Smirking when I asked if he had any questions before I turned on my recorder for our interview, Stan responded, “Yes. I can tell by your name and how you talk that you’re probably ‘Chinatown Chinese.’ Am I right?”
Stunned and curious, I asked, “What do you mean by ‘Chinatown Chinese’?”
Presumably trying to convey that he was superior to me, Stan proceeded. “You know what I mean… you probably have family who work in restaurants and sewing factories… low class immigrants. My generation of Chinese immigrants is different than yours. We’re highly-educated professionals. We don’t need handouts. Your generation of Chinese immigrants gave us a bad reputation in America, relying on government handouts.”
Feeling a rage rise in me, I pushed it away for the sake of my research. Taking a long sip of latte and a deep breath to calm myself, I responded nonchalantly “My mom was a garment factory worker, and most of my family have worked in restaurants… casinos, too. My grandparents lived in Boston Chinatown, so we do identify with Chinatown. Some of my family benefited from public assistance. And, I have a Ph.D. like you. Why are you asking these questions?”
Still smirking, Stan answered: “Just curious.” And with that, we began our interview with my audio recorder on for the remainder of our conversation.
By Guest Contributor: Nicole Gon Ochi, Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (AAAJ-LA)
Last month, reports surfaced that California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, the #MeToo activist under investigation for sexual harassment and under fire for using homophobic slurs, also made racist comments about Asians in 2014, when she reportedly said, “This makes me feel like I want to punch the next Asian person I see in the face.” Garcia’s statement came during a heated moment in California’s history when a bill (SCA 5) to repeal California’s ban on the consideration of race in college admissions (Prop 209) was defeated by Asian American opponents of affirmative action.
Garcia’s comment is undeniably hateful and offensive. It essentializes all Asian Americans into a single trope and targets them for violence. I wholeheartedly denounce Garcia’s comment, however I also empathize with her underlying anger because the anti-affirmative action organizing around SCA 5 was deeply painful for many people. For decades, although Asian Americans have benefited from affirmative action, we as a group have been used as a racial wedge to minimize the effects of structural racism, denigrate other communities of color, maintain white supremacy and argue for the virtues of colorblindness.
As a whole, Asian Americans have largely resisted efforts to co-opt our own history of discrimination and exclusion to reinforce a racial hierarchy that continues to harm us. When conservative white politicians began using Asian Americans as a racial wedge in debates over elite admissions policies in the 1980s, leading Asian American academics and activists resisted this characterization. A majority of Asian Americans voted against Prop 209 in 1996 and public opinion polling consistently shows that Asian Americans support affirmative action. So, it came as a surprise when a small group of highly organized, primarily Chinese immigrants quickly and effectively pushed Asian American state legislators, many of whom had already voted for the bill, to ultimately turn back an effort to restore equity to public higher education.
This post was first published in November 2014. However, with resurgent interest in affirmative action and the Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, I have republished this post updated for 2017.
Thus, the AAPI community finds ourselves once again thrust into the spotlight in the national affirmative action debate. Opponents of affirmative action suggest that these latest legal efforts are on behalf of the AAPI community. They suggest that most AAPIs are against race-conscious affirmative action, yet several studies reveal that more than 65% of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders support affirmative action, both in professional and academic settings.
It’s important that we accurately represent the political opinions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on this issue. Specifically, we must render our community’s support for affirmative action visible.
In 2014, I aggregated a list of AAPI groups and writing in support of affirmative action. I have replicated and modified that list in this post, and will update it over the next several months with additional writing from around the internet.
Please feel free to link to this post as a resource regarding the attitudes of AAPI on affirmative action in the upcoming national debate on this issue. The abundance of this writing demonstrate clearly that while affirmative action is a polarizing topic within the AAPI community, there is strong and vocal support for race-conscious affirmative action in our community that deserves visibility.