Ours is a History of Resistance

Asian American protesters at an anti-war march in 1972. (Photo credit: Asian Pacific American Photographic Collection, Visual Communications Archive via LA Times)

By: Karin Wang (@naragirl), Asian Americans Advancing Justice

Since we launched “Write Back, Fight Back” two months ago, we have witnessed the power of words to name our struggles, reclaim our identities, and voice our power. We close out our series by centering the story of Asian immigrants challenging racism through the courts and in many cases, winning and changing the course of American history.

No current narrative of Asian Americans is more closely tied to white supremacy and historic white nativist policies than the model minority myth. First coined and promulgated in the mid-1960s by white Americans, the term referred to Japanese and Chinese Americans, focusing obsessively on their seeming success in the face of discrimination. The model minority myth gets denounced on a regular basis lately, and many journalists, writers, and activists have analyzed and challenged the economic and class implications of the myth and the damage it does less privileged Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

But there’s another insidious side to the model minority myth that needs the same unpacking and deconstructing:  the narrative of the quiet and obedient Asian – the one who works twice as hard and neither complains nor challenges authority. The myth was born at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, deliberately juxtaposing Asians against other racial minorities. It’s an image used not only to keep Asian Americans in their place but one that upholds white supremacy.

Continue reading “Ours is a History of Resistance”

This Mess We’re In: A Vision of the Web after White Supremacy

A logo and an AOL-messenger-figure is pictured at the entrance of the AOL office in Hamburg on January 12, 2010. US Internet company AOL announced on January 12 that it intends to close its French and German offices as part of a worldwide round of job cuts. In Germany, AOL will close its offices in Hamburg, Duesseldorf, Frankfurt and Munich, cutting 140 jobs, a spokesman said. AFP PHOTO DDP / PHILIPP GUELLAND GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read PHILIPP GUELLAND/AFP/Getty Images)

By: Cayden Mak

In 1998, when I was 11, we got the internet at home. My mom, a public school teacher, thought it’d be useful for me and my little sister to do our homework. She has always been very forward-thinking about technology, and computers were a part of our home life for most of my memory, thanks in no small part to the deep discounts educators used to get on Apple machines.

I remember the first time I knew that the internet was going to change everything. A couple years after we first got online, I somehow found my way to an AOL message board about philosophy — I thought of myself as a serious intellectual even as a kid — and had my mind blown by a group of users discussing feminist theory. Although the ideas they discussed were fascinating, that’s not what really blew my mind.

The real game-changer was discovering that there were people out there in the world who wanted to talk about the things I so desperately wanted to discuss. Why did I feel so different from my peers? Is there anybody else out there who is like me? How can we live together as human beings?

The internet became a critical lifeline to the world outside my isolated, extremely white suburban surroundings. I learned about ideas and people I would never have encountered — and learned about people I had encountered in a new light. It was in communities online that I learned the language to describe my experience as a queer person of color; as an Asian American; as a mixed race person.

Continue reading “This Mess We’re In: A Vision of the Web after White Supremacy”

Ending “Male Chauvinism” In the Movement: Lessons from the Long Sixties

Richard Aoki

By: Mark Tseng-Putterman (@tsengputterman)

As Asian Americans living in the years of Amy Chua, Ajit Pai, Peter Liang and Nikki Haley, it’s easy to romanticize the Movement: those revolutionary years when “brothers and sisters” from Chinatowns, Little Tokyos, and Manilatowns across the country came together to stand with Black Power and confront the racist war in Vietnam. Together, they made pilgrimage to Manzanar, sat in at Wounded Knee, and walked out at San Francisco State University. Somewhere along the way, they invented “Asian America” as we know it.

A crash course in the history of the Asian American Movement has become part of the initiation process for young newcomers to the Asian American left, and for good reason. And yet, the images that get circulated from that era—of Black, brown, and yellow brothers wearing leather jackets and berets, fists raised and packing heat—hint at a masculinist underpinning that’s worth unpacking.

Take, for instance, the iconic image of Richard Aoki with Berkeley’s Asian American Political Alliance at a 1968 rally to free Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton. Aoki (who in 2012 was implicated as an alleged FBI informant) looks decidedly chic: clad in a black beret and sunglasses with a cigarette protruding from the corner of his mouth, he raises one hand in a fist while the other balances the now-iconic sign: “Yellow Peril Supports Black Power.” But reading this image and its circulation critically, we might ask: Is it Aoki’s revolutionary politics that resonates? Or is Aoki, as a Japanese American man embodying a militant kind of hypermasculinity, rendered iconic for easing modern anxieties about Asian male “emasculation”—that which Tamara Nopper calls “a homophobic and sexist preoccupation among many Asian Americans and our ‘allies’”?

Continue reading “Ending “Male Chauvinism” In the Movement: Lessons from the Long Sixties”

Reconnecting Heart and Head: Racism, Immigration Policy, WeChat, and Chinese Americans

Photo credit: Flickr / GoToVan

By: OiYan Poon

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.

Continue reading “Reconnecting Heart and Head: Racism, Immigration Policy, WeChat, and Chinese Americans”

Why We Must End Caste Oppression

Dalit gather together in India to discuss land rights. (Photo credit: Flickr / Action Aid India)

By: Thenmozhi Soundararajan

Last year I was ejected four times from the California Board of Education building. My crime was being Dalit American.

I was part of hundreds of caste-oppressed South Asian American families who came out to testify at the Board of Education’s hearings hearings about textbook descriptions of caste discrimination. The protest I attended was organized by the South Asian History For All Coalition. We were fighting a Hindu American foundation that had thrown millions of dollars into this textbook battle, hoping to erase discussions of caste from  California textbooks and replace it with a sanitized version of South Asian American history. The threat of Dalits breaking the silence on caste was so disturbing that upper-caste Hindus called the police on Dalit families, and disrupted and heckled us as we testified.

We had the historical record and our personal stories on our side, and we were fighting to support an evidence-based curriculum recommended by hundreds of academics. Yet, the California Board of Education allowed fundamentalist dollars to override the facts. With that, they allowed alternative history into textbooks in a decision that will impact millions of children across California.

This is experience is at the heart of why I worked with my co-author Maari Zwick Maitreyi to create the first survey on caste in the United States. Our historic report, Caste in the United States, provides some of the first data on caste discrimination in the US. The report confirmed that caste discrimination exists in the United States, that it is a significant problem, and that for South Asian Americans it is as crucial for us to tackle this violence as it is to confront white supremacy.

Continue reading “Why We Must End Caste Oppression”