By Guest Contributor: Dr. Beenash Jafri
In 2021, a prominent billboard featuring the photos of three Asian cowboys was erected in Norwalk, Los Angeles, next to the busy Santa Ana I-5 freeway. It was emblazoned with the declaration: “Asians have been here longer than cowboys.”
The image was created by the activist coalition Stop DiscriminAsian (SDA) in collaboration with artist Kenneth Tam, and commissioned by For Freedoms. The supplementary analysis by prolific artist Astria Suparak drew necessary attention to Asian migration in the context of larger and longer histories of labor, empire and trade. It concluded by stating that:
Asians are more American than apple pie, which is derived from an English recipe featuring a fruit that originated in Central Asia. And the iconic cinnamon and nutmeg flavors? Courtesy of Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
The billboard and text were powerful public reminders that Asians are wrongly perceived to be perpetual outsiders to the US. Yet, a crucial fact was left by the wayside: the billboard was erected on Tongva (Gabrieleno) land. As freeway drivers glanced up at the billboard, they were invited to reflect on Asian American history – but absent in that reflection was any discussion of how it relates to Native peoples and their sovereignty.Continue reading “Asian American Cowboys and Native Erasure”