Let me be clear: I do not mean to dismiss the achievement of this year’s pro-Liang protests. It is never easy to organize a nationwide demonstration, never mind one that is able to attract 15,000 in a single city and thousands more nationwide. I may not agree (like, at all) with Liang’s supporters, but no one can or should scoff at the community organizing work it took to make these protests materialize. And, quite clearly, these protests, letter writing campaigns, and online petitions had an impact: after DA Ken Thompson said he would not seek prison time for Liang, Judge Danny Chun today reduced Liang’s conviction to a lesser charge before sentencing him to 5 years probation and 800 hours community service for his killing of Akai Gurley.
Liang’s supporters will be celebrating today. But, in the interest of an accurate representation of AAPI history, those celebrations must be presented alongside an honest contextualization of AAPI’s long history of vociferous protest movements.
Today is the 74th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066 which resulted in the forced displacement and incarceration of over a hundred thousand innocent Japanese and Japanese American citizens under deplorable conditions. Every February 19, the community comes together to commit to remembering the legacy of Japanese American incarceration, and Japanese American history.
“[I]t is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.
In later interviews, Trump has failed to make it clear whether he plans to restrict travel for all Muslims, including foreign visitors and tourists, or if his plan focuses on immigration. Trump has not specified how his proposal would impact Muslim American citizens who leave the United States with the intent to re-enter their country of citizenship. He has also not elaborated on how he would implement his policy — a religious litmus test for freedom of movement — except to have border agents interrogate all incoming travelers with regard to their religious affiliation and to turn away all who self-identify as Muslim.
It is also worth noting that Islam is the world’s second largest religious group, and one quarter of the world’s Muslims are South and Southeast Asian. A ban on all Muslim travel would have significant impact on the AAPI community, including (among others) Pakistani-, Bangladeshi-, Indonesian-, and Malaysian American people.
Sadly, the Asian American community is already all too painfully familiar with this kind of identity-based policy of national exclusion. In 1882, the federal government passed its first immigration law banning the travel of members of an entire race of people based solely on our shared identity. We called it the Chinese Exclusion Act.
Today marks the 74th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbour, which left nearly 2,500 Americans dead and more than 1,000 wounded. Today, the country will once again engage in our annual tradition of solemnly remembering those who lost their lives in the surprise attack, and the many more servicemen killed when we entered World War II.
We cannot remember Pearl Harbour without remembering its aftermath, and this year in particular it is imperative that we contextualize the attack and what followed in light of contemporary events. The bombing of Pearl Harbour was not only a horrific attack that killed both American military personnel and civilians, but it sparked an immediate and aggressive racial fear and intolerance for America’s Japanese community. Japanese American families, some who could claim generations of living as citizens on American soil, suddenly found themselves treated with suspicion and hatred, suspected to be foreign spies for no other reason than their shared skin colour with America’s declared enemies. Politicians who had already staked their careers on a platform of anti-Asian and anti-immigrant policies decades earlier declared vindication. The US Government issued official propaganda posters that likened Japanese people to terrifying yellow-skinned monsters. Historians document that American soldiers viewed Japanese enemy combatants as “animals”.
The rising crescendo of American xenophobia and anti-Japanese bigotry culminated in the forcible incarceration of thousands of innocent Japanese American citizens and Japanese nationals. Those incarcerees lived under military gunpoint behind barbed wire fences for years before they were finally released, and given little more than a bus ticket in exchange for their freedom.
And eventually, the dehumanization of Japanese Americans reached such a deafening pitch that when the American government dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki vaporizing over 200,000 civilians, we celebrated.