The views and opinions expressed on this site and blog posts (excluding comments on blog posts left by others) are entirely my own and do not represent those of any employer or organization with whom I am currently or previously have been associated.
Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.
Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s election as the 45th President of the United States of America, my fellow sociologist (and wife BTW) Miliann Kang has written a ‘Love Letter to America’ (first published at The Massachusetts Review) that captures many of the sentiments that many Americans from diverse background feel about the what’s been happening in the U.S. these past few months.
I sat down to write you a breakup letter. But I can’t tell if I want to break up with you, or if you have already broken up with me. Does this election mean that we are going through a rough period, or that we are fundamentally incompatible? Do we as a nation need therapy, a divorce lawyer, or a restraining order? Should we just call a babysitter and go see a movie?
Or is it time for us to call it quits and start seeing other people? I have to admit, I’ve always had a thing for Canada.
I am mad at you and disappointed in us, America. I am still processing the fact that while you say you love me, you have jumped into bed with Donald Trump, a man who openly insults women, Blacks, Muslims, Mexicans, people with disabilities, and basic principles of civility and civil liberties. On November 9, I woke up and realized that I didn’t know the country I thought I married. I felt like I had shared my deepest hopes and fears with you, and in return, you had punched me in the gut, spat in my face, and were ready to throw me out on the street.
This election has not brought out the best in us.
I know, you are going to call me ungrateful. After all, my parents came as immigrants from a war-torn country and you welcomed us—tired, poor, hungry, and huddled. You turned us into doctors, lawyers, artists, people who can speak and vote and stand up for what we believe in! We are now Made in America—but you still do not fully own us as part of the family. We don’t quite fit the image you have of yourself, and you still have such a hard time with that. We have stretched the way you look, talk, worship, dress, dance, and eat (and even though we have improved your palate immeasurably, at the end of the day, you just want your meat and potatoes—with ketchup, not Sriracha).
I’m getting a little confused writing this: who do I mean by “you” and who do I mean by “us?” Does “you” mean Red State, Republican, rural, non-college educated, racist, sexist, anti-queer, xenophobic, neo-Nazi, white supremacist Neanderthals? Does “us” mean Blue State, Democrat, urban, suburban, college-educated, liberal, elitist, nearing enlightenment do-gooders?
Is the dividing line those who voted for Trump and those who didn’t? If so, what happens when “we” lump all of “you” together, and you do the same to us? What is left if only one of us wins, and the winner takes all: the house, the car, the pension, the wedding pictures, the college friends? And the kids, what about the kids? We shouldn’t just stay together for their sake—or should we?
It seems like we don’t know who we are and what we want from each other anymore, or maybe we never really did. We manufactured this big, beautiful, poetic dream of a more perfect union, and it feels like we are on the verge of falling apart.
But I am still in love with you, you crazy, magnificent, flawed idea of a country, you. And I think, deep down, you still love me, too. It’s just your fear of commitment to a truly equal, free, and democratic relationship that is making you say and do mean things right now. This makes me feel unloved and want to cry sometimes, but I know it is because you too are feeling hurt and confused. We can talk about it.
I know I haven’t appreciated enough how hard you work, how firmly you believe in your principles, how tired you are of not getting respect, and how insecure you feel about the future. I know I have also felt like you don’t listen to me and take me for granted, and I hate to have to say this, but you scare me sometimes. You do seem to have some anger management issues that you need to work through.
Am I kidding myself that we can work this out? Is this the self-delusion too often seen in dysfunctional, abusive relationships, or is this true love? Metaphors can be tricky, especially when people get hurt, so I proceed with this one very cautiously.
We need to recognize the danger signs that we are at high risk for some form of national domestic violence. And just as licensed marriage and family counselors know that prevention is much more effective than trying to stop harm once it has escalated, we need to intervene before things get out of control. I’m not sure exactly how this intervention looks, but we—meaning everyone with a stake in keeping us together—need to get immediate and intensive training in conflict resolution, public education, knowing our rights and the rights of others, being active bystanders, and when necessary, martial arts.
We can get through this, but both of us are going to have to change. We are going to have to work harder than we ever imagined.
I remember all our road trips together, where we drove from Hollywood, to Little Saigon, to Brownsville, to Standing Rock, to Ferguson, to Hershey, PA, from Yosemite to the Everglades, from the Golden Gate to the Brooklyn Bridge, from the Lincoln Memorial to the National Museum of African American History, from the Superdome to the Ninth Ward, from Angel Island to Ellis Island.
Who else can contain such multitudes?
I can’t break up with you because I am you. Nor will I let you break up with me.
Below is a solicitation for respondents for an online survey about experiences of discrimination by Asian American men. As always, the announcement is provided for informational purposes and does not necessarily imply an endorsement of the research study being conducted.
I am emailing you for distributing my survey on Asian American men’s experiences of discrimination on your blog. I am currently a doctoral student in counseling psychology at Indiana University Bloomington and collecting data for a research project. This survey intents to understand how Asian American men experience discrimination differently from Asian American women or men of other races.
This is a anonymous survey that investigates Asian American men’s experiences of discrimination based on both of their gender and race. Eligible participants are Asian American men who are 18 or older, either born and raised in the U.S. or immigrated to the U.S. at age 10 or younger. The survey takes 30 minutes to complete and each participant has the chance of winning a $20 Amazon gift card after completing the survey.
This study has been approved by Indiana University’s Institutional Research Board. The results of the study will be used to develop scales that measure Asian American men’s experiences of gendered racism. Please consider this request. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me at liu323@Indiana.edu or my dissertation advisor Dr. Joel Wong at joelwong@Indiana.edu . Thank you very much!
Tao Liu, M.S. & M.A.
Doctoral Student in Counseling Psychology
Indiana University Bloomington
As an undergraduate majoring in linguistics, I was fascinated with the concept of endangered languages. Colonization, genocide, globalization, and nation-building projects have killed off untold numbers of languages. As linguist K. David Harrison (my undergrad advisor) tells NPR, speakers of stigmatized or otherwise less-favored languages are pressured to abandon their native tongue for the dominant language of the nation and the market:
“The decision to give up one language or to abandon a language is not usually a free decision. It’s often coerced by politics, by market forces, by the educational system in a country, by a larger, more dominant group telling them that their language is backwards and obsolete and worthless.” (emphasis mine)
These same pressures are at work in immigrant-receiving countries like the United States, where young immigrants and children of immigrants are quickly abandoning their parents’ language in favor of English.
As 2011 comes to an end, once again I look back at the major events, developments, and trends in U.S. racial/ethnic relations during the past year and focus on some of the positive highlights as well as the setbacks in terms of achieving racial/ethnic equality and justice, with a particular focus on Asian Americans (my area of expertise). This list is not meant to be an exhaustive review of all racial/ethnic news in 2011, but rather the ones that I covered in this blog and ones that I believe have the most sociological significance.
Thoughts on the ‘Tiger Mother’ Controversy The firestorm over Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother book highlights some key lessons for Asian Americans and non-Asians in terms of parenting and cultural differences.
The recent mass murder tragedy in Norway has once again focused attention on ongoing sociological issues related to Islam in general and Muslim Americans in particular. As we approach the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the debate and controversy surrounding the present and future dynamics of Muslim-west relations will only intensify. With this in mind, the following news articles and recently-released books shed more light on these important issues facing not just Muslim Americans, but all of U.S. society and indeed, the entire world.
Difference Between a Christian and Muslim Terrorist
This graphic (I found it on Digg.com but am not sure who the creator of it is) caught my attention and I think makes a powerful statement about how criticism of religious extremism seems to differ according to which religion is implicated:
As the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attack approaches, new data from the Pew Research Group shows that unfortunately, tensions and suspicions still exist between the west and Muslim populations.
Muslim and Western publics continue to see relations between them as generally bad, with both sides holding negative stereotypes of the other. . . . However, the latest Pew Global Attitudes survey finds somewhat of a thaw in the U.S. and Europe compared with five years ago. A greater percentage of Western publics now see relations between themselves and Muslims as generally good compared with 2006.
In contrast, Muslims in predominantly Muslim nations are as inclined to say relations are generally bad as they were five years ago. And, as in the past, Muslims express more unfavorable opinions about Christians than Americans or Europeans express about Muslims. Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere who say relations with the West are bad overwhelmingly blame the West. However, while Americans and Europeans tend to blame Muslims for bad relations, significant numbers believe Westerners are responsible.
A suspected hate crime in Sacramento CA tragically highlights the inability (or refusal) of some Americans to distinguish between Asian ethnic and religious groups and instead, blindly acting on racist stereotypes to attack innocent Americans.
The traditional [Sikh] headwear might have singled them out late last week when they were gunned down, one fatally, in what police are investigating as a suspected hate crime. On Monday, local religious leaders pleaded for the community to come forward with leads but also said they will not be deterred by violence.
“Our community will continue to wear our turbans proudly,” said Navi Kaur, the granddaughter of Surinder Singh, 65, who died from his wounds. His friend, 78-year-old Gurmej Atwal, remains in critical condition. They were walking through their neighborhood in Elk Grove, just south of the California state capital Sacramento, Friday afternoon when someone in what witnesses described as a pickup truck opened fire.
Monday also marked the start of a trial involving a confirmed hate crime against a Sikh. . . . [Amar Shergill] is the attorney for a Sikh cab driver beaten four months ago by passengers who shouted anti-Islamic slurs at him in West Sacramento, which sits across the Sacramento River from the state capital. The two defendants pleaded no contest Monday to felony assault.
As the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaches, several people at Monday’s news conference drew links between the Sacramento-area crimes and national and international developments. From unrest in North Africa to congressional hearings on radicalization of Muslims in the U.S., speakers warned of an increasingly hostile climate.
Student enrollment in Arabic, Korean and Chinese classes is showing the fastest growth among foreign language courses at U.S. colleges, even though Spanish remains the most popular by a huge margin, a new study shows.
The survey of more than 2,500 colleges and universities by the Modern Language Assn., or MLA, found that enrollment in Arabic surged by 46% between 2006 and 2009. More U.S. college students are studying Arabic than Russian, a change that officials say reflects a shift of interest from Cold War concerns to current issues involving the Middle East and terrorism.
Last year’s controversy about the location of a Muslim center near Ground Zero has many American Muslims exasperated about if and when they will ever be fully accepted into mainstream U.S. society.
For nine years after the attacks of Sept. 11, many American Muslims made concerted efforts to build relationships with non-Muslims, to make it clear they abhor terrorism, to educate people about Islam and to participate in interfaith service projects. They took satisfaction in the observations by many scholars that Muslims in America were more successful and assimilated than Muslims in Europe.
Now, many of those same Muslims say that all of those years of work are being rapidly undone by the fierce opposition to a Muslim cultural center near ground zero that has unleashed a torrent of anti-Muslim sentiments and a spate of vandalism. . . . Dr. Ferhan Asghar, an orthopedic spine surgeon in Cincinnati and the father of two young girls [says], “In no other country could we have such freedoms — that’s why so many Muslims choose to make this country their own. But we do wonder whether it will get to the point where people don’t want Muslims here anymore.”
As the nation tried to absorb the shock of the 9/11 attacks, Muslim Americans were caught up in an unprecedented wave of backlash violence. Public discussion revealed that widespread misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Islam persisted, despite the striking diversity of the Muslim community.
Letting the voices of 140 ordinary Muslim American men and women describe their experiences, Lori Peek’s path-breaking book, Behind the Backlash presents moving accounts of prejudice and exclusion. Muslims speak of being subjected to harassment before the attacks, and recount the discrimination they encountered afterwards. Peek also explains the struggles of young Muslim adults to solidify their community and define their identity during a time of national crisis.
Behind the Backlash seeks to explain why blame and scapegoating occur after a catastrophe. Peek sets the twenty-first century experience of Muslim Americans, who were vilified and victimized, in the context of larger sociological and psychological processes. Peek’s book will be of interest to those in disaster research studies, sociology of religion, and race and ethnic relations.
In Muslims in Motion, Nazli Kibria provides a comparative look at Bangladeshi Muslims in different global contexts-including Britain, the U.S., the Middle East, and Malaysia. Kibria examines international migrant flows from Bangladesh, and considers how such migrations continue to shape Islamization in these areas. Having conducted more than 200 in-depth interviews, she explores how, in societies as different as these, migrant Muslims, in their everyday lives, strive to achieve economic gains, sustain community and family life, and realize a sense of dignity and honor.
Muslims in Motion offers fresh insights into the prominence of Islam in these communities, especially an Islam defined by fundamentalist movements and ideologies. Kibria also focuses on the complex significance of nationality-with rich analyses of the diaspora, the role of gender and class, and the multiple identities of the migrants, she shows how nationality can be both a critical source of support and also of difficulty for many in their efforts to attain lives of dignity. By bringing to life a vast range of experiences, this book challenges prevailing stereotypes of Muslims.
Can Muslims ever fully be citizens of the West? Can the values of Islam ever be brought into accord with the individual freedoms central to the civic identity of Western nations? Not if you believe what you see on TV. Whether the bearded fanatic, the veiled, oppressed female, or the shadowy terrorist plotting our destruction, crude stereotypes permeate public representations of Muslims in the United States and western Europe. But these “Muslims” are caricatures—distorted abstractions, wrought in the most garish colors, that serve to reduce the diversity and complexity of the Muslim world to a set of fixed objects suitable for sound bites and not much else.
In Framing Muslims: Stereotyping and Representation after 9/11, Peter Morey and Amina Yaqin dissect the ways in which stereotypes depicting Muslims as an inherently problematic presence in the West are constructed, deployed, and circulated in the public imagination, producing an immense gulf between representation and a considerably more complex reality. Crucially, they show that these stereotypes are not solely the province of crude-minded demagogues and their tabloid megaphones, but multiply as well from the lips of supposedly progressive elites, even those who presume to speak “from within,” on Muslims’ behalf.
Based on nuanced analyses of cultural representations in both the United States and the UK, the authors draw our attention to a circulation of stereotypes about Muslims that sometimes globalizes local biases and, at other times, brings national differences into sharper relief.
This book seeks to tell the life stories of the innocent men and women who have been needlessly swept up in the “war on terror.” As we approach the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, this collection of narratives gives voice to the people who have had their human rights violated here in the U.S. by post-9/11 policies and actions.
Among the narrators:
Young men of Arab, Muslim, South Asian, and Middle Eastern descent, who were arrested and detained or singled out for voluntary interviews because of their national origin or religion. Scholars who have been blacklisted or subjected to interrogation for their research or writings on Islam and related topics. Muslim women who have suffered from job discrimination, harassment, and assault for wearing a veil or similar head covering.
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After this post was published, I came across a few more noteworthy articles on Islam and Muslim Americans:
Muslim Americans are now more optimistic about their lives than any other major American faith group as their economic well-being improves and they feel more politically enfranchised. A Gallup study released on Tuesday found 60 percent of Muslim Americans surveyed reported they were “thriving”, slightly higher than for Americans of any other religion except for Jews, who edged them out of the top spot by one percentage point.
Pollsters noted in particular the rapid surge in positive sentiment among Muslim Americans. The percentage of Muslims who were “thriving” grew by 19 points since 2008, double that of any other major faith group. . . .
Authors of the study said they attributed the change in outlook to improved economic conditions and a sense of more political enfranchisement since the election of President Barack Obama, a Christian with Muslim family roots who has reached out to Muslim communities worldwide. The report said Obama’s approval rating among Muslim Americans was 80 percent, and that 46 percent, or a plurality, of Muslim Americans identified as Democrats, compared to only 9 percent who identified as Republicans.
[I]mprovements in Muslim sentiment came despite continuing controversies. Those included a controversy surrounding a plan to build a Muslim cultural center and mosque near the site of New York’s September 11 al-Qaida attack, and hearings on Islamic extremism called by U.S. Representative Peter King, which critics viewed as a witch-hunt.
The same Gallup Organization study mentioned in the above article also notes that among major U.S. religious groups, Muslim Americans are the most likely to oppose individual or military violence against civilians. This particular report would be a very useful resource to contradict ongoing stereotypes that Muslims are more prone to support violence than other religious groups.
Muslim Americans are the staunchest opponents of military attacks on civilians, compared with members of other major religious groups Gallup has studied in the United States. Seventy-eight percent of Muslim Americans say military attacks on civilians are never justified. . . . Respondents from other faith groups, particularly Mormon Americans, are more likely to say military attacks are sometimes justified than never justified.
Below is an announcement about a research project and online survey in need of Asian American respondents.
Seeking Volunteers for Online Survey Study
My name is Nellie Tran, and I am a psychology doctoral student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I am conducting a study to understand experiences of discrimination, racial consciousness, and their effects on their mental health for Asian Americans. Your voice and experiences could contribute greatly to an understanding the experiences of different racial/ethnic groups and those of different generational statuses. If you are interested in completing the survey, please access the survey at the following link.
Participation in this survey is voluntary and open to all individuals. The survey will take about 20-25 minutes to complete. You will be asked for an email address at the end of the survey in order to be entered into a random drawing for one $50 Amazon.com Gift Card. This research has been reviewed and approved by the University of Illinois at Chicago Institutional Review Board. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at the information below. Thank you so much!
Looking forward to hearing from you,
Nellie Tran, M.A.
Doctoral Candidate, Psychology
University of Illinois at Chicago
To complement my earlier post on recent studies on the second generation, another special issue from an academic journal focuses on issues related to social justice and activism among Asian Americans: “Asian American and Pacific Islander Population Struggles for Social Justice” in the journal Social Justice: A Journal of Crime, Conflict, and World Order (2008-2009, Volume 35 Issue 2):
This issue of Social Justice offers an overview of the struggle for social justice in the United States by Asian and Pacific Islanders, including the factors that shape oppositional consciousness and the possibility for collective action. Authors address Asian American activism in urban communities — particularly traditional Asian ethnic enclaves — around land use, affordable housing, as well as labor and community preservation.
Articles address grass-roots efforts to launch an anti-drug offensive, an environmental justice and leadership skills organization, to develop tools for Muslim women of South Asian descent to fight anti-Islamic sentiment, to confront the marginalization and stereotyping of Asian Americans in popular culture, to critique the racial differentiation of the Asian and Latino immigrant populations, and to expose how the model minority myth reinforces established inequities and places second-generation Asian Americans within a precarious, defensive dilemma in which they must constantly prove their worth as “real” Americans regardless of their legal citizenship status.
Adalberto Aguirre, Jr., and Shoon Lio: “Spaces of Mobilization: The Asian American/Pacific Islander Struggle for Social Justice”
Michael Liu and Kim Geron: “Changing Neighborhood: Ethnic Enclaves and the Struggle for Social Justice
Jinah Kim: “Immigrants, Racial Citizens, and the (Multi)Cultural Politics of Neoliberal Los Angeles”
Diane C. Fujino: “Race, Place, Space, and Political Development: Japanese-American Radicalism in the “Pre-Movement” 1960s”
May Fu: “‘Serve the People and You Help Yourself'”: Japanese-American Anti-Drug Organizing in Los Angeles, 1969 to 1972″
Bindi Shah: “The Politics of Race and Education: Second-Generation Laotian Women Campaign for Improved Educational Services”
Etsuko Maruoka: “Wearing ‘Our Sword’: Post-September 11 Activism Among South Asian Muslim Women Student Organizations in New York”
Lisa Sun-Hee Park: “Continuing Significance of the Model Minority Myth: The Second Generation”
Meera E. Deo, Christina Chin, Jenny J. Lee, Noriko Milman, and Nancy Wang Yuen: “Missing in Action: ‘Framing’ Race in Prime-Time Television”
I previously wrote about the evolution of the American identity and how in the context of American society becoming more diverse and globalized, we as Asian Americans now have the opportunity to use our transnational cultural ties and networks to make meaningful contributions to moving American society and its economy forward into the 21st century. In other words, our “foreignness” may finally be seen as an asset, rather than a liability.
Having said that, I also recognize that there are still “traditional” beliefs about what it means to be an American that we need to overcome and persistent stereotypes about our Asian identity and loyalty to the U.S. that we still need to dispel once and for all. This week, we saw three examples on this kind of “traditional” assumptions about our community and questions about the validity of the “American” part of our identity as Asian Americans.
The first example involves Lori Phanachone, a Laotian American high school student in Des Moines Iowa, who refused to take an English fluency test, arguing that as an Honors student for several years and one who speaks perfect English, the test is insulting, demeaning, and discriminatory. She was initially suspended by her school district and her National Honor Society membership was revoked. Earlier this week, after a lawsuit threat by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), the Iowa school district finally relented, reclassified Lori as an English proficient student, will waive the test requirement, and reinstate her National Honor Society membership:
Lori Phanachone, a senior who ranks seventh in her class of about 119 and has a 3.9 grade point average, refused to take the English Language Development Assessment several times last month, saying the test was demeaning and racist. Previously, the school district’s curriculum coordinator, Lori Porsche, said taking the test was mandatory for Phanachone because she indicated on her school registration that English was not the first language spoken in her home.
Her parents are Laotian and still speak little English. Phanachone, who was born in California and lived in upstate New York before moving to Storm Lake with her family in 2006, said she has never been enrolled in any English Language Learning or English as a Second Language program.
In the second example in which Asian Americans were questioned on their American identity, as the Houston Chronicle reports, Texas state Republican representative Betty Brown recently urged Asian Americans to change their names to “simpler,” more Americanized names that would be “easier for Americans to deal with”:
A North Texas legislator during House testimony on voter identification legislation said Asian-descent voters should adopt names that are “easier for Americans to deal with.” The comments caused the Texas Democratic Party on Wednesday to demand an apology from state Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell. But a spokesman for Brown said her comments were only an attempt to overcome problems with identifying Asian names for voting purposes. . . .
“Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?” Brown said. Brown later told [Organization of Chinese Americans representative Ramsey] Ko: “Can’t you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for you and the people who are poll workers if you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that’s easier for Americans to deal with?”
Finally, the third example involved an incident that unfortunately, too many Asian Americans (especially students) are familiar with. As described in a newly-created Facebook group, this particular example occurred at Tufts University in Boston:
There was a bias incident involving members of the Korean Students Association (KSA) that took place in the early morning hours on Thursday, April 9, in Lewis Hall Lounge, while the club members were practicing for their culture show.
At approximately 1:45AM, a white freshman male living in Lewis Hall approached five male members who were practicing their dance. He had been drinking at a bar prior to arriving at Lewis Hall. He insisted several times that the KSA members teach him the moves to their dance and was repeatedly asked to stop. Despite this request, he continued to molest the dancers, imitating the dance moves and declaring, “This is the gayest shit I’ve ever done.”
The KSA members then asked him to leave, to which he responded, “Fuck you. Fuck you, I could take all of you. I’ll kill you all.” He then threatened to get his fraternity brothers to help him retaliate. At this point, he began to physically harass the dancers, spitting at one member and shoving another one of the guys. An altercation ensued during which the freshman ripped two shirts and inflicted minor cuts to a member’s forehead. In order to restrain him, the KSA members pinned him to the floor and put him into a headlock, at which point the freshman mentioned that he could not breathe and the person holding him down immediately let go.
At this moment, the freshman’s friend and his girlfriend, who watched from the side, stepped in to take him away. When he got up, he started cursing “Fuck you, fuck you” and spitting at the dancers again. As he was being dragged away, he shouted, “Fuck you all, you fucking chinks, go back to China! Go back to your fucking country, you don’t belong in this country.”
His friends took him to the bathroom, where he could be heard repeatedly shouting, “If I see them again, I will fuck them all.” The fight was reported to an RA, who wrote and sent in a bias incident report. According to the RA, submitted within the report was testimony from his girlfriend supporting the fact that her boyfriend initiated the altercation.
In all three incidents, the assumption is pretty clear — that because we may happen to speak a language other than English at home (even though we are still completely fluent in English), or because we don’t have Anglicized “American” names like Smith or Jones, or because we don’t want to indulge the whims of a drunken frat guy, that we as Asian Americans are not real or legitimate Americans. Instead, we’re considered foreigners, outsiders, and troublemakers who make unreasonable demands.
Beyond the sheer ignorance and ethnocentric beliefs fundamentally embedded in these assumptions, what the Iowa school district, Rep. Brown, and the drunken frat guy all fail to see is that contrary to the stereotype that we are intent from being separate from mainstream society, our history and experiences consistently show that we’ve been trying to integrate into mainstream American society all along. In these three cases, it involved using our bilingual skills to help ease our parents into American culture, trying to make sure voting records are correct so that we can participate in the American democratic process, and putting on a performance that bridges Asia and America.
But as with previous incidents and examples over the past 150 years or so since the first Asians immigrated to the U.S. in large numbers, even as we attempt to become Americans and integrate into mainstream American society, we are questioned, challenged, and prevented from doing so time and time again by those who consciously or unconsciously believe that only one group qualifies to be a “real” American — Whites.
Unfortunately, as these three recent incidents demonstrate, this kind of ignorant, narrow-minded, and short-sighted thinking is still with us today and still confronts us as Americans of Asian descent.
I came across this pretty disturbing news item from California: as reported by AsianWeek magazine, an Indian American was attacked without provocation by two South Lake Tahoe residents and suffered numerous injuries and was hospitalized. Despite witnesses confirming that the assailants yelled racial slurs at him, the prosecutor in the case has declined to file both felony and hate crime charges against the attackers:
In July 2007, Vishal Wadhwa, a 38-year-old Indian American vice president and banker with Citi Private Bank, was attacked by South Lake Tahoe residents Joseph and Georgia Silva on El Dorado Beach in Tahoe.
Racial epithets like “Indian sluts and whores,” “Indian garbage,” “terrorists” and “relatives of Osama bin Laden” were thrown at Wadhwa, who was accompanied by his fiancée and her cousin. Wadhwa asked the Silvas to stop calling them names, but the pair continued. As Wadhwa left to call the police, the Silvas followed him and attacked him in the parking lot.
Wadhwa suffered a broken orbital socket, which will cause dizzy spells for the rest of his life, not to mention the emotional, psychological and physical trauma. Many in the Asian American and legal communities who saw this case as the definition of a hate crime were outraged to learn on July 31 that felony and hate crime charges were dropped against the Silvas.
“If this [case] is not a hate crime, then what is a hate crime?” asked Harmeet K. Dhillon, the South Asian Bar Association’s Civil Rights Committee chair. “If you shout racial epithets and if you break someone’s face based on their ethnicity, it is a hate crime.”
The hate-crime charges have been dropped because racially offensive words by themselves do not constitute a hate crime unless accompanied by a threat of harm because of one’s ethnicity. Racial epithets were used in anger, but Wadhwa was not kicked because of his ethnicity, according to witnesses. The felony charges have been dropped because the attack by the Silvas did not produce “great bodily injury,” since Silva kicked Wadhwa using only her bare foot.
According to the FBI’s website, the legal definition of a hate crime is: “a criminal offense committed against a person, property, or society that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin.”
Based on that definition, I am absolutely astounded as to why anyone would not consider the attack on Mr. Wadhwa to be anything else than a hate crime. First, clearly the attack on Mr, Wadhwa was a criminal offense. Second, it is also pretty clear that the offender was motivated by bias against Indians and those who looked Muslim.
So if this is not a hate crime, exactly what is? Here’s the answer: what this is, is another unfortunate example of how the lives of Asian Americans are systematically marginalized and devalued by American criminal justice officials and institutions.
This tradition of unequal and unjust treatment of Asian Americans has a long history, going back to when Chinese immigrants first came to the U.S. and were subjected to discriminatory taxes, physical attacks, and even murder, but were not allowed to testify against their White attackers, who almost always went free.
This tradition also continued when 120,000 Japanese Americans were stripped of their constitutional rights and imprisoned for nothing more than their Japanese ancestry, an episode that was so egregiously unjust that the U.S. government later officially apologized to those imprisoned, calling the episode “a grave injustice” that resulted from “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”
This tradition was perhaps best illustrated by the gruesome murder of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American who was bludgeoned to death by two unemployed White auto workers who mistook him for Japanese and blamed him for them losing their jobs, and who subsequently got away with murder by paying a $3,700 fine and have never spent a day in jail for their crime.
In the Wadhwa case, I hope Mr. Wadhwa and his family appeal to the FBI to bring federal hate crime charges against their attackers (and also file a civil suit against them for millions of dollars in damages), since the city of Lake Tahoe and the State of California apparently are incapable of delivering justice for him.
As I’ve written about before, incidents of physical violence like this unfortunately seem to be examples of how Americans are expressing their insecurity and backlash over globalization and America’s waning superiority in the 21st century.