“The Making of Asian America” by Erika Lee

In the past fifty years, Asian Americans have helped change the face of America and are now the fastest growing group in the United States. But as award-winning historian Erika Lee reminds us, Asian Americans also have deep roots in the country. The Making of Asian America tells the little-known history of Asian Americans and their role in American life, from the arrival of the first Asians in the Americas to the present-day.

An epic history of global journeys and new beginnings, this book shows how generations of Asian immigrants and their American-born descendants have made and remade Asian American life in the United States: sailors who came on the first trans-Pacific ships in the 1500s; indentured “coolies” who worked alongside African slaves in the Caribbean; and Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and South Asian immigrants who were recruited to work in the United States only to face massive racial discrimination, Asian exclusion laws, and for Japanese Americans, incarceration during World War II.

Over the past fifty years, a new Asian America has emerged out of community activism and the arrival of new immigrants and refugees. No longer a “despised minority,” Asian Americans are now held up as America’s “model minorities” in ways that reveal the complicated role that race still plays in the United States.

Published to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the United States’ Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that has remade our “nation of immigrants,” this is a new and definitive history of Asian Americans. But more than that, it is a new way of understanding America itself, its complicated histories of race and immigration, and its place in the world today.

Why Asian Americans should care about Fred Korematsu Day 

Korematsu

 Audrey Magazine: 

Never heard of Fred Korematsu before? Well today may just be the perfect day to learn about him. After all, January 30th is proclaimed Fred Korematsu Day. Unfortunately, he often flies under the radar because his story is still one that barely receives recognition in your average American history lesson. In fact, Korematsu Day is only recognized by the states of California, Hawaii and Utah.

During World War II, President Roosevelt signed the Executive Order 9066 which made it legal to incarcerate Japanese Americans and anyone of Japanese descent into concentration camps, and Korematsu’s family fell victim to the legal discrimination. But Korematsu defied the president’s order believing he was an American citizen, and saw the situation for what it was — an injustice.

In an effort to avoid the unjust discrimination, Korematsu got minor surgery to alter his eyes, changed his name to Clyde Sarah and even claimed his ancestry as Hawaiian and Spanish. However, his efforts were foiled when he was arrested and convicted in federal court for violating the government orders.

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According to the Supreme Court decision regarding my case, being an American citizen was not enough. They say you have to look like one, otherwise they say you can’t tell a difference between a loyal and a disloyal American,” said Korematsu.

It wasn’t until years later, in 1983, when Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the U.S. District Court of Northern California in San Francisco formally overturned the conviction of Korematsu that his innocence was acknowledged. It was a pivotal moment in U.S. civil rights history, especially because Korematsu would never forget these injustices. In fact, he decided to make sure America wouldn’t forget these injustices either.

Flash forward to 1998 and you’ll find President Bill Clinton honoring Korematsu with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his persistence to fight against the federal courts for governmental misconduct, as well as his work to pass a bill that would grant an official apology from the U.S. government and compensation of $20,000 for each surviving, formerly incarcerated Japanese American:

Why is his story important? Because it serves as a reminder for Asian Americans that we are still very much human and we deserve our human rights like any other American.

If you feel that Fred Korematsu’s history deserves to be highlighted, 18 Million Rising is holding an online petition to have Korematsu featured as a Google Doodle. They’re 200 letters away from reaching their goal!

korematsudoodle

For more about Fred Korematsu click here, and you can send in your letter to Google here.

“Why Asian Americans Might Not Talk About Ferguson”, by Liz Lin

ferguson

(Originally published in The Salt Collective)

 

Two years ago, I found myself trying to break into my friends’ apartment.

I had coordinated their wedding a few days earlier, and they had since departed for their honeymoon.  A box from the wedding was supposed to go to one of the guests, only to end up in their apartment.  Now the guest wanted the box, and I, having a key to their home, needed to retrieve it.

My friends had warned me that the key had a tendency to stick, though that proved to be an understatement.  After 10 minutes of wrestling with it, my hands sore from twisting and straining, I gave up.  The box would have to wait.  But I thought about the maintenance man I had seen across the courtyard as I struggled with the door; surely he would have a functional key.

The request was ridiculous, I knew:  I had never seen this person before.  He had absolutely no reason to believe my reasons for needing to enter the apartment.  But I figured I had nothing to lose, so I waved him over and asked if he would let me in.

Much to my surprise, he did — no questions asked.  Even more shocking was the fact that he unlocked the door and immediately left, not bothering to wait around and make sure that I didn’t ransack the place.  He let a complete stranger into an apartment that wasn’t his and walked away.

As I entered the apartment and started looking for the box, I was incredulous — and I was never more aware of the privileges I have as an Asian American woman.

Would this person have ever let me into the apartment if I were a black man?  I’m not a betting person, but even I would put serious money on the answer being no.  I probably would’ve been asked to leave the premises, too.

Yes, I experience a host of disadvantages as an Asian American woman, but I can’t deny that I also have a number of privileges — one of which is that no one ever suspects me of wrongdoing.  Thus I found myself on my hands and knees in my friends’ living room, opening and closing boxes, let in by a stranger who was now nowhere to be seen.

****

Race is complicated, especially for those who don’t fit into the black and white binary that usually frames conversations about race in this country.  This, I suspect, is one of the reasons why I’ve seen such varied responses to Ferguson in my Asian American circles.  I’ve seen Asian Americans lamenting and protesting; I’ve seen Asian Americans declaring that no injustice was done; but more often than not, I’ve seen Asian Americans completely silent.

Race is complicated for us.  On one hand, we’re disadvantaged in many ways.  We’re perpetually seen as foreigners, as people who don’t belong here.  Our successes are often attributed our race instead of our own talent or hard work.  We’re overlooked for promotions, walked over in social and professional situations, openly mocked.  We’re reduced to stereotypes, our women hypersexualized and fetishized, our men emasculated.  Multiple laws have been passed to exclude us from immigration and citizenship.  Tens of thousands of us, in a stunning violation of constitutional rights, were forcibly removed from their homes, communities, jobs, and possessions and relocated to internment camps during World War II — and released back into society, years later, with nothing.  We’ve been the victims of hate crimes from vandalism to murder.  Like all people of color in the US, Asian Americans have been consistent targets of individual and systemic racism.

But as Asian Americans, we do have some privileges.  People generally assume that we’re smart and hardworking, which is reductive but infinitely preferable to people assuming the opposite.  We’re assumed to be good tenants, reliable employees, responsible citizens — not troublemakers.  Teachers and police officers — and maintenance workers — tend to believe the best about us and not to suspect or fear us.  The impact of these beliefs on how we experience the world cannot be overstated.  It’s not surprising that at 17, when I first heard in a freshman seminar that I was oppressed because I was Asian American, my first response was skepticism.

So when a conversation about race is framed in black and white terms — which, in this country, is the case more often than not — it’s not always clear who we should be identifying with.  We don’t have quite the same disadvantages or quite the same history of oppression as black people, but we aren’t fully accepted like white people, either.  Our experiences don’t always clearly dictate which side we belong on.

And then there are all the other cultural and social factors that influence how we respond to events like Ferguson.

For one, Asian cultures strongly value harmony and not creating conflict.  The American proverb says that the squeaky wheel gets the grease; the Japanese proverb says that the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. Thus, even in the face of controversial events, even when we ourselves are the victims of wrongdoing, many Asian Americans tend to remain silent.

This tendency is exacerbated by the fact that more than 90% of Asian Americans are immigrants or children of immigrants1 — people shaped by an immigrant mindset of keeping your head down and your mouth shut, even if the circumstances are terrible. Because you want to be welcomed and accepted here, and complaining usually creates the opposite response, even if those complaints are warranted.

Along with that immigrant mentality can come a need to survive at all costs — at least in my family.  My parents desperately wanted my brother and me to succeed in this country, and the only way to ensure that was for us to beat everyone else.  So they instilled in us a deep competitiveness, a need to be the best.  I grew up with a sense that I had to fight for my own success and not let other people or their problems drag me down, an attitude that haunts me still.

And then you have the anti-black sentiment that pervades Asian and Asian American communities. There are plenty of better-researched, better-written explanations for these attitudes, but in my experience, the human predisposition to stereotype and the fairly universal attitudes about light skin being superior to dark skin are exacerbated in cultures that are racially homogenous.  We see this in the US:  Communities that have very little diversity, where there is little contact with people of different races, tend to have the strongest stereotypes.  In Asian countries, where the overwhelming majority of people have black hair and brown eyes, it’s especially easy to generalize about those with different phenotypes, either positively or negatively.  And immigrants bring those attitudes with them to the States.

Once they’re here, they encounter the model minority myth, the erroneous belief that Asians have been more successful in America than other races because of inherent positive qualities.  Asians didn’t create this myth; it was created by a white sociologist who stereotyped Asians and other races without any sense of history.  But many Asian Americans have bought into it, and some propagate it themselves.  Because after all, it’s a story that serves us, at least on the surface.  It also aligns us with white people, the people with power, the people we want to accept us — and it can bring us comfort to think that we’re not at the bottom of the totem pole.  And sometimes we keep our distance from those at the bottom, consciously or otherwise, out of fear that others will lump us together.

So when you have all of these factors at play and something like Ferguson happens, it isn’t terribly surprising that many Asian Americans stay quiet.  People’s responses vary considerably, of course, but when you consider all of these factors — the cultural value of not causing a stir, the immigrant attitudes of looking out for ourselves and wanting to be accepted, not wanting to be associated with people lower than us on the social food chain — it’s almost remarkable that Asian Americans have spoken up at all.

Make no mistake:  I don’t think that any of these factors let us off the hook when it comes to speaking and acting against injustice.  I feel very strongly about what happened in Ferguson, the wider systemic injustices it reflects, and the need for people of all races to act.  But the events of the last few weeks, and the consequent responses (and lack thereof), have made me reflect on the many things that had to happen in order for me to become vocal about issues like these.

I needed to learn about the systemic racism that pervades our society, that manifests in things like the targeting of black men.  I needed to learn the ugly history that led to these realities, much of which I had not learned in school.

I needed to acknowledge my own biases and those of my family and community, to understand their origins, and to learn how to challenge them whenever they appear in my head, in conversations with others, in public forums.

I needed to learn that my only-out-for-myself attitude was ultimately not helpful for me or for anyone around me.  I needed to learn that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, as Martin Luther King said; that if one part of the body suffers, every part suffers (1 Corinthians 12.26); that ending injustice — all injustice — is a central part of what God wants to see in the world (Isaiah 58.6, Luke 4.18).

I needed to learn that some things are worth rocking the boat for — and that if I wasn’t proactive about fighting injustice, I was quietly perpetuating it.

So many things needed to happen in order for me to feel comfortable being vocal and active about issues of race; there were cultural and social barriers to overcome, things to learn, attitudes to examine.  And I still have a lot of work to do.  Again, I’m not excusing anyone for failing to speak up — but I acknowledge that being active about issues of race, for Asian Americans, often means swimming against a strong current.

So let me ask you:

What do you need to do?

———

1 Zhou, M., & Yang, X. (2005). The multifaceted American experiences of the children of Asian immigrants: Lessons for segmented assimilation. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 28, 1119-1152.  (Article available here.)

Liz Lin

About Liz Lin

Liz Lin has been many things — therapist, high school youth worker, professor, consultant — but she’s happiest when writing about race and culture. She lives with her husband in Berkeley and loves everything related to pop culture, food, and college football. You can find her blog at mynameiselizabeth.com or follow her on Twitter @curiousliz.

Mark Wahlberg wants you to officially forget his anti-Asian hate crime


Angry Asian Man:
Here’s a fun fact about mega movie star Mark Wahlberg: he was once arrested and convicted for beating the shit out of an Asian man, while calling him racial slurs, in a vicious attack that left the victim blind in one eye. Now, the actor/producer is requesting to have the assault conviction officially removed from his record.

Back in 1988, long before he was an Oscar-nominated actor, or battling Transformers, or even the rapper known as Marky Mark (YouTube it, kids), Wahlberg was a 16-year-old asshole who tried to steal two cases of beer from a Vietnamese American man, Thanh Lam, outside a convenience store in Dorchester. Wahlberg called Lam racial slurs and hit him over the head with a 5-foot wooden stick, knocking him unconscious.

Later than night, Wahlberg approached another Asian man on the street, Hoa Trinh, and punched him in the eye. He called him, among other things, “gook” and “slant eye.” Trinh lost sight in his right eye.

Wahlberg was arrested and convicted of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and possession of a controlled substance, and served 45 days of a 90-day sentence. To this day, he maintains that race did not motivate the attack. And now he has formally applied to the Massachusetts Board of Pardons to erase that ugly, inconvenient little hate crime from his past.

Since that time, I have dedicated myself to becoming a better person and citizen so that I can be a role model to my children and others,” Wahlberg states in the application filed with the Board of Pardons.

Wahlberg also mentions the work of his charity, the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation, and his support of the Dorchester Boys and Girls Club and his habit of attending church almost every day.

Lawsuit: Chef at ritzy NY Asian-Fusion restaurant served the worst meat to Asians, routinely referring to them as “sh*t people”

NY Post:

The chef at a three-Michelin-star eatery in Brooklyn dictated that lesser pieces of meat be given to Asian customers and Upper West Siders, a new lawsuit charges.

César Ramirez of Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare — which charges a flat $255 per person plus a $50 “service charge” each — was blatant about his biases, according to the suit filed by some of his former sous chefs and servers.

He openly prohibited Asian customers from being placed too close to him at his section of the Downtown Brooklyn restaurant’s chichi counter, routinely referring to them as “s- -t people,” ex-server Emi Howard alleges in the suit.

And when it came time to distribute cuts of meat during the fusion French-Asian meal service, Asians — along with suspected Upper West Siders — were given inferior scraps, while preferred diners were given choice chunks, the suit says.

When a large piece of meat was cut into many pieces for the guests, Defendant Ramirez instructed Ms. Howard to give the worst pieces of meat to the ‘s- -t people,’ i.e. Asian people, and to Upper West Siders,” the suit states.

When an Asian patron was once placed close to Ramirez during one of his culinary cabarets, the chef boiled over with rage at Howard, who is Asian, the document states.

On one occasion, Ms. Howard ‘violated’ Defendant Ramirez’s discriminatory rule by seating Asian individuals close to his spot at the center of kitchen counter,” the suit states.

In response, Defendant Ramirez subjected Ms. Howard to a wild verbal tirade.”

Mr. Ramirez from then on took control of the seating, so that he could ensure that no Asians be sat next to his place.”

Howard and four other former employees also accuse Ramirez and owner Moe Issa of cutting them out of tips and bilking them out of overtime pay.

The plaintiffs claim in the suit that the restaurant automatically charged a 20 percent gratuity for each bill but that servers never saw a dime of those $50 tips.

They also say Issa and Ramirez refused to pay staffers overtime, even when they worked more than 70 hours a week.

Howard and fellow axed staffers Kyle McMahon, Loren Mash and Santos Hernandez are seeking unspecified back pay and damages.

Ramirez refused to comment Monday night.

Issa said in a statement that the restaurant was an equal-opportunity environment.

We pride ourselves on the diversity of our staff,” the statement read. “And we welcome everyone who comes through our doors.”

Angry Asians are suing Harvard for discrimination after getting rejected

harvard asians

Next Shark:

A lawsuit filed Monday accuses Harvard University of discrimination because of their alleged higher standards of admittance for Asian students. According to Fox News, the suit claims that Asian students weren’t admitted to Harvard despite having higher test scores and GPAs than other minority group students that were accepted.

Edward Blum, who runs the Project on Fair Representation, filed the suit on behalf of the rejected Asian students. He also filed a suit last year that went up to the Supreme Court against the University of Texas on behalf of a white applicant over its affirmative action admissions policy. That decision is still pending. Blum stands on point:

Quotas and racial balancing are strictly against the law.

Harvard’s general counsel defends the university with this statement:

The College considers each applicant through an individualized, holistic review having the goal of creating a vibrant academic community that exposes students to a wide-range of differences: background, ideas, experiences, talents and aspirations.

The University’s admissions processes remain fully compliant with all legal requirements and are essential to the pedagogical objectives that underlie Harvard’s educational mission.

There are good arguments for both sides.

For the students, no particular racial or ethnic group should be held to higher standards than any other group as a strategy of limiting the admittance of one group of people. Achieving an academic record worthy of an Ivy League isn’t an easy feat — for a young person to have worked so hard to attain that, only to be rejected from a university because of their racial makeup, seems highly unfair.

But Harvard has some pretty good reasons for adhering to their policy — it’s for the greater good. A world-class educational institution can’t provide a proper environment for learning if they compromise their diversity, which anyone can argue is a base requirement for growth of any kind. Harvard would simply cease to be Harvard if it was full of Asians, because according to the numbers, it would be.

Should Harvard stick to their policy of “balance,” or should discrimination be shot down and hardworking students be admitted regardless of race?