Tag Archives: asian americans

The P.I. in the A.P.I.

By Guest Contributor Scot Nakagawa; originally published at Changelab

Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month has me pondering the question of Pacific Islanders and where that group fits in the Asian-Pacific American coalition. I’ve wondered about it because I fear that by using that term, we too often tell a story about Pacific Islanders that contributes to their invisibility.

There’s a certain amount of invisiblizing, if you will forgive my grammar, that goes on when we use the term “Asian American.” After all, Asian Americans are a mash-up of 40 or so ethnic groups from nations often at odds with one another within a region of origin that only thinks of itself as “Asian” because of being cast as such by Europeans. But, Asians are regarded as a race by the Western world, and with very real consequences that can’t easily be addressed without acknowledging that reality.

When the term “Asian” is lumped together with “Pacific Islander,” though, we start mixing up politics, regions, and race in a way that is potentially damaging.

For instance, the people of Polynesia first became known to the Western world as “discoveries” and then as colonial subjects. Polynesians were regarded by the West as childlike, “primitive” peoples, and as savages. In order to take possession of independent nations like Tahiti and Hawai’i, the French and the U.S. toppled governments and installed colonial oligarchies justified in part by the racist and self-serving notion that Tahitians and Hawaiians were incapable of self-governance in the complex context of international trade and “development.”

These racist notions continue to prevail. Polynesians in the U.S. are profiled by law enforcement as lazy, prone to criminality, and lacking self-control. It’s no wonder Native Hawaiians are less than a quarter of the population of Hawai’i but more than 40 percent of those in prisons. Polynesians in general are overrepresented in prisons in the U.S. Meanwhile, Asian Americans, and East Asians in particular, are profiled as “model minorities,” and underrepresented in U.S. prisons.

Among the main issues of concern to Pacific Islanders is the high incidence of diabetes in parts of that population. Asian Americans tend to be more concerned with issues of refugee resettlement, immigration policy, language access, and bullying. For many Native Hawaiians, resisting assimilation and gaining political independence from the U.S. is a primary issue, while for many Asian immigrants, assimilation and citizenship are goals. But many of us continue to rely on a single story when talking about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

When we reduce the complex experiences of diverse people to a single, totalizing story, we too often fail to see how our diverse stories intersect.

The single story of my childhood in Hawaii was the story of the rise of Asian Americans. This story begins with the first successful farm worker strike in U.S. history in 1946, and it was shared with me in order to teach me that risk, hard work, sacrifice, and looking beyond differences among people to find common ground were keys to a better life.

My parents and grandparents lived in plantation housing, shopped at company-owned stores, and participated in sports leagues designed and sponsored by plantation bosses in order to foster competition between workers who they segregated into ethnic work camps. The plantations were the foundation of the economic and political system of territorial Hawaii, which was governed by a Republican oligarchy ruled by Hawai’i’s white minority.

But regardless of violence and manipulation of inter-ethnic resentment on the part of elites, sugar workers were able to create a class union that brought the oligarchy to its knees. By 1954, a coordinated campaign of general strikes, civil disobedience, and non-violent protests caused a minor revolution in Hawai’i politics. In the territorial elections of that year, the Democratic Party, a multi-ethnic, people of color and working class majority organization, finally overthrew the Republicans. Democrats have controlled the Hawai’i legislature ever since and led the way to statehood in 1959.

It’s a great story. Remembering it still gives me goose bumps. But we should always be suspicious of history told to us as a single story.

The story of Asian uplift in Hawai’i excludes Native Hawaiians. It doesn’t address the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian government, nor the landless and impoverished state of the Native Hawaiian people. As a result, it fails to acknowledge the fact that the strikes and statehood didn’t really break the power of white American elites in Hawai’i. They lost absolute power, but continue to be the deciders on the major questions of politics and the economy in Hawai’i in no small part because they own so much of the land.

Today, sugar has left Hawaii. But because the old elites still control trade and land, diversified agriculture hasn’t replaced sugar, leaving Hawaii too reliant on expensive imported food. Instead, tourism dominates the economy, producing mostly insecure and low wage service sector jobs.

The demographics of Hawai’i are changing. People of color, especially Native Hawaiians, are being forced to leave Hawai’i to seek employment on the U.S. mainland. As they leave, they are being replaced by wealthy whites and white retirees, causing Hawai’i politics to drift in a more conservative direction. Government employment, one of the vehicles people of color have ridden to middle-class status in Hawai’i, is shrinking. Tourism and development have created an ecological crisis in Hawai’i, with more species going extinct there everyday than in any other place on earth.

This is what we blind ourselves to when we understand history as a single story.

 

Go After the Privilege, Not the Tits: Afterthoughts on Alexandra Wallace and White Female Privilege

By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid

As soon-to-be-former UCLA student Alexandra Wallace packs her stuff and leaves the university due to fear for her life, I’ve watched how some people and the press reacted to her.  As Colorlines and other blogs noted, combating her anti-Asian racism with life-threatening misogyny really wasn’t the best social-justice idea:

Nor combatting racial stereotypes with…racialized sexual stereotypes:

and

Or even having a “yeah, you’re racist, but I’d still fuck ya” vibe, a la the guitar-strumming crooner, in an otherwise witty comeback song:

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Quoted: Hisaye Yamamoto, Short-Story Author, Dies

From LA Times:

Often compared to such short-story masters as Katherine Mansfield, Flannery O’Connor and Grace Paley, Yamamoto concentrated her imagination on the issei and nisei, the first- and second-generation Japanese Americans who were targets of the public hysteria unleashed after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Yamamoto was 20 when the attack sent the United States into war and her family into a Poston, Ariz., internment camp. Her most celebrated stories, such as “Seventeen Syllables” and “The Legend of Miss Sasagawara,” reflect the preoccupations and tensions of the Japanese immigrants and offspring who survived that era. Among her most powerful characters are women who struggle to nurture their romantic or creative selves despite the constraints of gender, racism and tradition.

….

Yamamoto was born in Redondo Beach on Aug. 23, 1921. The daughter of immigrant strawberry farmers from Kumamoto, Japan, she was a voracious reader and published her first story when she was 14. At Compton College, where she earned an associate of arts degree, she studied French, Spanish, German and Latin. She wrote stories for Japanese American newspapers using the pseudonym “Napoleon.”

During World War II, she wrote for the Poston camp newspaper, which published her serialized mystery “Death Rides the Rail to Poston.” She briefly left the camp to work in Springfield, Mass., but returned when her 19-year-old brother died while fighting with the U.S. Army‘s 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Italy.

After the war ended in 1945, she returned to Los Angeles and became a reporter and columnist for the Los Angeles Tribune, an African American weekly. Her experiences there deepened her awareness of racism to a point of nearly unbearable anguish. She wrote a story about the intimidation of a black family named Short by white neighbors in segregated Fontana. She attempted to hew to journalistic standards of impartiality, cautiously describing the threats against the family as “alleged” or “claims.”

After her story ran, the Shorts were killed in an apparent arson fire. Yamamoto castigated herself for failing to convey the urgency of their situation.

“I should have been an evangelist at Seventh and Broadway, shouting out the name of the Short family and their predicament in Fontana,” she wrote decades later in a 1985 essay called “A Fire in Fontana.” Instead, she pronounced her effort to communicate as pathetic as “the bit of saliva which occasionally trickled” from the corner of a feeble man’s mouth.

She left the newspaper and rode trains and buses across the country. “Something was unsettling my innards,” she wrote of her dawning multiethnic consciousness. “I continued to look like the Nisei I was, with my height remaining at slightly over four feet ten, my hair straight, my vision myopic. Yet I know that this event transpired within me; sometimes I see it as my inward self being burnt black in a certain fire.”

She drew from this well in the burst of writing that followed. Her breakthrough came with the 1948 publication in Partisan Review of “The High-Heeled Shoes, a Memoir,” a shockingly contemporary story about sexual harassment. She weaved intercultural conflicts and bonds into “Seventeen Syllables” (1949), in which a nisei girl’s blooming romance with a Mexican American classmate offers an achingly innocent counterpoint to her issei mother’s arranged marriage. “Wilshire Bus” (1950) explores a Japanese American woman’s silence during a white man’s racist harangue against a Chinese couple on the bus they are riding.

 

Image credit: goodreads.com

Women of Color and Wealth – Looking at Outliers and Outsiders [Part 5]

by Latoya Peterson

Please note, this is part five of a multi-part series on the Lifting As We Climb: Women of Color and Wealth report released by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. Please carefully read part one and review our comment moderation policy before participating in the comments.

Over the course of the Women of Color and Wealth series one question has come up time and time again – what about Asian women? Native women?  Other, more specific breakdowns of different racial/ethnic groups?  Is there data for queer women of color?  For transgender women of color?  Sadly, the answer is no.

The report includes a separate break out discussion of Asian and Native American women, saying (all emphasis mine):

Because Asian Americans and Native Americans comprise a much smaller proportion of the U.S. population than blacks and Hispanics and because most surveys that measure wealth do not oversample these groups, our knowledge about their wealth is less robust—particularly for Native Americans.

According to 2004 data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, Asian Americans have a higher median net worth than white non-Hispanic households ($144,000 and $137,200, respectively).  Much of this is due to their home equity, as the Asian population is concentrated in a few cities with very high home values. When data is adjusted for these and other factors, Asians have less wealth than whites on similar socioeconomic characteristics. In interpreting the high home equity of Asian Americans, it is also important to bear in mind that they are likely to own and occupy the home with extended family members and are more likely than whites to contribute more than half of their household income to housing costs.

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Anti-Asian Bias in College Admissions?: Part 1 – An improper comparison

by Guest Contributor Jenn, originally published at Reappropriate

This post is broken into two parts for the sake of length:

Since the implementation of affirmative action in the college admissions process, opponents of the policy have alleged anti-White and anti-Asian bias that reduces the chances of White and Asian high school students applying to elite colleges. Recently, a study conducted by Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade (published in the book No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life) presented data that appear to support this notion.

First of all, I should point out that the primary data Espenshade analyzed were collected in 1997. But, it’s likely that the trends that Espenshade report remain in effect, since there have been no major changes to the college admissions process nationwide since then, nor have we seen significant changes in student demographics.

The “Scary Graph”: what does it mean?

Espenshade shows that middle class Asian students have a reduced probability of being accepted into private universities compared to students of other races (I re-created the graph below from page 7 of this presentation of Espenshade’s data, eliminating upper- and lower- class students, but the trends are roughly the same).

This graph looks pretty alarming until you consider the following applicant demographics, compared to national demographic information:

What this graph is showing you is that while Asian Americans are roughly 4% of the U.S. population, we represent nearly a quarter of all applicants to the institutions studied by Espenshade. For some universities, this can reach as high as 1/3 — and many of these applicants boast high SAT scores and high school GPAs. Many of these students also come from higher-income families compared to Black and Latino applicants, and therefore have access to better educational opportunities to help improve their scores. In addition, Espenshade’s data show that, compared to other races, Asian American applicants appear to preferentially apply to private institutions, which causes an even more dramatic increase in our applicant number.
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Still the “Other”

by Guest Contributor Angry Asian Man, originally published at Angry Asian Man

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Following up on revealing survey results it released over eight years ago, this week, the Committee of 100 released a new report on the perceptions of Asian Americans. And it’s pretty much what you’d expect. Here’s the press release (PDF): SURVEY INDICATES THAT ASIAN AMERICANS ARE STILL THE “OTHER” DESPITE CONTRIBUTIONS TO U.S.

The report indicates that, despite a positive trend in attitudes toward Asian Americans, racial discrimination and suspicions still exist. Surprise, surprise. According to the survey — even in 2009 — the majority of the general population cannot make a distinction between Chinese Americans and Asian Americans in general, treating all as one generic, monolithic ethnic group.

Sure, we’ve made strides, and there has definitely been significant progress on a lot of levels. But no matter how you slice it, there are still just a lot of people out there who can’t seem to wrap their head around the fact that we are indeed Americans too. In the eyes of many, we’re still apparently outsiders. Most notable in the dat are the misperceptions around:

- Loyalty of Asian Americans: Despite the approximately 59,141 Asian Americans serving in active duty in the U.S. Armed Services, and the more than 300 Asian Americans who have been injured or died in Operation Iraqi Freedom, there are still suspicions about the loyalty of Asian Americans. Among the general population, 45 percent believe Asian Americans are more loyal to their countries of ancestry than to the United States, up from 37 percent in the 2001 survey. In contrast, approximately three in four of the Chinese Americans surveyed say Chinese Americans would support the United States in military or economic conflicts, compared to only approximately 56 percent of the general population who agrees.

Political Influence: While the Asian American community celebrated the cabinet appointments of members to the Obama administration – Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, and Veterans Affairs Secretary General Eric Shinseki – there is a significant lack of representation among other federal, state and local elected leadership. There are currently six Asian American members of the House of Representatives from continental U.S. states and two Senators from Hawaii (no Senator from a continental U.S. state), and only one Governor, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. C-100′s survey reports that 36 percent of the general population thinks that Asian Americans have the right amount of power and influence in Washington, while only 15 percent of Chinese Americans believe this to be true. However, 47 percent of the general population believes that Asian Americans have too little power in Washington, with 82 percent of Chinese Americans agreeing.

Leadership in Education Institutions & Corporate America: Although stereotypes around Asian Americans as the “model minority” continue to be perpetuated in educational institutions and in the workforce, the presence of Asian Americans is not matched with representation in leadership.

Education: The report shows that 65 percent of the general population believes Asian American students are adequately represented on college campuses, with 45 percent of Chinese Americans agreeing and 36 percent arguing that they are underrepresented. In reality, there are only 33 Asian American college presidents in the United States (out of about 3,200) and, while analysis shows that among the top sector of higher education institutions – as listed in U.S. News & World Report’s 2005 rankings – Asian Americans are well represented as students (6.4 percent) and faculty (6.2 percent), only about 2.4 percent are represented in the positions of president, provost or chancellor.

Corporate America: Similarly, while Asian Americans hold only about 1.5 percent of corporate board seats among Fortune 500 Companies, 3 C-100′s report found that 50 percent of the general population believes Asian Americans are adequately represented on corporate boards, while only 23 percent of Chinese Americans agree. Forty-six percent of the general population also believes Asian Americans are promoted at the same pace as Caucasian Americans, with only 29 percent of Chinese Americans saying the same.

The full report, available as a PDF, can be downloaded from the Committee of 100′s website here. Next week, C-100 will be conducting a panel discussion in Washington D.C. to address the report findings. It’s Thursday, April 30 at the Committee’s 18th Annual Conference. Panelists will include Congressman Mike Honda; Charles Cook, Cook Political Report; Antonia Hernandez, California Community Foundation; and Ralph Everett, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. For more information, go here.