"Why are there Asians and Asian Americans out there who believe that they’re above racial issues and relations pertaining to other minority groups in America? When did we get a pass for saying and perpetuating racism?"
“Don’t forget who you are and where you came from.”
This was the humbling sentiment that has been hammered into my consciousness ever since I was born. The belief that I can be a successful American citizen while remembering and honoring my Vietnamese identity. However, the more I grow into this identity, the more concerned I have become for the very people who taught me this sentiment, because they are slowing forgetting it themselves.
Identity politics intrigues me.
At least the intersectionality of identity politics helps me understand people better on a racial, gender, religious, sexuality, and humane level, which in turn helps me understand people better on a social, economic, and personal level.
It has helped me understand all of these aspects within myself as well.
I’ve been talking to a lot of friends recently about they have coped with their family members voting for Donald Trump. It’s been known for a while now that I believe he’s a dangerous man. He’s even more dangerous when he’s infiltrated our households.
This becomes odiously problematic when we utilize his platform and ideologies to demonize other struggling marginalized communities.
Since entering this post-election period, I’ve heard nothing but romanticized stories from his supporters about how his presidency is going to create more jobs by being tougher on immigration. The word “illegals” is being tossed around like it’s free currency. It’s as though we all have conveniently forgotten that a lot of us are immigrants ourselves. Now all of a sudden we feel compelled and emboldened to trash other immigrants who, in particular, are not like us: Latinos, people of Muslim faith, international students, etc.
There are a lot of reasons why this is happening (respectability politics, xenophobia, white supremacy), but I feel as though it’s a culmination of all these concepts.
This illusion can be explained through the “model minority” myth.
According to Wikipedia (I know, don’t judge me): “A model minority is a minority group (whether based on ethnicity, race or religion) whose members are perceived to achieve a higher degree of socioeconomic success than the population average. This success is typically measured in income, education, low crime rates and high family stability.”
I’ve seen folks, even Asian folks, use this myth as a way to excuse stereotyping. “Look, our people are doctors and engineers, why should we be ashamed of that?!” It’s much more complex and nuanced than perceived superficial success. It’s deeply rooted in white supremacy and classism. It ignores intersectionality thus ignoring Asian Americans who are not succeeding.
My colleague, Sahra Vang Nguyen, explains this eloquently in her essay for The Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sahra-vang-nguyen/the-truth-about-the-asian_b_8282830.html):
“The overall poverty rate in the U.S. is 14.3 percent; relative to their unique populations, the poverty rate for whites is 11.6 percent and Asian Americans is 11.7 percent. Yet no one is talking about the fact that Asian Americans have a higher poverty rate than whites. Why not? Probably because it doesn’t fit their portrayal of Asians as the model minority. Average per capita income for whites is $31k, while for Asian Americans it’s $24k. Asians make up 12 percent of the undocumented population (that’s 1.3 million undocumented Asians), while whites make up a reported zero percent. But nobody wants to talk about the poverty, unemployment and immigration problems when it comes to the Asian American community, because to do so would accurately align us in the fight for racial justice and hurt the white supremacist agenda (which historically, thrives with divide and conquer tactics).”
Money is a hell of a drug.
It’s changing us.
And people are hurting.
This myth mostly addresses East Asians, who are already global superpowers, and blatantly disregards folks of South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander descent. But it also gives us an illusion of power, which we often use to turn on other communities when we should be standing with them in solidarity.
I’m becoming overwhelmed with all of these gross declarations about “how we’re tired of paying taxes to support the poor” or “how Mexicans are having babies in the states so they can become citizens” or “how we can’t trust Muslims because they could potentially be terrorists.”
We do not realize how much we’re killing each other by buying into this idea that our community is okay, so let’s disrespect everyone else.
Do you remember a time when that garbage was said about us? It was not too long ago that Jeb Bush called Asians, “anchor babies.”
When was the last time you interacted with someone on a personal level who came from a different economic, ethnic, or national background? We live in such small and closed-off enclaves. We forget there are others striving for the same aspirations and dreams. We’re using their differences to uplift ourselves instead celebrating each other’s differences in the face of hate.
It’s something to strongly consider when we come across these issues in our own communities and families. I’m still struggling to find a way to address it without having the exchange turn into a shouting match, but I know that I eventually have to stand up to the very people I love who continue to perpetuate racism and xenophobia. The very people who taught me to do so.
If you are an immigrant or you are from an immigrant family, remind each other that we did not escape persecution so that we could in turn persecute others.