Monday, January 18, 2010

Reflecting on MLK Day and APA activism

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day to everyone!

It doesn't need to mentioned here how things are so incredibly different it is today compared to what it was like over 50 years ago. Initiated by Rosa Parks and propelled into motion by MLK, the Civil Rights movement significantly transformed the landscape of America as the courage and determination of our Freedom Fighters stood strong in the face of extreme prejudice and hatred.

As Asian Pacific Americans, we owe a huge debt to the efforts of the African American community as they led the way to create a more just life for all who live in the United States. From the Civil Rights movement came the Yellow Power movement and it was during the 1960's that we first made an effort to do away with the "Oriental" label that we have been called ever since the first Chinese immigrants came to the United States around the 1850's. From this revolution, the term "Asian American" was created as a political gesture for Asians to make their stance that they are Americans just like everybody else.

It is now 2010...where are we now?

On 2008, the United States had their first African-American President and once again, history repeats itself in that it paves the way for other people of color to step up and have their voices heard. It is a reminder that as people of color, whether we are Asian, black, or Latino, we must acknowledge the struggle that we each face is shared and together, we can truly make a difference.

Despite the advances and progressive measures we have taken ever since the King dreamed of a better world, we are not living in a post-racial society. Racism is NOT dead and will forever be a cancerous agent that will exist for many more years to come. In fact, the battle for equality may be even more difficult now as the political climate in America have made overt racism unfavorable (it is important to note that it still exists, however) and instead we are dealing with covert, subtle forces that are hard to pinpoint and call out on. For those who still fight, our Freedom Fighters today are no longer viewed positively in mainstream society. Instead these fighters are accused of KEEPING racism alive and making a fuss over nothing.

This can especially be said for Asian Pacific American activists.

Many believe that racism doesn't exist for Asians or that Asians don't have a right to complain because they didn't have it as hard as other minorities. As Asian Pacific Americans, our biggest enemy is the model minority myth that perpetuates a positive stereotype that Asians don't have it as hard as blacks and Latinos. This is far from the truth and doing a comparison contest with people of color will only distract the real issue at hand. Discrimination, prejudice, and hate crimes do happen to us and the model minority myth only covers the ugly past incidents that have occurred to us.

The Chinese Exclusion Act. Signed into law by Chester A. Arthur on May 8, 1882, the U.S. federal law was one of the only laws that specifically targeted an ethnicity from entering U.S. soil simply because of their skin color.

Executive Order 9066. Signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, this act called for the order to put Japanese Americans in internment camps. Despite the evidence provided by high-ranking U.S. military officials that there was no reason to be suspicious of the overwhelming number of the Japanese Americans brought into the camps, the act was still given the green light because the American public was fearful of the "Yellow invasion". During this war, the Japanese people were the only ones targeted by the American propaganda solely for their ethnicity unlike the Germans, where it was mostly focused on vilifying the Nazi regime.

Vincent Chin. A Chinese American who was killed on June 23rd, 1982 with a baseball bat for being a Japanese scab taking jobs away from the Ford auto plant and for standing up for himself. The attackers were slapped with a $3,000 fine and minimal jail sentence.

September 11, 2001. When the towers fell, the American public targeted people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent, in the same manner that the American public targeted Japanese Americans sixty years prior. Our Asian brothers and sisters that hailed from these reigons were subjected to the most ridiculous discrimination and hate crimes because the mainstream public couldn't think for themselves and MAYBE think that the terrorists conducting these atrocious acts represent only a small fraction of the Muslim/South Asian population.

These are only a few examples in American history that brings into light that Asians and Asian American do face racism and discrimination. Our plights are shared with the black and Latino community, and it is important to remember that knowledge in our collective past will help us work towards fulfilling the King's dream together.

1 comment:

pgee said...

Great overview Edward. It's certainly true that Asian Americans are NOT above acts of racism today. We cannot forget our history as Asian Americans. Unfortunately, most people were never taught Asian American history...