To Awaken Asian America

Editor’s Note: This is the twelth in the pursuit of social justice by our 2017 Mike Honda Writing Fellow, Amanda Ong. Read her first piece on identity, second on Tam v. USPTO, third on power, fourth on feminism, and fifth on Columbia’s xenophobic vandalism, sixth on activism, seventh on voting access, eigth on fearing microaggressions, ninth on fearing microaggressions, tenth on firgetting Chinatowns, and eleventh on whitewashing films.

Dyne Suh, a 25-year-old law studentLately, violence and exclusion against Asian Americans has been at a visceral high—and while I am of course angered as always by these instances of discrimination and hate, something else also has been stirring within me.
​At this historic moment in time, following the election of one of the most outrightly bigoted Presidents in our country since before racial desegregation, we as American citizens have been made well aware of the racial tensions in this country being brought to the surface. These prejudiced, racist sentiments have existed in America for hundreds of years, but seem to be projected more violently and explicitly right now than they have been at any other time in my young life.

​On one hand, seeing the exclusion, the literal brutalization of Asian Americans, hurts me deeply. One can never learn to like the reminder that often America has a penchant to see the Asian American body as only an Asian body, and has a penchant to see the Asian body as something to be exploited, abused, and eradicated from this country. One can never learn to like the reminder that at the root of racism is not just the belief that people of color are less than, but need to either exist in complete submission and subservience to those in power, or just not exist at all.

​In just the last month, after booking an AirBnb in Big Bear, Asian American woman Dyne Suh’s host cancelled on her at the last minute by telling her in a series of texts that she “wouldn’t rent to [Dyne] if [she] were the last person on earth.” When Dyne confronted her and asked why she would go back on her word and cancel so last minute, the host told her, “One word says it all. Asian.”

​“It’s why we have Trump,” the host continued, justifying her discrimination with Trump’s election. Trump, of course, has not spoke out refuting that her actions should be done in his name. The refusal of goods and services is an action that, under law, is never to be done on the bases of race, gender, or creed. Still, it is something LGBT communities have had to struggle against in even recent years, and right now in the case of Dyne Suh, wasn’t respected for Asian Americans.

​Last week saw the case of David Dao, a doctor on a United Airlines flight who was dragged, violently harassed, and beaten for refusing to leave an overbooked flight. Dao had purchased a ticket, and the singling out of Dao to leave the plane and the subsequent beating of Dao more than appears race related—the unfounded brutalization of Asian bodies has been historically condoned, as in the last thirty years in the case of Vincent Chin’s murder, and hundreds of years of colonialism before.

​With every new piece of news of these kinds of deeply racist and violent crimes, there is a part of me that feels a little weaker, a little sadder. But I also have to wonder, are these just the issues that have lived under the skin, under the surface of the earth of this country for years, simply festering upwards and projecting themselves now more violently before? Is this an inevitable part of the move forward?

​While I have no true answer to this and of course, I wish nothing more than for these people, for their souls and bodies to be safe, for their health and livelihood to be in no danger, what I do know is that I have watched the Asian American community take note and take action. I have seen many who have bought in to the model minority myth begin to perceive the way in which we are not just otherized, but brutalized, excluded, and discriminated against. I have seen something in the Asian American community awaken—in the words of W.E.B. Du Bois speaking of the black community, the gaining of a “double consciousness”, if you will—an increasing awareness of the self as an Asian American in contention with the awareness of people’s perception of the Asian American.

​While more than anything I sorely hope discussion and peaceful but rigorous action will put a halt to, or at least mollify such violent actions against Asian Americans, I also hope that from this our community may better mobilize and may better find solidarity among other people of color. May we all march forward, and learn to situate ourselves on the side of equity and justice.

Asian American Action Fund Calls for Investigation and Response to the Recent Actions of United Airlines and the Chicago O’Hare Police

In light of yesterday’s brutal assault on Dr. David Dao in the Chicago O’Hare Airport, the Asian American Action Fund (AAA-Fund) calls for an investigation into the actions, motivation, and behavior of the United Airlines employees and O’Hare Airport’s Aviation Police.

Upon the request of United Airlines staff, the O’Hare Airport’s Aviation Police forcibly dragged a paying customer out of his seat, bloodying and possibly concussing him in the process. Dr. Dao, the customer in question, was twice dragged off the flight, the second time on a stretcher. Dr Dao expressed the belief that racial animus and not random chance was the reason he was singling out for forcible removal.

The use of force against an Asian American traveler is a symptom of a nation which tolerates violence against minorities. AAA-Fund calls for an investigation to determine if there is systematic racism in the O’Hare police force or within the United Airlines organization. We also call on O’Hare and United to engage in training to diffuse conflict without violence and how to recognize and counter systematic racism.

Police on United Airlines

French Colonialism and Racism Lived

Paris France

Editor’s Note: This is the ninth in the pursuit of social justice by our 2017 Mike Honda Writing Fellow, Amanda Ong. Read her first piece on identity, second on Tam v. USPTO, third on power, fourth on feminism, and fifth on Columbia’s xenophobic vandalism, sixth on activism, seventh on voting access, and eigth on fearing microaggressions.

This past week, I was in France with my family visiting my best friend for spring break. There were so many things that I loved about France; it is bright, and cavalier, and beautiful in every crevice of its earth, it breathes bread and butter, and exhales art and all fine things. I’m already so incredibly privileged to have experienced going there in my lifetime, and infinitely more so to get to with my family over spring break as just a college student.Of course, there were moments still that tore me away from my romantic view of the country, that made the bliss of a vacation feel null. They were the same kind of moments that tend to tear me out of mid-day reveries in my every day life. Namely, microaggressions and the “otherizing” of Asians I experienced.

Of course, this kind of experience is not wholly specific to France in any way. If you read my last blog post or some of the one’s before that, you will have read about many of my prior experiences with the otherizing of Asian Americans in my own home country. In fact, in the United States we sometimes think of racism as pertaining only to our country and its history.

​But racism is larger than just America. It is a part of the world, of histories of imperialism, colonialism, of immigration and following xenophobia, in cities, and countries, and every which place.

​When I was in France, vendors on the street would try to get my family’s attention by saying, “Ni hao!” or more crassly, “Ching chong ching chong!” I’m not sure whether or not they genuinely thought they were speaking Mandarin in the latter, or if they even knew that their actions were offensive at all. I suppose it doesn’t really matter much what they thought in the end. While their words were not violent, they reminded me of two things: that people like my family do not look like they belong in a country like France, and that while many people aren’t explicitly violent in their racism, they do not care about being respectful to people of color, because we don’t merit respect to them.

​Waitresses and waiters would offhandedly call me a word that my friend told me meant something like “Chinese princess”. It was meant to be a compliment, but it still left me caught off guard and frazzled.

​When I met my friend’s French teacher for the first time, she asked me, “Are you Chinese?” I told her yes. Then she turned to my friend and said, “Your Chinese girl is very beautiful,” as if my friend owned me. It was something we thought laughed off—in many ways, I still think it was funny, the ridiculousness of her statement laughable—but it also left me feeling more exoticized than beautiful, more owned than self-possessed, too othered to be flattered.

​The kind of casual racism I experienced in France was by no means intensely painful for me, or and was nothing I am not already used to. But it did remind me that racism is not solely an American vice. It exists internationally, across countries and miles. It knows no borders.

​As an Asian American in France, I felt more aware of the history of European imperialism that has existed and effected people of color worldwide—and how that history has been the most important in the construction of racism. The microaggressions I experienced there were distinctly rooted in xenophobia and exoticism, in the distinction of Asians as “different” and inherently foreign.

​While I will always, from the depth of my soul, be most concerned with and involved in the ongoing plague of American racism, it is also important to me that if we want to change racism in our country we also must have some understanding of its history and function in the world. And we must be ready and willing to look to people of other nationalities and listen to their stories, learn from them, and when needed, lend them a helping hand.

​America tends to have a reputation as isolated. Our people speak only English, only are knowledgeable on the customs and affairs of the American people, and sometimes not even those. Whether that’s true or not, I would like to think that as Americans we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to try and improve our country, and to me, part of that comes in understanding the world as a whole. So may we learn from each other, may we learn from the world, and in the end, may we all come back and use it to make our country the best place it can be.

The People’s Vote

Asian I voted stickerIn recent weeks, U.S. Congresswoman of New York Grace Meng has proposed the 21st Century Voting Act, a bill which intends to “protect, improve, and modernize the act of voting.” According to Meng’s website as well as the language on the bill itself, the 21st Century Voting Act seeks to:

  1. Make Election Day a national holiday;
  2. Initiate automatic voter registration;
  3. Restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated persons;
  4. Make voter registration portable;
  5. Allow voting information, such as polling place and registration status, to be available online;
  6. Strengthen and streamline voting cybersecurity protections;
  7. Provide additional federal resources to state and local election boards;
  8. Establish a quadrennial review of voting in America.

In short, the act keeps in mind the protection of our voting rights and seeks to create greater accessibility to vote for all American citizens eligible to do so.

“It is way past time that Congress pass meaningful voting reform,” Meng said on her website. “It is ridiculous that in this day and age such troublesome hurdles exist that restrict access to the ballot box. My bill would address key priorities to modernizing our voting systems, including establishing automatic and portable voter registration, and making Election Day a national holiday. These commonsense reforms would allow every American the opportunity to participate in our electoral process, which is one of the hallmarks of our democracy. We must finally overhaul our disparate and complicated voting systems.”

Our right to vote is consistently explained to us as an equitable and democratic privilege that we have as American citizens—and this is true in the sense that our right to vote is founded upon such democratic principles. We are allowed to have a say in the actions of our country, and we have the power as the people of our country to elect who to grant greater powers to.

However, the issues Meng brings to light in the 21st Century Voting Act are crucial to upholding the democratic principles behind our right to vote. Despite the great ideals upon which our democracy has been founded upon, many members of American society have historically been barred from this right. Even after African Americans were technically granted the right to vote under the 15th amendment in 1870, it was not until almost a century later when the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 that they could practice that right. Prior to that, the ability to vote was basically inaccessible due to many laws that were created with the intention to indirectly keep African American citizens from voting. Poll taxes prevented citizens who could not afford to pay the tax from voting, and literacy tests prevented uneducated citizens from voting, and furthermore tended to be selectively administered to African American citizens.

While these laws have since been repealed, still many barriers remain which keep voting inaccessible to many American citizens who by all means should be able to have a say in the way in which our country is run. Unsurprisingly, marginalized communities still tend to be disproportionately be effected.

In particular, the Asian American community has been seen to have the lowest voter turnout of any racial group in the United States, according to a study of the 2010 Midterm Elections done by the Pew Research group. Of Asian Americans who did not vote, most said that they were too busy with work or school to do so. In fact, nearly forty percent cited this as their reason for not voting, a rate fifty percent higher than any other racial or ethnic group. The ease of voting Meng’s bill presents is especially crucial to the Asian American community for this reason, as this accessibility could drastically increase Asian American voter turnout. With this, the Asian American community could very well gain the voice it deserves within our government.

It also comes at a key time following our last Presidential election, after which America was labeled a partial rather than full democracy for the first time ever. As citizens, the power of our right to vote is an idea that has been entrenched in our identity as Americans itself. The philosophy of a democratic society does not function unless all members of the society are granted some voice within their government. The right to vote lies at the foundation on which our country was built, and we should make every move to uphold these rights, or strip ourselves from all of the principles that we hold to be true as Americans. But with Meng’s 21st Century Voting Act in mind, we must also remember that with our support true voting equity is possible. And so we must go forth and mobilize, and with that, I urge our congress to support Meng’s bill with the same fervor I do.

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