Class, Capitalism and the Creation of a Progressive Asian America

Garment workers rally in front of a Ross store on Broadway in downtown L.A. to demand an end to wage theft and unsafe working conditions on Oct. 25, 2016. (Los Angeles Times)

By Guest Contributor: Sudip Bhattacharya (@ResistRun)

Chris Phan used to believe that they were an anomaly. After all, Phan and those around them in their community were working class Asian Americans; this didn’t match the mainstream perception of Asian Americans as economically and educationally privileged.

Eventually, Phan realized that what they and others experience on the economic margins is actually the norm for many.

“The reality is I know folks who are super poor and Asian American who have to rely on the informal economy to survive. And now, with my education, I know that’s not isolated to my family or experiences,” Phan explained.

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SFPD release graphic video of suspects seen kicking homeless man, Tai Lam, to death

Victim, Tai Lam, was killed on November 23rd after he was kicked repeatedly while he was sleeping by an unknown assailant.
Victim, Tai Lam, was killed on November 23rd after he was kicked repeatedly while he was sleeping by three unknown assailants.

On November 23rd, 67-year-old Tai Lam — who was homeless — was sleeping in an alley near Crocker Galleria in San Francisco when surveillance video shows an unknown suspect running up to him and kicking him repeatedly while he lies in his sleeping bag on the ground.

That video was released today by SFPD (after the jump), who are seeking the public’s help in identifying the unknown assailant, and two other attackers who returned moments later to resume the fatal beating.

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Dim sum workers win landmark labour victory against Yank Sing restaurant in San Francisco

Dim sum workers at Yank Sing restaurant. Photo credit: Craig Lee / San Francisco Chronicle.
Dim sum workers at Yank Sing restaurant. Photo credit: Craig Lee / San Francisco Chronicle.

Last week, nearly 300 dim sum workers won a landmark $4 million dollar settlement from major San Francisco-area restaurant chain, Yank Sing. The workers, who did not have the benefits of a union, were forced to endure multiple labour violations, including retaliatory action and wage theft.

With help from the Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Asian Law Caucus and Chinese Progressive Association, the workers organized a “do-it-yourself” collective bargaining action, including strikes and walkout during high volume business hours. The action worked: in response to the collective action, Yank Sing came to the bargaining table and agreed to the massive settlement, along with agreeing to offer workers a raise, holiday pay and more transparency in scheduling and worker rights. Yank Sing also agreed to offer full healthcare coverage for their workers, a benefit currently made available by only 10% of restaurants nationwide.

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Report shows San Francisco’s AAPI residents experience high poverty, chronic disease rates

Bed-ridden Bao Qi Mo, 85, in the single-resident occupancy (SRO) room he shares with his family in San Francisco's Chinatown. High poverty rates and over-crowding have led to a deterioration of living conditions for some of the city's Asian American residents.  (Photo credit: Brant Ward, The San Francisco Chronicle)
Bed-ridden Bao Qi Mo, 85, in the single-resident occupancy (SRO) room he shares with his family in San Francisco’s Chinatown. High poverty rates and over-crowding have led to a deterioration of living conditions for some of the city’s Asian American residents. (Photo credit: Brant Ward / The Chronicle)

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”.

Contrary to stereotypes, the Asian Pacific Islander Council’s report reveals that in San Francisco, 14% of Asian Americans live in poverty — lower than other racial groups — but that the population size of poor Asian Americans has grown by 44% in the last few years. As  also reflected with an in-depth look at national AAPI unemployment trends, the unemployment rate for Asian Americans was also 1.5x greater than city-wide averages. Many of those impoverished Asian Americans live in San Francisco’s Chinatown, where over-crowding has led to appalling living conditions for some families who are forced to squeeze entire families into rooms designed for single residents. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that San Francisco’s Chinatown — an ethnic enclave just under 1.5 square miles in area — was home to over 100,000 Chinese Americans in 2000, or two-thirds of San Francisco’s total Chinese American population.

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.

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