As the year winds down to a close, these are the top ten political stories that had a major impact on the AANHPI community highlighting the many political issues that have defined the AANHPI community this year. Sadly, many didn’t receive much mainstream media coverage.
How many of these stories were you following this year?
1. The Racial Profiling of Asian American Scientists and Analysts By The State Department
2015 marked an alarming rise in the racial profiling of Chinese American scientists by the State, a problem that has only magnified in scope since the high-profile persecution and eventual exoneration of Taiwanese American scientist, Wen Ho Lee. More recently, several Chinese American scientists — including scientists Xiaoxing Xi and Sherry Chen — have faced similar charges of supposed espionage, with most finding the charges against them mysteriously dropped after months of harassment and public suspicion. For many of these scientists, their reputations are irrevocably damaged, and the pattern of these inquiries suggests a policy of state-sanctioned racial profiling targeting Asian and Asian American researchers. If so, this would certainly be in keeping with the revelation by the New York Times that the State Department and the FBI also treat their own Asian American analysts with similarly racialized presumptions of disloyalty. This growing pattern of apparent racial profiling of Asian Americans by the government recently led the US Commission on Civil Rights to join the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) to demand an official federal investigation into the problem.
2. The Conviction of Purvi Patel on Feticide Charges
It’s no secret that the anti-choice movement has adopted a state-by-state campaign to pass laws that each make it slightly more difficult for women to gain access to abortion services, and that in combination virtually eliminate abortion access for women: they are, in essence, attempting to sentence Roe v. Wade to a “death by a thousand paper cuts”. The early effects of these efforts – including attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and the passage of racist abortion restrictions in some states — are being particularly felt by low-income women and women of colour. In Indiana, anti-abortion activists successfully passed a law banning feticide, which was used this year to arrest, charge, and convict a 31-year-old Indian American woman named Purvi Patel to 20 years in prison in the death of her fetus. Despite a total lack of evidence, prosecutors argued that Patel killed her fetus in utero using illegal abortion-inducing pills purchased online, and that her fetus was born alive and then subsequently died from neglect when Patel disposed of it in a dumpster (resulting in the seemingly contradictory charges of feticide and child neglect); Patel has maintained throughout the investigation that she suffered a miscarriage, and that her fetus was stillborn. Forensic evidence appears to support her claim.
Patel is the second woman to face feticide charges in Indiana. In 2010, Bei Bei Shuai — who is also an Asian American woman — faced similar charges after an unsuccessful suicide attempt resulted in the death of her fetus. In fact, in states where they have been passed, feticide laws have been disproportionately used to criminalize pregnant immigrant women and women of colour. Patel is currently appealing her conviction. Earlier this month, the State of Indiana submitted a brief defending their prosecution of Patel.
3. The Fight to Protect Mauna Kea
For over a year, Native Hawaiian protesters engaged in heated protest against the planned Thirty Meter Telescope that scientists had planned to erect on Mauna Kea, the highest peak on Hawaii’s Big Island. Protesters were outraged that the telescope’s construction would desecrate the sacred land of Mauna Kea, which features prominently in the Native Hawaiian creation story and which has been protected from modern structures for decades. Activists repeatedly shut-down the TMT construction sites with protests demanding greater respect for Native Hawaiian land, beliefs, and people; they also filed suits contending that the scientists behind the project had failed to get the necessary permissions. The campaign to halt the construction on Mauna Kea received greater awareness when Jason Momoa, the Native Hawaiian actor best known for his role as Khal Drogo in HBO’s Game of Thrones, joined other Native Hawaiian celebrities in offering support for the protesters. Earlier this month, victory was declared after Hawaii’s highest court sided with protesters, compelled by their year of impassioned defense of the Mauna Kea peak. The court revoked construction permits for the TMT project, and construction equipment has since been removed from this Hawaiian sacred land.
4. The Campaign to Stand With Nan Hui Jo
Earlier this year, Korean woman Nan-Hui Jo was arrested, charged, and convicted of the kidnapping of her own daughter. But, this outcome betrays the complexities of her case: several years ago, Jo was living in the United States as a temporary resident when she became involved in a relationship – one that quickly became emotionally, verbally and physically abusive – with her daughter’s biological father. Eventually, fearing for her and her daughter’s safety, and facing deportation after her visa expired, Jo fled her abusive partner and returned to Korea with her daughter; there her abuser continued to threaten her life over email. Years after her escape, Jo applied to return to the United States as a tourist with her daughter, but she was arrested upon her arrival to America to face kidnapping charges. After her guilty conviction, Jo was threatened with deportation, which would have resulted in near-permanent forcible separation between Jo and her six-year-old daughter, who was inexplicably handed into the custody of her abusive father. Jo’s story marks a pattern whereby the legal system has been used to criminalize survivors of domestic violence – many of them immigrant women and/or women of colour such as Marissa Alexander, Rajeshree Roy, and Naomi Freeman — who escape their abusers only to find themselves revictimized by the courts. Thanks to the tireless efforts throughout this year by activists who included the Korean American community and domestic violence advocates, Nan-Hui Jo was released from federal custody in July and is applying for American residency as a survivor of criminal violence, and the network of activists who came together in her case are now doing essential work at the intersection of domestic violence survivor advocacy, restorative justice, and criminal law reform as these issues impact women of colour and immigrant women.
5. The Spotlight on Asian Americans in the Affirmative Action Fight
Mainstream attention is focused on the Fisher II anti-affirmative action case, but less coverage has focused on the second effort by conservative lobbyists to dismantle affirmative action using Asian American students as cover. Late last year, Fisher mastermind Edward Blum filed a second lawsuit alleging that affirmative action violates the civil rights of Asian American plaintiffs whom he recruited to lend their names to this new legal challenge. Several Asian American groups subsequently joined Blum in his anti-affirmative action crusade, filing their own complaint to the Department of Education alleging civil rights violations by Harvard University; that complaint was dismissed earlier this year. Although mainstream media largely covered this story as if Asian Americans monolithically opposed affirmative action, in fact the issue remains highly controversial within the community and has sparked heated internal debate. Moreover, it turns out that not only do most AANHPI support affirmative action, but a coalition of over 135 AANHPI organizations published an open letter in support of such policies this year. That same coalition also recently filed an amicus brief in Fisher II urging the courts to preserve race-conscious affirmative action policies in higher education. The debate continues to inspire thinkpieces by AANHPI writers speaking both for and against initiatives to improve campus diversity, and I recently wrote a post on this topic urging the AANHPI community to reject wedge politics and support affirmative action policies.
6. The Controversy over the Actions of NYPD Officer Peter Liang
Following the fatal shooting of Akai Gurley in a New York City stairwell late last year by rookie NYPD police officer Peter Liang, the AANHPI community has found itself divided over Liang’s indictment in Gurley’s murder. Whereas many AANHPI (myself included) support Liang’s indictment as part of our broader support for the larger national #BlackLivesMatter movement to demand greater police accountability particularly in violence against the Black community, there have also been those within the Asian American community – particularly Chinese Americans – who argue that Liang’s indictment is unfair scapegoating of a non-White police officer. Those protesters organized a rally and protest march earlier this year, and continue to vocally defend Peter Liang’s actions in the Gurley shooting to this day. In a recent development in the story, Liang’s defense has announced they plan to pursue a jury trial — not a judge trial — in his manslaughter case, and the trial is set to begin in January.
7. The Daniel Holtzclaw Case
Former Oklahoma City Police officer Daniel Holtzclaw, at one time a promising college football player, was arrested and tried on the rape of 13 Black women committed between 2013 and 2014. Holtzclaw’s sexual exploitation of Black women outraged activists, who felt doubly betrayed by a mainstream media that repeatedly ignored a story about a police officer targeting Black female victims for sexual assault. In a year characterized by demands for greater police accountability, the Holtzclaw case nonetheless received scant attention outside of social media which many argued underscores our society’s persistent disregard for the rights of Black women. The Asian American community also experienced our share of criticism (myself included) for a general failure to focus sufficient attention on the Holtzclaw trial given Holtzclaw’s biracial Asian American identity complicated by court documents that identified him as Asian contrasted against testimony in his trial where he apparently self-identified to his victims as White. In a recent This Week in Blackness podcast, Blasian feminist N’jaila Rhee — who has been one of the few Asian American voices to publicly follow the story at length — invited me to talk with her about the relative inattention this story has received both inside and outside of our community, as well as the implications of our silence on how the Asian American community might conceptualize multiracial identity. Recently, Holtzclaw was found guilty on 18 charges that include rape and sexual assault by the jury that heard his case, and jurors recommended a combined 250 years of jail time. Formal sentencing is scheduled for Holtzclaw in January.
8. The Effort to Stop the Sale of Japanese American Incarceration Artifacts
In April, a prominent auction house put artifacts of Japanese American incarceration – including family photographs and handmade crafts — on sale. The collection of 450 artifacts had been donated by incarcerees during World War II to a historian who had promised to use them only to create an exhibit highlighting the injustice of the camps. When that historian later passed away, the collection of artifacts exchanged ownership and was eventually inherited by the auction seller who, without consultation with the many survivors of Japanese American incarceration, placed them up for sale. The Japanese American community viewed the sale — which would break up an important collection that has deep historical and cultural significance — as a violation of the terms of the original donation and saw it as an attempt to capitalize on Japanese American history. Using the hashtag #StopRago, the Japanese American community quickly mobilized a nationwide campaign and – after the intervention of actor George Takei – these activists successfully halted the planned sale. After some discussion, it was decided that the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) would acquire the entire collection intact and work towards creating the exhibit on Japanese American incarceration for which they were originally intended. The New York Times reports today that JANM is still working to preserve and restore the artifacts and exploring how and where to put them on display.
9. The Lobbying for the Adult Adoptee Citizenship Act
At the start of this year, the plight of an adult Korean American adoptee named Adam Crapser brought attention to a persistent loophole in American immigration law governing the citizenship of international adoptees. We learned that adoptees adopted outside of America’s borders, many of whom are Asian, are not granted automatic citizenship, and in some cases their parents or guardians neglect to separately apply for their citizenship when they are children. Consequently, by the time these adoptees reach adulthood at the age of 18, they find themselves without documentation and are unable to easily find work or schooling; further, many face the threat of deportation to a country they have never known. This is what happened to Crapser, a survivor of heinous childhood abuse at the hands of his foster parents that led him briefly into a life of petty crime before “straightening out”, and whose deportation hearings as an adult propelled the AANHPI and adoptee community to action this year organized through the hashtag #KeepAdamHome. Although Crapser’s deportation is still pending, activists have also used the story to draw attention to the plight of other adult adoptees who either have lived as undocumented Americans or who have already been deported, and they have successfully lobbied Congress to introduce a new bill – which is still under consideration and pending a vote – that would protect adoptees from future threats of deportation by retroactively granting automatic American citizenship to all adult adoptees who were adopted internationally.
10. A Surge in Islamophobic Hate Crimes Targeting Asian Americans
Whether targeting Muslim South Asian Americans or non-Muslim Sikh or South Asian Americans, violent Islamophobic hate crimes are on the rise this year, including among other examples the brutal road rage beating of Inderjit Singh Mukker (who is Sikh American) by a 17-year-old assailant who called him a “terrorist” in the attack. Last week, several media outlets reported that anti-Muslim violence has tripled since the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, and much of that violence has focused on South Asian American victims. This rash of intolerance has galvanized the AANHPI community, as evidenced not only by the work of groups such as the Sikh Coalition and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, but also in recent shows of support for Muslim Americans by the nation’s Japanese American community. Actor George Takei has even launched a campaign to “save a seat” for Islamophobe-in-Chief Donald Trump at Takei’s Broadway show, “Allegiance” which explores Japanese American incarceration. Meanwhile, hate crime charges were filed against Mukker’s attacker in September, and the teen pled guilty to those charges last week.
Any other important political AANHPI stories you think I missed? Add them in the comments below!