It was Valentine’s Day in New York City. While others were thinking about where to buy last minute chocolates and flowers, my thoughts were entirely elsewhere. I was reading restaurant reviews in the New York Times and found myself confronted with an article exploiting my community’s perceived exoticisms.
The review was from the New York Times (“Culinary Clashes End in Harmony at Chinese Tuxedo“), but I would have sworn I was reading a Chinatown caricature by Chuck Connors—the 19th century Rhode Islander who shamelessly profiteered by hawking exaggerated, cartoonish tales of exciting and foreign “ethnic” life in turn-of-the-century Chinatown to upper-class white tourists. National news correspondent Arthur Bonner described Connors as “a hanger-on in Doyers Street saloons who earned tips by showing thrill seekers tame wonders like the Joss House. For an added tip he would show them an opium den complete with a ‘fallen woman’.”
This treatment of Chinatown as a seedy den of foreign crime and taboo thrills to be packaged and sold as a form of ethnic tourism would be best left to the past. Yet, writers and editors seem perfectly willing to revive old stereotypes and evoke the worst of Chinatown’s history in a vain attempt to remain relevant, regardless of the consequences.
Hillary Clinton advanced one step closer to the Democratic presidential nomination on Tuesday when she faced off against challenger Bernie Sanders in New York State’s primary race — a major prize in the contest for delegate numbers — and emerged victorious. This race was of particular interest to the AAPI community given that New York City boasts the largest single concentration of Asian Americans of any US city: NYC is home to roughly 1 million adult Asian American citizens who represent ~12% of the city’s residents.
Although structural obstacles continue to stymie Asian American voter turnout, roughly 20,000 Asian American voters turned out in New York City on Tuesday to cast a ballot in the Democratic or Republican primary races. Based on New York Times’ exit polling, Asian Americans were 2% of voters who turned out on Tuesday, up from ~1% in 2008.
Too often, mainstream exit pollsters fail to collect a large enough sample of Asian American or Pacific Islander voters to reveal our community’s voting trends. Thankfully, however, the AAPI community has routinely stepped up to meet that challenge.
Jessica Kwong (@JessicaGKwong) of the San Francisco Examiner summarizes a recent report issued by the Asian Pacific Islander Council titled “Asian and Pacific Islander Health and Wellbeing: A San Francisco Neighborhood Analysis”. The report published several findings regarding the city’s Asian American population that challenge the Model Minority Myth, which asserts that Asian Americans are by and large “doing fine”.
The over-crowding of poor Asian Americans in Chinatown has become a subsequent strain on local social services, and has also contributed to high rates of mental illness and other chronic diseases. Yet these social problems are rarely addressed in the larger discourse on the city’s Asian American population; instead, most residents assume that San Francisco’s Asian American population are comprised predominantly of the city’s wealthy elite.