The Identity Politics of the late 20th century fails to meet the challenges of the 21st century. McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin for VP highlights this truth. Pundits have begun to speculate about the direction of the women’s vote. I am immediately reminded of Asian American political action committee 80-20’s commitment to revisit their endorsement of Obama should McCain choose South Asian Bobby Jindal as VP. Identity politics has become the shallow practice of cosmetic change, than a politics of substance.
The hollowing of the term “Asian American” further illustrates the bankruptcy of the special interest game. Originally, “Asian American” was coined by the late professor Yuji Ichioka, during the emergence of the Black Power Movement in the 1960s and the spread of revolutions across the “Third World,” to supplant “Oriental” and to signify a specific political agenda. It sent the message that we would name ourselves and stand in alliance with a transformative program that builds power for all oppressed groups around the globe.
One of the successes of the Asian American Movement was the eventual entrance of “Asian American” into mainstream nomenclature. The Movement’s failure is its reduction to the exercise of self-love and pride in one’s culture and heritage and engaging in cosmetic politics.
This realization raises the question, “What is an Asian American Pacific Islander Agenda for the 21 Century?”
However, even this attempt to define the political agenda for Asian American Pacific Islanders is a self-limiting exercise. We fool ourselves in thinking that by choosing specific issues unique to us, we will build power.
I would challenge us as a community to revisit the original spirit of “Asian American” and lead a struggle that clearly benefits all disempowered people. For example, considering the large and growing number of Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in the healthcare industry, how come AAPIs have not taken a central public lead in fighting for universal healthcare? AAPIs have the largest wealth disparity within itself out of all racial groups. Yet, how come issues of labor were not a priority topic discussed in the Asian Pacific Caucus meeting on the first day at the recent Democratic National Convention (unlike the African American and Latina/o caucuses)?
Revisiting the original spirit of “Asian American” does mean we begin to challenge each other as a community. But in our history in the US dating back to the 1800s, this has always been the case. Remember it was Asian American Republican, English-only proponent and former State Senator S.I Hayakawa who tried to stop the burgeoning Asian American Movement of the 1960s and fought ethnic studies and the inclusion of our history and literally pulled the wires out of the speakers of a student rally at San Francisco State University.
Just like McCain choosing a woman for VP doesn’t change his conservative agenda that would continue the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the few and does not restore our global leadership as a nation, electing an Asian American Pacific Islander without regard to his or her progressive politics accomplishes very little for us as a community.
Maybe, we need to bring back the term “Oriental” to define the failure of identify politics and restore meaning to “Asian American Pacific Islander.”
– John Delloro