Conversations In Context: Organizing – Hosted By Yoonj Kim

Faced with historic injustices that often spilled into violence, Asian-American students at UC Berkeley–buoyed by the support of other student groups–went on strike in May 1968, demanding more diverse curricular representation. Later, leaders like Grace Lee Boggs and Larry Itliong would force a greater reckoning with the country’s past in order to extract social, economic, and legal change for their communities. Join MTV News correspondent Yoonj Kim and National Museum of American History Curator Theodore S. Gonzalves as they pick out lessons for the equally fraught landscape we face today.

Charts That Dismantle The Trope Of Asian Americans As The ‘Model Minority’

“Smart.” “Hard-working.” “Nice.” Those were among the adjectives that respondents offered up in a recent poll when asked to describe Asian Americans.

The poll, conducted by the nonprofit Leading Asian Americans to Unite for Change (LAAUNCH), was another all-too-familiar reminder that Asian Americans are still perceived as the “model minority.”

Since the end of World War II, this myth about Asian Americans and their perceived collective success has been used as a racial wedge — to minimize the role racism plays in the struggles of other minority groups, such as Black Americans.

Characterizing Asian Americans as a model minority flattens the diverse experiences of Asian Americans into a singular, narrow narrative. And it paints a misleading picture about the community that doesn’t align with current statistics.

Here’s a look at some common misconceptions driven by the model minority myth.

Myth: Asian Americans are a single monolithic group

Currently, more than 22 million people of Asian descent live in the U.S., making up approximately 7% of the nation’s population. They trace their heritage to different regions around the world, with people of East Asian and Southeast Asian descent making up the largest shares, though no group makes up a majority. More than 1.5 million Pacific Islanders, who descend from Micronesia, Melanesia or Polynesia, live in the U.S. as well.

Academics and activists trace the term “Asian American” to 1968, when students at the University of California, Berkeley, founded the Asian American Political Alliance. At the time, the group sought to unite students of Japanese, Chinese and Filipino descent to fight for political and social recognition.

“Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders” (AAPI) is a term that has its roots in the 1980s and ’90s, when the U.S. Census Bureau used the “Asian Pacific American” classification to group Asians, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders together. In 1997, the bureau disaggregated the categories into “Asian” and “Pacific Islander.”

Myth: Asian Americans are high earning and well educated

Asian Americans have a median household income of around $78,000 a year, which is higher than the national median of about $66,000. However, that overall statistic obscures large differences among different Asian-origin groups.

These economic disparities are partially driven by similar disparities in education levels among Asian Americans. The highest-earning groups — Indian American and Taiwanese American households — also have the highest levels of education, while the lowest-earning groups have comparatively lower levels of education.

In fact, a 2018 Pew Research Center study found that Asian Americans were the most economically divided racial or ethnic group in the U.S., with Asian Americans in the top 10th of the income distribution making 10.7 times more than those in the bottom 10th.

Myth: Asian Americans immigrate to the U.S. in the “right” way

The Asian American community has the highest proportion of immigrants of any ethnic or racial group in the United States. Yet, Asian Americans are often overlooked in debates about immigration reform.

Asians have a wide range of reasons for immigrating to the U.S., including those coming as refugees or asylum-seekers. Out of the almost 11 million estimated undocumented immigrants in the U.S., around 1.5 million (14%) are from Asia, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Heightened immigration enforcement has also impacted Asian Americans. From 2015 to 2018, Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested about 15,000 immigrants from Asia, according to a report by the nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

The report also found that Southeast Asian immigrants were three to four times more likely to be deported for old criminal convictions compared with other immigrant groups. Out of the approximately 16,000 Southeast Asians with final removal orders in that period, more than 13,000 had removal orders that were based on old criminal convictions.

Myth: Asian Americans face less systemic racism and discrimination

Since the coronavirus pandemic started, hate crimes and violence against Asian Americans have increased. In an April survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 32% of Asian American adults — a greater percentage than any other racial or ethnic group — said that they feared someone might threaten or physically attack them.

But anti-Asian bias and discrimination are not new to the pandemic. To understand the current climate, it’s important to look at historical context. In past periods of national tension, especially during times when the U.S. has been at war with Asian countries, anti-Asian racism has similarly risen.

Myth: Asian Americans are fairly represented in leadership positions

Asian Americans are underrepresented in these positions of power, holding about 3% of these positions in comparison with composing 7% of the U.S. population, a report from The New York Times found last year.

More specifically, Asian Americans have the lowest degree of representation in political office compared with any other racial or ethnic group.

Asian Americans are even underrepresented in states with a high concentration of Asian American residents, like New York and California, according to a report by the Reflective Democracy Campaign.

Especially since the start of collective activism among Asian Americans in the 1960s, Asian Americans have had a rich history of political activism and involvement. But that history has not always translated to greater representation in political leadership.

Source: NPR

2019 – George Takei On His Memoir, “They Called Us Enemy”

2019 – Veteran actor George Takei may be best known as Sulu from “Star Trek,” but he also has a darker story to tell. During World War II, thousands of Americans of Japanese descent were forced from their homes and sent to internment camps, Takei among them. Now at 82 years old, he says that the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrants motivated him to speak out and revisit this in a new memoir.

George Takei: ‘We Were Terrorized. That’s The History Of America As I Know It’

Actor George Takei became a sci-fi legend when he starred as Mr. Sulu in “Star Trek.” But his road to success was not a sure thing in the America he grew up in. As a young Japanese-American boy during World War II, he was imprisoned with his family in the now infamous U.S. internment camps. He tells our Hari Sreenivasan about the history behind today’s anti-Asian attacks as part of “Exploring Hate,” our ongoing series of reports on antisemitism, racism, and extremism.

NBA Veteran Jeremy Lin On Being Called ‘Coronavirus’ On The Court; Talks How Everyone Is So Quick Compare Struggles Between Different Minority Groups

In the wake of the mass shootings in Atlanta that killed eight people – including six Asian women – basketball pro Jeremy Lin tweeted “to my Asian American family” about his heartbreak and deep concern. While the shooting suspect’s motive has not been made public, Lin is no stranger to the anti-Asian sentiment that has been on the rise since the pandemic began. Lin is best known for generating “Linsanity” when he led a winning turnaround with the New York Knicks in 2012. Just before the deadly attack in Atlanta, he spoke with Michel Martin about racism in sports as part of Exploring Hate – our ongoing series on antisemitism, racism, and extremism.

Eddie Huang Opens Up On Racism Towards Asian Community, Pop Smoke, And Leaving ‘Fresh Off The Boat’

Producer, director & personality Eddie Huang sat down with Ebro in the Morning for an honest conversation about racism against the Asian community following the shooting at massage parlors in Atlanta. He also discussed some of the experiences he has had himself, and its effects in the community.

He also spoke about the passing of Pop Smoke, solidarity among different races in Los Angeles, his decision to leave the show ‘Fresh off the Boat,’ and more.

He directs the film, ‘Boogie’ which is in theaters now.

Reflecting On L.A.’s Chinese Massacre After Atlanta Shootings

The Los Angeles of 1871 was a violent, lawless place.

Historians have described it as one of the last cities to establish civil law enforcement institutions, relying instead on vigilante justice and mob rule.

It also was a place notorious for its mistreatment and exploitation of Black, Asian, Latino and Native Californians at the hands of white settlers. But the venom against Chinese Americans was particularly poisonous, fueled by editorials in the Los Angeles News that attacked them as “barbarians taking jobs away from whites.”

“Los Angeles in 1871 was a dirty, violent city of nearly 6,000 people. Though the city had a higher homicide rate than New York or Chicago, it employed only six police officers to maintain law and order. Lynchings and mob justice were commonplace,” the Los Angeles Public Library wrote.

It was this world 150 years ago that spawned the Chinese Massacre, a bloody siege that brought shame to Los Angeles and widespread changes in the way the city operated. But it did little to alter the core racism that Asians and other groups would continue to endure.

Oct. 24, 1871

The violence of this day was on a scale that even a city known for its brutality and racial attacks had never seen. In 1999, Cecila Rasmussen of The Times provided this narrative of the chain of events:

Gunfire erupted at 4 p.m., just as former city assessor-turned-patrolman Jesus Bilderrain was polishing off a whiskey at Higby’s saloon. Most of the barroom patrons shrugged off the commotion, but Bilderrain — pistol in hand — dutifully went out the swinging doors into the street. A short distance away, he found a man named Ah Choy shot through the neck (it was later determined this shooting was related to a feud between two Chinese gangs). As Bilderrain blew his whistle to summon help, bullets struck him in the shoulder and wrist.

Running to his rescue, saloon-owner-turned-rancher Robert Thompson was killed, shot through the heart by the same unseen gunmen, who also wounded some of the bystanders.

The rioters, meanwhile, rampaged on. Some climbed to the rooftops and used pickaxes to chop holes, firing through them at the immigrants inside. Two men who ran out into the street were cut down by gunmen on the roofs.

One by one, more victims were hauled from their hiding places, kicked, beaten, stabbed, shot and tortured by their captors. Some were dragged through the streets with ropes around their necks and hanged from a wooden awning over a sidewalk, a covered wagon or the crossbeam of a corral gate. Finally, 15 corpses — including those of a 14-year-old boy and the Chinese community’s only physician, Chee Long Tong — dangled in the City of the Angels. Four others died from gunshot wounds, bringing the death toll at the hands of the mob to 19 — 10% of the city’s tiny Chinese population.

Then, every rickety shanty in Chinatown was looted. “Boys, help yourselves,” was the cry. One lynching victim’s finger was cut off for the diamond ring he wore.

The leaders of the massacre paraded through the streets, displaying their booty, to the laughter and praise of the mob. An estimated $40,000 in cash, gold and jewels was stolen.

The next day’s local newspapers called the riot a “victory of the patriots over the heathens.”

The aftermath

In the end, 19 people died in the attacks.

“Ten percent of the Chinese population had been killed. One of the Chinese caught up in the mob violence was the respected Dr. Gene Tong. In fact, of the killed, only one is thought to have participated in the original gunfight,” the library wrote in its history of the massacre.

Bringing justice for the massacre was going to be a tall order for a city with such weak government institutions and little inclination to hold those who killed accountable. As Rasmussen wrote:

During the subsequent coroner’s inquest and grand jury hearings, police and other city officials — fearful of being labeled “Chinese lovers” — shielded the guilty. “I didn’t recognize anyone” was the recurring statement.

There were no other witnesses, since discriminatory state legislation then prohibited Chinese from testifying in California courts. Still, 37 rioters were indicted, 15 tried and eight convicted of manslaughter. A little more than a year later, however, the California Supreme Court reversed the convictions on the grounds that the original indictment had failed to establish that the Chinese physician had been murdered.

An embarrassed U.S. government subsequently paid imperial China an indemnity to settle the whole affair.

The massacre was a black mark for Los Angeles, and city leaders responded by building up the Police Department and criminal justice system. Vigilante rule began to fade. But the racism endured by Chinese and other minority groups actually worsened.

“The massacre did not result in racial tolerance, in fact, anti-Chinese sentiment increased in the following years. The Anti-Coolie club was formed in 1876, counting many prominent citizens among its members, and the newspapers resumed their editorial attacks against the Chinese,” the library said in its account.

The massacre was largely forgotten for generations. But the history was revived in recent decades, in part by Chinese American activists. It was the subject of two history books: “Eternity Street” by John Mack Faragher and “The Chinatown War” by Scott Zesch.

Michael Woo, the first Chinese American councilman in Los Angeles, ended his review of “The Chinatown War” this way:

“Zesch asks whether the right lessons have been learned. He argues that the 1871 massacre may have marked the end of mob justice in Los Angeles. But Zesch attributes this milestone primarily to improved law enforcement, not to the better angels of our nature taming our impulse to scapegoat, pander and pick up a gun.”

Source: LA Times

The Muddled History Of Anti-Asian Violence

Recently, fears of another wave of anti-Asian violence have arisen following a string of viral videos depicting attacks against Asian Americans. In late January, a clip circulated of Vicha Ratanapakdee, an eighty-four-year-old man originally from Thailand, being assaulted as he walked down a street in San Francisco. He died days later. Around this time, another clip, showing a ninety-one-year-old Asian man in Oakland’s Chinatown being shoved to the ground while walking down the street, made the rounds. The actors Daniel Dae Kim and Daniel Wu offered rewards for information on the assailants. A few days later, Kim, Wu, and the activist Amanda Nguyen appeared on MSNBC, in part to chastise the mainstream media for being slow to cover these attacks. Even as outlets began reporting on these videos, attacks continued: a Filipino-American man’s face was slashed in New York; a Korean-American man was beaten in Los Angeles’s Koreatown while assailants shouted slurs at him. About a week ago, another viral clip circulated, this one of a fifty-two-year-old Asian-American woman being shoved to the ground in Flushing, Queens.

For some Asian Americans, the videos provided proof of what they have been feeling for some time, namely, that they are increasingly targeted on the basis of their appearance. But within this was a sense that their concerns would never be taken seriously. In the cases of the San Francisco and Oakland attacks, some officials, and even local community members, questioned whether these attacks were random rather than racially motivated. The attacker captured in the Queens video was released, and no hate-crime charges were brought against him. Beyond pressing for media coverage, however, the demands around what to do next were sometimes contradictory. Calls for more protection in Asian neighborhoods struck critics of police brutality as the wrong answer; in particular, Kim and Lee’s so-called bounties were perceived to undermine the efforts of Asian-American organizers already working toward community-oriented solutions to public safety. Villainizing the suspects, at least two of whom were Black, seemed to play into racist narratives of inner-city crime. Some felt dismayed that Black and brown community leaders had not rushed to the defense of Asian Americans; others claimed that such standards construed the fight for justice as quid pro quo. Calls to center and protect Asian “elders” drew criticism for playing into a respectability politics that casts a kindly grandma or grandpa as a sympathetic, innocent victim. I saw someone on Instagram acerbically wonder whether these were the same elders whom we had recently been urged to lecture about their racism?

Visibility matters. Yet obsessing over it sometimes obscures the long-standing challenges of organizing Asian Americans around a single, shared story. It’s difficult to describe anti-Asian racism when society lacks a coherent, historical account of what that racism actually looks like. The parameters of activism often get defined by hashtags—#StopAAPIHate, #ProtectOurElders, #NotYourModelMinority—rather than a sense of history. In the age of Black Lives Matter, the desire to carve out a crisp, pithy position is greater than ever. But the past weeks’ conversations have illustrated how the Asian-American experience doesn’t always fit neatly into conventional understandings of victimhood.

For decades, Asian people in America tended to identify more with their own nationality and ethnicity than with a broad Asian-American community. But, in the sixties and seventies, a more inclusive sense of Asian-American identity grew out of a desire for political solidarity. This new identity assumed a kind of cross-generational ethos, as younger people forged connections with older immigrants, helping them to navigate social services and to understand their rights. And it found clarity through collective struggle, as when, in 1977, in San Francisco, Asian-American community organizers, aided by a multiracial coalition of allies, came to the defense of a group of elderly Asians, mostly Filipino men, who were being evicted from their longtime homes in the I-Hotel. But the real turning point came in 1982, when two white men, one of whom had been laid off from his job as an autoworker, followed Vincent Chin, a young Chinese-American draftsman, from a Detroit bar to a nearby McDonald’s and beat him to death. Witnesses said that the three had initially fought at the bar, and that during the altercation the men had allegedly mistaken Chin for Japanese and blamed him for the American auto industry’s decline. The men later claimed that it was a fight that had gotten out of hand, and that they were not motivated by Chin’s race. They were given probation and fined. The lenient sentencing sparked a national campaign against anti-Asian racism and inspired an Oscar-nominated documentary, “Who Killed Vincent Chin?”

In contrast to racism against other groups, anti-Asian racism has rarely been as gruesome and blatant as it was in the Chin killing. There have of course been other violent incidents, like the “Chinese massacre” that occurred in Los Angeles, in 1871, or the Sikh-temple shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2012. But the history of Asian victimhood in America is varied and muddled. A presumption of foreignness might link exclusionary immigration policies of the nineteenth century to the internment of the Japanese during the Second World War; the paranoia around Asian-American scientists, which resulted in the mistreatment of a Taiwanese-American nuclear scientist named Wen Ho Lee, in the nineteen-nineties; and post-9/11 Islamophobia. Yet even the effects of these broad patterns of discrimination aren’t uniformly felt. And the needs and disadvantages of refugee communities and poor Asian Americans have been obscured as much by the myth of Asians as the “model minority” as by the movements, particularly among the professional class, to resist this myth.

The current moment underscores the in-between space that Asian Americans inhabit. It’s hard to prove bias in a hate crime, and it’s typically done by showing how a particular crime draws on recognizable histories of violence or neglect. This becomes difficult when people are mystified by the idea of anti-Asian racism. In Chin’s case, the culprits were white men who espoused racist ideas, which made it easier to recognize the assault as a hate crime and to organize the community around it. Some recent attacks also make legible the ways in which systemic injustices afflict Asian Americans. In late December, police officers killed a Chinese-American named Christian Hall in Monroe County, Pennsylvania; soon after, a Filipino-American man named Angelo Quinto died, after a police officer choked him by kneeling on his neck in Antioch, California. Both Hall and Quinto were suffering from mental-health episodes at the time. Officers claimed that Hall, who was standing on an overpass, pointed a gun in their direction. Quinto died as his family, who had called the police out of concern, looked on. Campaigns fighting for the officers to be held accountable fluidly align with the movement for Black lives, and the criticism of the criminal-justice system’s overreach and potential for brutality.

The videos circulating now are more difficult to parse. In the case of the ninety-one-year-old who was injured in Oakland, the culprit was a man with what a judge called “significant mental-health issues” who seemed to target people indiscriminately. Local community leaders in the Bay Area warned against drawing overly simplistic conclusions from these incidents. “These crimes and violent situations that happen in Chinatown have been happening for a while,” Alvina Wong, a director at the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, explained to the Oaklandside. The attack captured on video was one of more than twenty tallied by the president of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce in a two-week span. We might instead read these videos as part of a larger set of stories. The gutting of local reporting and newspapers has made it harder for communities to stay informed about city politics and the conditions driving local crime. Economic policies that once extracted resources from cities have now caused them to gentrify and crowd out the poor, making enemies of neighboring communities. Mayors and politicians who don’t at all fear losing the support of their Asian constituency rarely feel the need to proactively work on their behalf. Meanwhile, a tattered social safety net does little to help those struggling with mental health.

Source: The New Yorker