If Asian America exists, it is because of systemic racism.
October 22, 2015 9:54 AM   Subscribe

The Two Asian Americas. "If Asians sometimes remain silent in the face of racism, and if some seem to work unusually hard in the face of this difficult history, it is not because they want to be part of a 'model minority' but because they have often had no other choice." (SLNewYorker)
posted by BuddhaInABucket (20 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
I wish we could merge this post with this one. The articles nicely complement one another.
posted by schroedinger at 10:35 AM on October 22, 2015


In Vancouver - there are lingering reminders of the incredible racism that used to exist in the city. My friend's family (who are Chinese) sold their home and had to have a language that was still in the original deed that barred the property being owned by Chinese or East Indians - even though the lien was completely unenforceable. My friend's father was interred during the second world war - and still remembers vividly what it was like to taken away and locked up. I remember growing up, and having house paint poured over my parents car - or the time a van full of teenagers pulled up beside my 20 something mom in her car, and started throwing hammers and tools at her in moving traffic.

But at the same time - Vancouver, in many ways, has become one of the most color blinds cities I have lived in. As a Chinese man growing up here - I felt no pressure to be a "model minority" - the traditional Asian values of education and achievement drove that anyways. I have gained more career and life success than my parents could have dreamed for me... but we came to Canada to get a better life for ourselves, and we did it.

I think it's important to remember the some of the ridiculous and insanely awful laws that did everything possible to keep Asians out or separated from their families. But all the Asians I know have never let that shit define them or hold them back. We have all found ways to succeed and find meanings in our lives. It's a balancing act - but I gotta say it's worked out pretty well for most immigrant Asians I know.
posted by helmutdog at 10:45 AM on October 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think the article is in part a response to the notion that "traditional Asian values of education and achievement" even exist. There are plenty of places in Asia where those things are not even close to being as important as they are in most Chinese immigrant families. I had a friend from a Southeast-Asian tribal group tell me that the obsession with schooling and making money was considered pointless among her people. Despite talk of a "model minority," the article reminds us that many immigrant communities from Asian countries on average aren't making high grades in school, aren't getting high-paying jobs, and don't fit the stereotypes that the dominant groups wants to put on their shoulders on the basis of their imagined origins. There is a huge rage of cultures and experiences that the racism implicit in the single "Asian" label tries to paper over.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:06 AM on October 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


In the eyes of some, Asians in America are, Lee writes, “perpetual foreigners at worst, or probationary Americans at best.”

That sounds pretty close to my experience. There is almost nothing about my person that would immediately suggest I am anything other than American, aside from my face. My family has been in the U.S. for generations, and I speak fluent, unaccented English, but I'm still regularly asked where I am "really" from or what languages I speak, forever dissatisfied by my answers of "California" and "English." Both my grandfathers served in the U.S. Army during WWII, for crying out loud, but I'm still perceived as "American-lite."

Contrary to helmutdog's experiences, I always found that there was seriously heightened pressure to be a "model minority" within a large immigrant population, and just as bad when you're the only minority around, and triply awful when you're a small minority within a larger minority group. I know Asians of many types, successful and unsuccessful, and trying to mash them all under one umbrella is impossible and infuriating. It's especially frustrating because we are never evaluated as "American"; the hyphen is always there, along with the cultural assumptions.
posted by Diagonalize at 11:18 AM on October 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


from lands sucked dry by colonialism, such as the Guangdong province, in China, reeling from drought and famine after the Opium Wars.

Shaky grasp of history alert.
posted by Bwithh at 11:42 AM on October 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Please elaborate.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:44 AM on October 22, 2015


Contrary to helmutdog's experiences, I always found that there was seriously heightened pressure to be a "model minority" within a large immigrant population, and just as bad when you're the only minority around, and triply awful when you're a small minority within a larger minority group. I know Asians of many types, successful and unsuccessful, and trying to mash them all under one umbrella is impossible and infuriating. It's especially frustrating because we are never evaluated as "American"; the hyphen is always there, along with the cultural assumptions.
posted by Diagonalize at 11:18 AM on October 22 [2 favorites −] [!]


I have to say that when I lived in the US - there was a marked difference as to how Asian were perceived and lived (and this was in San Francisco!) One the one hand, where I worked had a Chinese Caucus to make sure the Chinese professional staff were getting fair breaks and access to juicy projects (which seemed strange to me) - and on the other hand, I was constantly being complemented on my spoken English - which was WTF?!
posted by helmutdog at 11:53 AM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm actually a little surprised to find that Korean-Americans have lower median earnings, and I wonder how much of that is due to the recent-ish arrival of most of the immigrants, especially since Koreans have the same sort of mania for education that the Chinese do, and more and more of them are starting to head into high-paying fields. It's only been in the past decade and a half where 1.5/2gen Korean-Americans have really been coming into their own in large numbers.
posted by qcubed at 12:03 PM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's a funny point of reference for me, for going from a public school in Vancouver to the Bay Area for university was my first time being around so many Asian classmates that spoke fluent English, meaning flawless California accent. At one point during orientation I even directly asked a student sitting next to me as to the extent of this difference, I.e. whether this was true in general of this city, or this state! For the first time in my life I felt as if I might be living alongside people who could understand me.

The thing is, the student whom I confided my query had no clear response. Looking back I think both of us as young Chinese Asian Americans lacked the kind of context and historical information to understand--that Asian America is not monolithic but rather grouped and stratified due to geopolitical history, immigration era, socioeconomic status, and so on.
posted by polymodus at 12:58 PM on October 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm actually a little surprised to find that Korean-Americans have lower median earnings

That's lower median *personal* earnings. Median *household* earnings for Korean-Americans is $50k, which is slightly higher than the US population average.

I also noted this distinction for Filipino-Americans. Median household earnings for Filipino-Americans is $75k, which is higher than all other Asian groups other than Indian-Americans (88k).

(All according to Pew's analysis of 2010 ACS)

I think the key differences are poverty rate and to a lesser extent rate of "high skilled occupation", which stats would be very relevant to median personal earnings. See here. The Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Filipino American populations all have generally similar stats in terms of HS/college/advanced degrees. But among those groups the Korean American population has the highest poverty rate (15.5%; Chinese 13.1%, Filipino 6.9%, Japanese 8.6%), and the rate of high skilled occupation is lowest (27%; Chinese 41.9%, Filipino 29.7%, Japanese 32%).
posted by odin53 at 2:06 PM on October 22, 2015


I like the point that "Asian-American" is part of systemic racism, and that each ethnicity have their own history and challenges in relation to America. I've always wondered though, that if the Vietnam War didn't happen, would baby boomers even know where it is on a map.

What diagonalize quoted, “perpetual foreigners at worst, or probationary Americans at best.” has always rang true for me and my Asian friends. It's strange to know that we have it better than African Americans (and for some of us, better than those of Indian or Middle Eastern descent), yet professionally we tip-toe around caucasians trying not to rock the "model minority" boat. I'm an immigrant myself, but in another 10 years I'll be really tired of the "where are you really from?" question. But I'll still smile and answer.
posted by numaner at 3:40 PM on October 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think it's important to remember the some of the ridiculous and insanely awful laws that did everything possible to keep Asians out or separated from their families. But all the Asians I know have never let that shit define them or hold them back.

I don't know, my motto is "don't forgive and never forget". Because if you think we're well past that, well, someone will be by shortly to remind you by, say, announcing that their new nephew has 'chinky eyes' and showing everyone a photo. (This happened to me last weekend in Toronto.)

I mean it's not even like racism against Asians is a knife balanced on its edge waiting to be tipped over by something Trump said, it's still here. It never left. Don't call it a comeback.
posted by danny the boy at 4:16 PM on October 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


Like the article says, the only way a term like "Asian-American" even makes conceptual sense considering you're talking about people from 48 distinct countries/cultures that comprises literally more than half of the world's population, is because they hate us and wanted to pass laws against all of us.
posted by danny the boy at 4:20 PM on October 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


These attitudes toward Asians have deep roots.

Earlier this year, I digitized two 1878 California state Senate reports on the "social, moral, and political" effects of Chinese immigration. These books contained the testimony of many citizens on the dangers presented by the Chinese. The introduction to one of the volumes has this choice quote:

"The Chinese came without any special invitation. They came before we had time to consider the propriety of their admission to our country. If any one ever hoped they would assimilate with our people that hope has long since been dispelled...We respectfully submit the admitted proposition that no nation, much less a republic, cannot safely permit the presence of a large and increasing element among its people which cannot be assimilated or made to comprehend the responsibilities of citizenship."
posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 7:04 PM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


In 1871, in the largest mass lynching in American history, seventeen Chinese men were murdered by a mob of five hundred, in Los Angeles.

i was unaware of this until recently -- mentioned here as well -- and i wonder what it means that this 'story' isn't something that's passed down from generation to generation or frequently cited (until now?) by asian- or chinese-americans.
posted by kliuless at 12:01 AM on October 23, 2015


i was unaware of this until recently -- mentioned here as well -- and i wonder what it means that this 'story' isn't something that's passed down from generation to generation or frequently cited (until now?) by asian- or chinese-americans.

I took a class about asian american history dating back to the gold rush, and the gist of it is that the Chinese exclusion act was so successful at keeping the Chinese population in check that most Chinese people you'll meet are either 1st or 2nd generation immigrants and won't have roots that far back.
posted by Qberting at 12:22 AM on October 23, 2015


In 1871, in the largest mass lynching in American history, seventeen Chinese men were murdered by a mob of five hundred, in Los Angeles.

The Hidden History of Los Angeles podcast covered it in an episode. It's the third episode and is titled "The Chinatown Massacre" and it did a good job laying out a timeline of events, what happened, and where it happened. There's also a web page of some photos of what these places look like now.
posted by FJT at 9:02 AM on October 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


i was unaware of this until recently -- mentioned here as well

Something that article mentioned, that Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal are governors, is something I've always thought was interesting. A lot of "Asian"-Americans from my mom's generation have pretty conservative values: low taxes, low welfare, pro-life, pro-cis-straight-orientation and interestingly, strict immigration control. I and (with a few rare exceptions) most of my Asian/South-Asian friends never get into politics with our parents because we usually disagree with them on these points. And yet, while our parents would vote conservatively they deny that it's conservative racist attitudes that have hindered them or their predecessors. They'd rather brown-nose those in charge (the white conservatives) to get to the top than fight for change.

This is just my experience having lived only in Maryland. But progress, as they say, is on the march. I'm glad that my contemporaries do not have the same world view.
posted by numaner at 10:40 AM on October 23, 2015


Hm, I feel like this article reinforces the model minority myth.

While it concedes that Asian Americans are not as uniformly successful as we often imagine, it does not examine why, after Johnson's new immigration policies, the socioeconomic status of many Asians did in fact skyrocket. I'm sure this is not the author's intent, but without exploring that further, the article leaves us to imagine that there is something inherently superior in certain Asian cultures, such that Asians get super successful as soon as the vicious oppression starts to fade.

But there are important reasons Asians have been so successful, and it doesn't require the vague, essentialist tropes we often hear about Confucian hierarchy or maniacal work ethic. I found this article instructive.
posted by andrewpcone at 10:44 AM on October 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


While it concedes that Asian Americans are not as uniformly successful as we often imagine, it does not examine why, after Johnson's new immigration policies, the socioeconomic status of many Asians did in fact skyrocket. I'm sure this is not the author's intent, but without exploring that further, the article leaves us to imagine that there is something inherently superior in certain Asian cultures, such that Asians get super successful as soon as the vicious oppression starts to fade.

Um, no.

First, I object to the idea that the article "concedes" that Asian Americans are not as uniformly successful. There is no no tone of apology, or "I was surprised by this!" tone about the discussion of the historically vicious anti-Asian attitudes that the article describes. It's really fucking blunt about how shitty things were across the board for a very long time, and how much erasure there has been about the "vicious oppression" you mention.

Second, I have no idea why this article would have to explain the success of Asian American communities since the 1960's in order to not reinforce the model minority idea. I mean, one just does not follow the other. The article is about narrating of American prejudice towards Asians, and it does a vivid, interesting job of describing it, particularly in the 1800's. Requiring that it specifically take on debunking the the model minority myth is kinda like asking why an article about ice cream doesn't include a recipe for cake -- sure, cake and ice cream go together, but ?????????????????

Third, I do not know why you think this article is about the idea of Asian-Americans as model minorities. Look at the last sentence of the first section which frames the long-ass description of historical prejudice.
Meanwhile, much of the history of Asians in America, a history that now spans nearly half a millennium, has been forgotten.
That's the thesis statement.

I'll also note that the tendency to read DEBUNKING THE MODEL MINORITY MYTH!!!!!! as the point of most articles about Asian-American culture is, in my experience, a very much a Thing among white American liberals. Even people who are generally allies on race, even people who when asked, would say they absolutely do not subscribe to the model minority myth -- they have a hard time unlearning the idea that the most important and remarkable part of the Asian American experience has been their success in certain narrow parameters of American life while being very conspicuously not white. I mean, it blew their minds to learn that Asian Americans aren't really a model minority! Why shouldn't it blow everyone else's on the REG????? Why isn't it the thing that Asian Americans talk about all the TIME????

I'm not saying that's your attitude, andrewpcone. But just know that, in my experience, it's a Thing.

Fourth, I believe that even if the point of the article was not about debunking the idea of Asian-Americans as model minorities, it does important work providing evidence against two keystones of the model minority myth -- first, that Asian-Americans managed to arrive in the US and magically succeed, and second, that Asian-Americans are successful because they don't spend all their time bellyaching about how things are unfair. It's laid out in black and white. Again, here is the end of the first section.
These are just a few recent stories, of course, but they stand in for many others. Asian-Americans are still regarded as “other” by many of their fellow-citizens. And yet one finds among some Asian-Americans a reluctance to call out racist acts, in part because of their supposed privilege in comparison with other minority groups. Meanwhile, much of the history of Asians in America, a history that now spans nearly half a millennium, has been forgotten.
posted by joyceanmachine at 11:27 AM on October 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


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