -- Chinese, Filipino, and South Asian immigrants, in part for fear they would taint (white) American culture. White supremacist groups helped to pass the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first law to ban an entire ethnic group. And white supremacy birthed “alien land laws”, barring “non-citizens” from owning land at a time when mainly Asians could not become U.S. citizens, and anti-miscegenation laws, prohibiting interracial marriage (a law that in California specifically singled out Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and other Asians). White supremacy also paved the way for the U.S. government to violate due process and incarcerate 120,000 Japanese Americans, many U.S. citizens, during World War II -- an action upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Korematsu vs. United States and never formally overturned.It is critical for the AAPI community -- especially those recent immigrants who come to the U.S. with its abundance of opportunities available to them -- to know that it was not always this way. Affirmative action, census counts, data disaggregation, employment rights, equal pay, equal access to health care, the right to own land, the ability to marry outside your race, family reunification -- these things had to be fought for. AAPI have bled and died for these rights and opportunities we take for granted. While America was yet a dream in for the recent immigrants, Asian/Americans were in the courts, the fields, in the halls of government, on the job and in the streets fighting for these doors to be opened.
Given our history, we as Asian Americans cannot stand idly by and watch as white supremacists march through our neighborhoods. Even before this past weekend, hate crimes were surging upwards, including nearly 200 incidents against Asian Americans since January documented through our hate tracker (StandAgainstHatred.org) and the shooting of two South Asian immigrants, Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani, in Kansas earlier this year.
We as Asian Americans also must not be complicit in the white supremacist agenda of this current administration. White supremacy drives the President’s Muslim bans, seeking to ban entire groups of people based on their national origin and non-Christian religion. It drove last week’s one-two punches from the White House. First, when the President announced his support for the RAISE Act, an immigration bill that would gut the current family-based immigration system, which has brought millions of Asian, African, and Latin American immigrants into the U.S. and remade the racial demographics of the U.S. in the past 50 years. And second, when the White House redirected federal civil rights resources to undo long-standing affirmative action policies. The administration’s purported claim to be fighting discrimination against Asian Americans flies counter to all other evidence that this administration and its allies and supporters seek to advance only the interests of fellow white Americans.
Our nation is at a critical crossroads. White supremacist leaders like David Duke have seized upon Charlottesville as a turning point in moving their hate and nativism mainstream. Without clear and decisive leadership from the President or other administration officials or Congressional leaders, it falls on all of us to resist white supremacy, including efforts to be co-opted by white supremacists who do not and have never had our communities' interests at heart.
We call on all Asian Americans to join us in defending our vision of democracy – one where we protect the vulnerable amongst us, resist efforts to erode our hard-won rights and protections, and fight to advance progress for all marginalized communities. We pledge to challenge rising hate, to fight the President’s Muslim bans, to oppose the RAISE Act and the gutting of affirmative action, to fight deportations and defend DACA, to champion health care for all, and to ensure all voters can cast their ballots. We cannot do this alone, and we will be calling upon you to join us on the streets, in legislative chambers, and on the steps of the courts to stand up for our democracy.
White supremacists would like to use us as a wedge against other communities of color. They would like to separate us from others who share our struggle. They would like to divide us from each other. We must not let this happen.
Filipino/American author Carlos Bulosan wrote in America Is In the Heart words that still ring true: "America is also the nameless foreigner, the homeless refugee, the hungry boy begging for a job and the black body dangling on a tree. America is the illiterate immigrant who is ashamed that the world of books and intellectual opportunities are closed to him. We are all that nameless foreigner, that homeless refugee, that hungry boy, that illiterate immigrant and that lynched black body. All of us, from the first Adams to the last Filipino, native born or alien, educated or illiterate-We are America!"
The violence that occurred in Charlottesville was violence against the AAPI community. It was as much an attack against the AAPI as it was against the African/American, Native American and Latino communities. When Heather Heyer was killed, a sister was struck down.
America is at a crossroads. We are at that crossroad. In the weeks and months to come, we will determine which America will emerge: one where one group reigns over all; or an America that welcomes that refugee, shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, clothe the naked.
The history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is an ongoing struggle to know our role in American history and how we have arrived to Charlottesville last week; how we have come to this America of 2017.