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.
As many of you already know, on August 5, 2012, a gunman opened fire on a worshippers at the Sikh Gurdwara temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, killing six and wounding three others before killing himself. The shooter has been identified as Wade Michael Page, an Army veteran and a self-avowed White supremacist.
Clearly, words fail to convey the nature of sadness, loss, and tragedy of this event. My thoughts and heartfelt condolences go out to the families of those killed and wounded, to the Sikh American community in the area, and to all of us as human beings that have to live with the specters of hate and violence all around us.
Many, particularly our political leaders, have called this incident “senseless,” implying that it was an irrational and mindless act of a clearly deranged and mentally ill individual. Unfortunately, this sentiment fails to acknowledge that rather than being an isolated incident, these killings have a cause and origins beyond just the state of mind of the person who pulled the trigger.
In other words, there is an entire sociological context to why the killer did this and multi-level factors that, without a doubt, influenced the killer’s thinking and pushed him to go on his murderous rampage.
War on Terrorism an its Collateral Victims
We can start with the legacy of 9/11 and how the subsequent “war on terrorism” has left thousands, perhaps even millions, of innocent bystanders in its destructive wake. Specifically, I am talking about groups such as Muslim Americans, Indian Americans, and particularly Sikh Americans who have been and continue to be perceived as terrorists. In the case of Sikh Americans, much of this unfortunate association is tied to the turban that the men are required by their religious faith to wear. In other words, in the mind of racists, they’re just another “towelhead” and therefore, a terrorist.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Sikh Americans have been murdered as a direct result of 9/11 hysteria — four days after the events of September 11, 2001 and as illustrated in the excellent documentary “A Dream in Doubt,” Balbir Singh Sodhi was similarly gunned down by a person who perceived him to be a Muslim and therefore, a terrorist. On top of that, political “leaders” such as Peter King, Michelle Bachmann, and Joe Walsh continue to use their public positions to fan the flames of suspicion and hostility against all Muslim Americans, all of which lends more credibility to equating Muslim with terrorism.
Combined with the recent killings at Oak Creek WI, these incidents of racial and religious hate against anyone perceived to be Muslim are not isolated. Instead, they are part of a clear pattern of mistaken identity, irrational guilt by visual association, and jingoistic hysteria that unfortunately is still alive and well almost 11 years after 9/11.
Anti-Immigrant Nativism and Xenophobia
Related to this is the nativist and xenophobic climate that has also strengthened since 9/11. Much of this anti-immigrant sentiment is seemingly directed at undocumented immigrants but unfortunately, since hate and intolerance cut a wide path, has also been directed at legal immigrants and racial/ethnic groups that have a large immigrant contingent such as Latinos and Asian Americans.
The foundation of this nativist and xenophobic climate is the belief that immigrants (legal and otherwise) are not “real,” “legitimate,” or “official” Americans. In turn, much of this belief about who is a “real” American is based on the “traditional” image of those who are perceived as “real” Americans — White, Protestant, and born in the U.S. Those who lack one of more of these traits are seen by many who do as being inferior to them and therefore, less deserving of the identity of “American.”
As I tell my students, one of the most time-tested and historically consistent patterns in U.S. society is that whenever there is economic competition, almost always, it will lead to racial/ethnic hostility. This pattern has played itself out over and over again, and has involved basically every group of color throughout American history. Unfortunately, it is also rearing its ugly head once again today as the current recession has led to heightened competition for increasingly scarce economic resources between Whites (who have been used to enjoying a relatively stable standard of living but are now fighting just to stay in the middle class) and groups of color and immigrants (who many Whites perceive to benefiting at their expense).
Unfortunately, the conditions for heightened economic competition seem to be the “new normal” as the gulf between the rich (i.e., the top 1%) and everyone else (i.e., the 99%) widens, as powerful financial corporations continue to exploit their political influence and gain unfair advantages in their quest to maximize profit, and as ordinary Americans fight even more among ourselves for an ever-decreasing piece of the pie. With all of this in mind, the bottom line then becomes more clear — when people feel threatened, they become defensive at guarding whatever they have left and hostile towards those who they feel are try to take what is “rightfully” theirs.
This lashing out is part of a larger “White backlash” movement that I have described before. Faced with changing demographics and how the U.S. population is gradually but surely becoming less White, the emergence of people of color, the continuing consequences of globalization and decline of U.S. superiority around the world, and the normalization of economic instability, it is not hard to see why many Whites have become quite angry that their position at the top of the American racial hierarchy is being politically, economically, and culturally threatened.
At the moment, many White Americans are feeling very threatened and upset by the changes taking place around them — their economic stability and standard of living are on the decline and, unable to see the institutional forces that have created this situation, their immediate reaction is anger and to lash out at “those other people” — minorities and immigrants.
This individual and collective anger has emboldened many Whites to publicly, forcefully, and passionately lash out at people of color and immigrants, with examples across the spectrum of violence. The institutional shifts and societal changes that influence these examples of backlash are not going away any time soon, and unfortunately, neither do I expect such examples of White backlash to decline any time soon.
And Yet, There is Still Hope
In the midst of all this, there is still the bright glimmer of humanity — the power of shared suffering to bring us together and for friends and strangers to unite and help each other out. No doubt you have seen examples of this in the aftermath of natural disasters as our fellow Americans donate what little discretionary funds we have to help those who have lost everything, and for friends, neighbors, and total strangers to help rebuild the devastated communities.
The same thing can happen in the wake of acts of violence like this. As the NBC News clip below shows, the memorial service to honor the six Sikhs killed was attended by about a thousand people, with Sikhs and non-Sikhs united in grief, sympathy, and hope.
Ideally, no, it should not take mass murders and hate crimes like this for us as Americans to wake up, recognize how our social environment and many of our national leaders are fanning the flames of hostility and hate, and to unite as human beings to change things are the better. But it seems that sometimes it takes a spark to light a fire, something Asian Americans have known for a while now.
Maybe this is that spark and hopefully, there will be a silver lining to this tragedy.
Today, June 19, marks the 30th anniversary of the day Vincent Chin was beaten into a coma because he was Asian. As summarized in my article “Anti-Asian Racism,” Vincent Chin was a 27-year-old Chinese American living in Detroit, Michigan. On this date in 1982, he and a few friends were at a local bar celebrating his upcoming wedding. Also at the bar were two White autoworkers, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz.
Ebens and Nitz blamed the Japanese for the U.S. auto industry’s struggles at the time and began directing their anger toward Vincent. A fight ensued and eventually spilled outside the bar. After a few minutes, Ebens and Nitz cornered Vincent and while Nitz held Vincent down, Ebens repeatedly bludgeoned Vincent with a baseball bat until he was unconscious and hemorrhaging blood. Vincent was in a coma for four days until he finally died on June 23, 1982.
Ebens and Nitz were initially charged with second degree murder (intentionally killing someone but without premeditation). However, the prosecutor allowed both of them to plea down to manslaughter (accidentally killing someone). At the sentencing, the judge only sentenced both of them to three years probation and a fine of $3,780. The sentence provoked outrage among not just Asian Americans, but among many groups of color and led to a pan-racial coalescing of groups demanding justice for Vincent.
Vincent’s supporters got the U.S. Justice Department to bring federal charges against Ebens and Nitz for violating Vincent’s civil rights. In this trial, Ebens was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison while Nitz was found not guilty. However, the verdicts were thrown out because of a technicality and a second trial was ordered. The defense successfully got the trial moved away from Detroit to Cincinnati OH. In this second federal trial, an all-White jury acquitted both Ebens and Nitz of violating Vincent’s civil rights.
Vincent’s death and the injustices he, his family, and all Asian Americans suffered still stand as a stark and sober reminder that, in contrast to the image of us as the “model minority” and the socioeconomic successes that we have achieved, Asian Americans are still susceptible to being targeted for hostility, racism, and violence. We only have to look at recent incidents in which Asian American students continue to be physically attacked at school, and other examples of Asian- and immigrant-bashing and White backlash to see that we as society still have a lot of work to do before Asian Americans (and other groups of color) are fully accepted as “real” or “legitimate” Americans.
The silver lining in Vincent’s case was that it was a watershed moment in Asian American history because it united the entire Asian American community like no event before. For the first time, different Asian groups began to understand that the discrimination committed against other Asians could easily be turned towards them. In other words, for the first time, Asians of different ethnicities, cultures, and nationalities united around an issue that affected them all.
As a result, the Asian American community mobilized their collective resources in unprecedented ways and Vincent’s death was the spark that led to the creation of a network of hundreds of non-profit organizations working at local, state, and national levels to combat not just hate crimes, but also other areas of inequality facing Asian American (i.e., housing, employment, legal rights, immigrant rights, educational reform, etc.). Vincent’s death has had a powerful legacy on the Asian American community — as a result of the collective action demanding justice, it contributed to the development of the “pan-Asian American” identity that exists today.
This is why it is important for all Asian Americans, and all of us as Americans, to remember Vincent Chin — to mourn the events of his death, to reflect on how it changed the Asian American community forever, and to realize that the struggle for true racial equality and justice still continues today.
One of the biggest stories this past week was the suicide of 18-year old Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi. Most reports describe that he was apparently pushed into ending his life after his roommate and another student (Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei) broadcast a video stream on the internet of Clementi having sex with another male student:
On the evening of September 19, Rutgers student Dharun Ravi is believed to have sent a message by Twitter about his roommate, Clementi. “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”
Ravi, 18, of Plainsboro, New Jersey, surreptitiously placed the camera in their dorm room and broadcast video of Clementi’s sexual encounter on the internet, the Middlesex County prosecutor’s office said. Ravi tried to use the webcam again two days later, on September 21. “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it’s happening again,” Ravi is believed to have tweeted. The next day, Clementi was dead. . . .
Ravi and Wei, 18, of Princeton, New Jersey, are charged with two counts each of invasion of privacy for the September 19 broadcast, according to the prosecutor’s office. Two more counts of invasion of privacy were leveled against Ravi for a September 21 attempt to videotape another encounter involving Clementi, the prosecutor’s office said.
At this point, the focus should be on supporting Tyler Clementi’s family, his friends, and all LGBT persons who are in similar situations of feeling humiliated, alienated, and alone in a society that it often too quick to ridicule and marginalize their identities. This is indeed a sickening tragedy on all levels and for everybody involved and as the NBC video segment below describes, bullying that leads to suicide is a real problem:
Inevitably, many will place the blame squarely on Ravi and Wei for perpetrating such a immature, callous, and reckless act. They indeed need to be disciplined but we also need to consider a few other factors before “locking them up and throwing away the key.”
The Double-Edge Sword
Ultimately people are responsible for their own individual actions, but as a sociologist, I would argue that their actions are another example of one of the unfortunate results of the growing ubiquity of the internet and technology — the erosion of basic social etiquette and norms of behavior. That is, while the internet and social networking sites now allow us to interact with and share information between people much more easily, widely, and quickly than ever before, as some researchers argue, they have also led to the decline of many social norms. A Pew Research Institute report notes that some of the negatives associated with increased internet use are:
. . . time spent online robs time from important face-to-face relationships; the internet fosters mostly shallow relationships; the act of leveraging the internet to engage in social connection exposes private information; the internet allows people to silo themselves, limiting their exposure to new ideas; and the internet is being used to engender intolerance.
It’s with this in mind that I would argue that part of Ravi and Wei’s mindset in perpetrating these acts was based on being desensitized to and detached from the consequences of their actions. This is not an excuse for their actions, which were indeed thoughtless. Nonetheless, from a sociological point of view, like many young people these days who grew up surrounded by the internet and the ease of uploading videos, electronically chatting with friends, and sharing virtually all aspects of their public and private lives, they probably felt that streaming Clementi’s private life online was just like other forms of social life that they engaged in themselves or saw on television through reality shows, etc.
I also need to mention the racial/ethnic aspect of this episode: both Ravi and Wei are Asian American and just like other tragic events in recent history in which the perpetrators were Asian American (the murders at Virginia Tech committed by Seung Hui Cho as one example), there are also likely to be generalizations about Asian Americans being conniving, intolerant, mentally unstable, and/or feeling of superiority perhaps due to their academic success, etc.
I hope that we can all recognize that, as with any racial, ethnic, cultural, or religious group, the unfortunate actions of one person or a small group of people should not indict everyone of that same group as being guilty by association.
As I noted earlier, I agree that Ravi and Wei need to be appropriately disciplined. But even if one or both of them had any anti-gay beliefs beforehand (there does not seem to be any evidence of that so far), as I’ve also written before about those who commit hate crimes against Asian Americans and other minority groups, I do not support criminalizing them in such a harsh and punitive way that they become “lifelong racists” — or in this case, lifelong homophobes.
I hope we can emphasize the need to condemn and punish the act while also making sure the actors learn from their mistakes so that they can eventually join the fight to make sure these kinds of tragedies do not happen again.
Moving Forward Together
As I noted earlier, the focus should be on Tyler Clementi, his family, his social community, and others in a similar position. It’s with this in mind that I point out that LGBT Americans and Asian Americans share many things in common. As I’ve chronicled on many occasions on this blog, many Asian Americans have and continue to endure bullying, racist taunts, and even physical violence in their daily lives. Like Tyler Clementi, many Asian Americans feel isolated, alienated, and even despondent over how they’re treated by mainstream American society — to the point of also taking their own lives as a result.
A tragedy like this can tear us as a society apart, or it can help open up a dialog and ultimately bring us closer together. I believe that the despite inevitable differences that many individuals have within each minority group, the common experiences on feeling shut out of the American mainstream is an unfortunate but powerful bond that we do share together.
A New Jersey jury today found former Rutgers student Dharun Ravi guilty on all counts for using a webcam to spy on his roommate, Tyler Clementi, having a gay sexual encounter in 2010.
Ravi, 20, was convicted of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, witness tampering and hindering arrest, stemming from his role in activating the webcam to peek at Clementi’s date with a man in the dorm room on Sept. 19, 2010. Ravi was also convicted of encouraging others to spy during a second date, on Sept. 21, 2010, and intimidating Clementi for being gay.
Ravi was found not guilty of some subparts of the 15 counts of bias intimidation, attempted invasion of privacy, and attempted bias intimidation, but needed only to be found guilty of one part of each count to be convicted.
The convictions carry a possible sentence of five to 10 years in prison. Because Ravi is a citizen of India, and is in the US on a green card, he could be deported following his sentencing.
Each year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation releases its official report on Hate Crimes in the U.S. First, a little background — hate crimes are defined as a criminal offense committed against a person or property, which is motivated, in whole or in part, by bias against the victim’s actual or perceived race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or disability, and that is formally reported to law enforcement. This definition is important in many ways, as I explain a little later.
The number of hate crimes committed against Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans declined from 188 incidents and 219 offenses in 2007, to 137 incidents and 162 offenses in 2008.
Similarly, the number of hate crimes committed against Hispanic Americans declined from 595 incidents and 775 offenses in 2007, to 561 incidents and 735 offenses in 2008.
The number of hate crimes committed against Muslim Americans also declined, from 115 incidents and 133 offenses in 2007, to 105 incidents and 123 offenses in 2008.
These are positive signs of progress and we should acknowledge them as such. Unfortunately there appears to be at least an equal number of bad news as well:
In total, the number of reported hate crimes are at their highest level since 2001. In 2008, there were 7,783 hate crime incidents and 9,168 hate crime offenses reported, an increase from 7,624 and 9,006 reported in 2007, respectively.
The number of hate crime crimes directed at Blacks increased from 2,658 incidents and 3,275 offenses in 2007, to 2,876 incidents and 3,413 offenses in 2008. Such anti-Black hate crimes are at their highest levels since 2001 and are pretty clear evidence that despite Barack Obama’s election, racism against Blacks is still alive and well in America.
Hate crimes based on sexual orientation are also at their highest level since 2001, increasing from 1,265 incidents and 1,460 offenses in 2007, to 1,297 and 1,617 in 2008, respectively.
Aside from the decline in anti-Muslim hate crimes, there was an overall increase in the number of hate crimes based on religious bias in general. For example, the number of hate incidents and offenses committed against Jewish Americans increased from 969 and 1,010 in 2007, to 1,013 and 1,055 in 2008, respectively.
To further put these hate crime numbers in perspective, we should note the specifics related to how they were collected. Specifically, as in years past, the vast majority of the law enforcement agencies who participated in the data collection (84.4% to be exact) reported absolutely zero hate crimes — that there were no hate crime incidents in their particular jurisdiction.
In addition, thousands of police agencies across the nation did not participate in the hate crime data collection program at all, including at least five agencies in cities with a popular of over 250,000 and at least eleven agencies in cities with populations between 100,000 and 250,000.
Many of these jurisdictions who did not participate or who reported zero hate crimes include areas in the South. I’m sorry, but I have a hard time accepting that there was only one (1) hate crime committed in the state of Mississippi, just two (2) in Georgia, and just four (4) in Alabama in 2008.
On top of this uneven and inconsistent participation and reporting on the part of police agencies, we should also note that, as sociological and criminological studies consistently point out, the majority of hate crime incidents are never reported to police at all — their victims stay silent. This is particularly true with many immigrant groups and communities of color, including Asian Americans.
That is, many victims may not be fluent in English and therefore feel that it is futile to report it to the police. They may also feel that the police would be unlikely to take their reports seriously for lack of cultural competency, or they may distrust the police entirely based on previous negative experiences with police in their area, or with corrupt police and government agencies back in their home country. Also, many victims may simply fear retaliation from the offenders if they report the incidents to police.
As you can see, the “official” data should be taken with a big grain of salt and almost surely represent an undercount — maybe even a significant one — of the real number of hate crimes committed in 2008. Unfortunately, in the quest for racial/ethnic/religious/sexual equality, American society still seems to be taking two steps forward, and two steps back.
You might be interested to read the following posts from September of years past:
2008: What Exactly is a Hate Crime? How a recent racial attack against an Indian American symbolizes the injustices people of color have experienced through the years.
2007: Using Religion to Unite Racial Groups In times of economic insecurity, demographic change, and political conflict, common religious beliefs might be the social glue that bonds groups from different backgrounds together.
2006: Indian Americans: Model Immigrants? The socioeconomic success of many Indian Americans in recent decades is due to their individual and collective hard work and existing advantages that they brought with them as immigrants.
2005: “Anti-Asian” Laws Passed by APA Politicians Looking at the racial, ethnic, and political complexities of laws and regulations proposed by Asian American politicians that seem to disproportionately hurt other Asian Americans.
Here are some more announcements and links out that have come my way relating to Asians or Asian Americans. As always, links to other sites are provided for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply an endorsement of their contents:
According to Camden Lee, an OCA intern and University of Maryland student, the directory is “an amazing resource that provides opportunities that I never even knew about.” Available at OCA & JACL events and online at the University of MD AAST site, this one of a kind Directory includes information and resources for AAPI students and their families. . . .
Professor Larry Shinagawa, director of AAST, said: “The directory is a handy reference that can be used by all students and parents who are interested in finding the financial means and experiential resources to pursue higher education. You will find here a wealth of information, tips, and resources that can help enable students to pursue a quality higher education. The adage that education can never be taken from you and enables you to persevere and succeed continues to be the age-old truth. We hope this directory serves the purposes of advancing educational opportunities to collegiate-age students of APA background.”
The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) announces an opening for the JACL Norman Y. Mineta Fellowship in the Washington, D.C. office of the JACL. This fellowship is in the Washington, D.C. office of the JACL and will be focused on public policy advocacy as well as programs of safety awareness in the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. The fellowship is named for the Honorable Norman Y. Mineta, former Secretary of Transportation and former Secretary of Commerce, and is funded by State Farm Insurance.
Support Federal Hate Crimes Legislation
Earlier this week, Senator Leahy introduced the Leahy/Collins/Kennedy/Snowe Hate Crimes Amendment (identical to the text of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act) to S. 1391, the FY 2010 Department of Defense Authorization Bill. The Senate has begun periodic debate on the amendment that would provide significant improvements to our current hate crimes prevention laws. The House of Representatives already passed the bill in April.
This bill expands the coverage of existing hate crime laws to include crimes not only based on race, color, religion, and national origin, but also bias-motivated crimes based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.
It also provides the federal government jurisdiction to prosecute hate crimes in states where current law or local law enforcement action are inadequate. This increased protection will help ethnic and racial groups that continue to be subjected to bias-motivated violence and intimidation.
Hate crimes cut across every community. Passing this bill will ensure that all people have the right to be safe and free from physical harm and intimidation. The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act sends a clear message that Americans do not have to live in fear.
Senators will vote soon. Please call your Senators toll-free at 866-659-9641 and urge his or her support of the Leahy/Collins/Kennedy/Snowe Hate Crimes amendment (Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act), which will provide safety and security for all individuals. We appreciate your support and the action you will take to help fight hate crimes.
The Asian Division Friends Society announces the Florence Tan Moeson Research Fellowship Program for 2010. This Fellowship Program is made possible by a generous donation of Florence Tan Moeson, for 43 years a Chinese Team cataloger in the Regional and Cooperative Cataloging Division at the Library of Congress before she retired in 2001. Mrs. Moeson passed away on November 15, 2008.
The purpose of the Fellowship Program is to give individuals the opportunity to use the Asian and Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) collections in the Library of Congress to pursue scholarly research projects. The Library’s Asian collections are among the most significant outside of Asia and consist of over 2.8 million monograph, serial, newspaper, manuscript and microform titles in the vernacular languages of East, South and Southeast Asia.
The Library’s AAPI collection was officially launched in 2007. It contains primary resource materials including monographs, serials, government reports, newspapers, census data, photos, oral histories, sound recordings, film, and miscellaneous ephemera pertaining to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
For more details regarding this fellowship and information about past awardees, please visit the ADFS website. The deadline for the 2010 application season is September 30, 2009.
The Florence Tan Moeson Research Fellowship awards total $14,000 each year for 10 years in support of grant support for research projects employing the Asian Division’s Reading Room and the Library’s extensive Asian collections.
The grants are awarded upon demonstration of need through a competitive process. Grants are intended to subsidize the researcher’s transportation fares to and from Washington, DC, overnight accommodations and photocopying fees. Graduate students, independent scholars, community college teachers, researchers without regular teaching appointments, and librarians with a demonstrated need for research fellowship support are eligible to apply.
The Library’s Asian collections began in 1869 with a gift of 10 works in 933 volumes from an emperor of China to the United States. Spanning a diversity of subjects from China, Japan, Korea, the South Asian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and the Asian Pacific American community, the Library’s Asian and AAPI collections have become one of the most accessible and comprehensive sources in the world. To learn about the content of LC Asian and AAPI collections, visit the Library’s Asian Division’s website.
Contact: Dr. Anchi Hoh, Co-Chair, Florence Tan Moeson Fellowship Program Committee, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-707-5673.
Asian Pacific Community Fund Annual Gala
Join the Asian Pacific Community Fund (APCF) in celebrating its 3rd Annual Giving For All Seasons Fundraising Gala on Thursday, July 23, 2009 at the Grammy Museum Terrace in LA Live (800 W. Olympic Blvd.). The event is about promoting philanthropy and civic engagement in the diverse community throughout Los Angeles County.
Reception starts at 6:30 pm. Program starts at 8:00 pm and includes the 2009 Grant Distribution to our Affiliate Agencies and an Awards Presentation. Attire is Cocktail or Business.
APCF is honoring Assemblymember Mike Eng and Edison Chinese Connection for their leadership and service for the advancement of Asian Pacific Islanders throughout Los Angeles County.
Tickets can also be purchased by contacting Christine at email@example.com or (213) 624-6400 ext. 4.
Sponsors Needed for 2010 Asian Olympics
“Dai Hoi The Thao (Asian Olympics) is an ongoing tradition for 30 years. Hosted by the University of Texas Vietnamese Student Association, this three-day event gathers Asian-Americans from all over the U.S. to compete in many sporting games and activities. In addition to these activities, we also host an opening ceremony that consists of cultural and modern performers from all over the state. The growing number of participants and spectators has reaches huge numbers (3000), making it one of the biggest Asian-American sporting events in Texas.
At this current time, we are looking for sponsors to help fund an event of this magnitude. Sponsoring an event here in the capital of Texas not only promotes goodwill and high public relations, but also offers a chance to meet and gain prospective employees as well as a chance to help developing minds. If you are interested, please visit our website at http://daihoithethao.org/sponsors.html and/or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Issues related to immigration, particularly undocumented immigration, have always been and continue to be some of the most controversial in American history and society. As I’m sure you’ve seen yourself, such issues easily provoke strong emotions from all sides and can be very divisive between and even within racial/ethnic groups. On top of that, the current recession and fears on the part of many Americans about their financial security only add fuel to the fire.
It’s within this context that many Americans and American institutions look to blame all or part of their problems and difficulties on immigrants. But this immigrant bashing can take many forms — it can be very overt and direct in the form of racial slurs and violence, or it can be subtle and indirect, implicitly supported or set in motion by politicians who are otherwise seen as “liberal” or “progressive.” I would like to explore these different degrees of immigrant bashing as they’ve recently been manifested.
On the more blatant and overt side, we see time and time again that racial prejudice and economic instability often lead to violence. However, the second step in this kind of blatant immigrant bashing is when the criminal justice system fails to deliver justice for the immigrant victim. This was evident is the recent acquittal of two White teens on hate crime charges in the beating death of a Mexican immigrant in Pottsville, PA:
The [all White] jury found the teens innocent of all serious charges, a decision that elicited cheers and claps from the defendants’ families and friends – and cries of outrage from the victim’s. . . . Prosecutors cast Ramirez as the victim of a gang of drunken white teens motivated by a dislike of their small coal town’s burgeoning Hispanic population. But the jury evidently sided with defense attorneys, who called Ramirez the aggressor and characterized the brawl as a street fight that ended tragically. . . .
The case exposed ethnic tensions in Shenandoah, a blue-collar town of 5,000 that has lured Hispanic residents drawn by cheap housing and jobs in nearby factories and farm fields. Ramirez moved to the town about seven years ago from Iramuco, Mexico, working in a factory and picking strawberries and cherries.
The two men accused of fatally beating an Ecuadorean immigrant with a bat and a bottle after shouting epithets about Hispanics and gays face 78 years to life in prison if convicted on charges handed up by a Brooklyn grand jury and unsealed on Tuesday. The two suspects, Keith Phoenix, 28, and Hakim Scott, 25, are charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter and assault, all as hate crimes, for the Dec. 7 attack on the immigrant, Jose O. Sucuzhañay, and his brother Romel, who survived. . . .
The beating, coming soon after the killing of another Ecuadorean immigrant on Long Island, jangled nerves in immigrant and gay and lesbian communities. . . . Witnesses have described part of what happened next, beginning with slurs shouted from the car about Hispanics and gays. “Suddenly, Hakim Scott jumped out armed with a beer bottle,” Mr. Hynes said. “The two brothers tried to flee, but Scott caught up with Jose and slammed him across the head.”
Mr. Phoenix “rushed from the S.U.V. armed with a baseball bat, ran over to Jose, and repeatedly beat him,” Mr. Hynes said, adding that as Mr. Phoenix walked back to the car he noticed that the victim was still moving. “Phoenix immediately went back to where Jose was laying and slammed him several more times on the head with the baseball bat until his victim was motionless,” Mr. Hynes said.
This kind of sentiment is also reflected in the recent swine flu outbreak. Since the swine flu originated in Mexico, inevitably this has led many to engage in blatant stereotyping and racial profiling against anything and anyone linked to Mexico:
“No contact anywhere with an illegal alien!” conservative talk show host Michael Savage advised his U.S. listeners this week on how to avoid the swine flu. “And that starts in the restaurants” where he said, you “don’t know if they wipe their behinds with their hands!” And Thursday, Boston talk radio host Jay Severin was suspended after calling Mexican immigrants “criminalians” during a discussion of swine flu and saying that emergency rooms had become “essentially condos for Mexicans.”
That’s tepid compared to some of the xenophobic reactions spreading like an emerging virus across the Internet. “This disgusting blight is because MEXICANS ARE PIGS!” an anonymous poster ranted on the “prison planet” forum, part of radio host and columnist Alex Jones’ Web site. . . . Savage speculated that terrorists are using Mexican immigrants as walking germ warfare weapons. “It would be easy,” he said, “to bring an altered virus into Mexico, put it in the general population, and have them march across the border.”
[T]he growing public health concern has also exposed fear and hate. . . . Fearmongering and blame are almost a natural part of infectious disease epidemics, experts say. “This is a pattern we see again and again,” said Amy Fairchild, chair of sociomedical sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York City. “It’s ‘the other,’ the group not seen as part of the nation, the one who threatens it in some way that gets blamed for the disease.”
These acts of racial hatred, violence, and blatant stereotyping are undoubtedly tragic. Unfortunately, they are only one example within the range of immigrant bashing. Other examples do not involve physical violence committed onto the immigrant, but nonetheless show the same kind of callous indifference to their histories and experiences. This is exemplified by the case of a Korean Canadian student who stood up to racial taunts and slurs from a bully but was punished for defending himself (tip to AngryAsianMan for covering this story first):
The 15-year-old was suspended for four weeks from Keswick High School over a fight that he says began when another student racially abused him and punched him in the mouth. The boy, who has a black belt in tae kwon do, fought back with a single punch that broke his antagonist’s nose.
He was initially the only person investigated, and police charged him with assault causing bodily harm. But 400 of his fellow students walked out of class this week to denounce the racist bullying that preceded the punch, and the outcry reached newspaper front pages. In response, York police reopened the case, and assigned a special investigator to probe whether a hate crime was committed. . . .
The 15-year-old said he regrets throwing the punch, but felt he had no choice after the other boy called him a “fucking Chinese” and punched him in the face, cutting his mouth. His father said the school doesn’t seem to understand the impact of the racial comment. Afterward, a vice-principal asked his son why a Korean was upset about being called Chinese.
“Probably they don’t realize how much it hurts when someone makes a racist comment,” his father said. “My son said, ‘I felt all the way down, like I am nothing, on the floor. Like they’re the master and I’m the slave.’ “
As an update on this case, the school board has reversed the initial actions of the school’s administrators and have reinstated the student, removed the suspension from his record, and canceled the expulsion proceedings. The Korean Canadian student and the bullying student have met face-to-face and have apologized to each other.
This is a small but significant victory for victims of racial taunting and bullying but in the initial actions of the school’s principals and administrators, we once again see the evil twins of immigrant bashing — the first is the physical act itself, in this case the racial slurs, bullying, and first punch directed at the Korean Canadian student. But the second and equally appalling part are the lack of understanding, indifference, and outright hostility of our social institutions to respond to such immigrant bashing. In this case, the school officials initially blame the Korean Canadian student for the entire incident and wanted to expel him not just from the school but also from the entire school district.
Clearly, these officials just don’t get how racism works, most likely because as a White person, they’ve never experienced being called a racial slur, or had their group’s history or experiences denigrated, or had their distinct physical appearance mocked in public.
Unfortunately, examples of immigrant bashing do not end here. The entire range of such sentiments also includes official acts of government supported by politicians who we normally consider to be friends and allies of the immigrant population. One example is the federal “Troubled Asset Relief Program” (TARP) legislation that was passed in February to help bailout struggling financial institutions. One provision of the TARP act requires banks that receive federal bailout money to hire American workers over immigrants. As many community and business leaders argue, such a broad generalization against immigrant workers leads to some very troubling consequences:
In Sacramento, business leaders are worried about completing projects without the specialized expertise of consultants from foreign countries. . . . In California, foreign nationals helped create more than half of the startup companies in Silicon Valley, according to a Duke University study. In 2007, foreign nationals accounted for nearly two-thirds of all engineering doctorates awarded from the University of California and California State University systems, the study found. . . .
Wadhwa, an engineering professor at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke and a researcher at the Harvard Law School, said some of his students are getting employment offers withdrawn, while others are frustrated and ready to move back home. He says it’s part of a troubling pattern in the United States: “Whenever there’s a downturn, you start blaming foreigners.”
In this example, I understand the need to make sure that federal money is used to help out Americans first. The problem with this is the assumption that immigrants are not Americans. Instead of seeing immigrants as productive Americans who pay American taxes, who buy American goods and services, and who contribute (many times disproportionately) in so many other ways to the economic health of the country — whether they are citizens, permanent residents, or even undocumented — immigrants are the first scapegoats when our country experienced difficulties.
Rather than looking deeper and more reflectively at the institutional issues that caused the current economic crises, such as high-risk loans and excessive greed on the part of financial institutions, we sadly and instinctively look to those living around us who seem to be different from us and based on this “Us versus Them” mentality, who we perceive to be not real, legitimate, or genuine Americans, and therefore, are somehow benefiting at our expense and therefore need to be vilified, dehumanized, and attacked — through our fists or our laws — as the cause of our problems.
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.
In this context and as the Christian Science Monitor reports, there seems to be a resurgence in displaying the confederate flag in various parts of the southern U.S. The flag’s supporters again claim that the flag is not about promoting White supremacy but about commemorating “southern valor” while its critics say it is inextricably tied into White supremacy:
Despite years of boycotts, schoolyard bans, and banishment from capitol domes, the Southern battle colors are flying, higher than ever.
Indeed, the Tampa Confederate Veterans Memorial and its 139-foot flagpole features one of at least four giant “soldier’s flags” flying over bumper-to-bumper interstates in Florida and Alabama. [M]ore [are] planned in Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, and possibly South Carolina. . . .
Unlike the flags that were taken down from the capitol domes in Columbia, S.C. and Tallahassee, Fla., these new auto dealer-sized flags – sewn in China – may be legally untouchable. Raised on private property, the Tampa flag was OK’d by county zoning officials and the Federal Aviation Administration.
“It’s not going to go away,” says Jim Farmer, a history professor at the University of South Carolina at Aiken. “There is a subculture within the white Southern population, of which the SCV is the most visible voice, that feels besieged by modern culture in general, and they identify the Old South and Confederacy as a way of life and a period of time before the siege began to really hit the South.”
To Confederate sympathizers, opposition to the flag is misguided. They say the “soldier’s flag” represents not slavery, but the valor of Southern men in their lost cause. As proof of the flag’s universality, SCV officials point to a tableau at the June 1 flag-raising ceremony in Tampa. As several older white men huffed trying to raise the 72-pound flag, two black men stepped in to finish the job.
“We have Indian, Hispanic, black, and white members of our camps, and if anyone espouses anything hateful or racewise, you’re gone [from the SCV],” says group historian Robert Gates.
Flag opponents say the real offense is that Southern governors raised the flags during the Civil Rights era as a provocative gesture against attempts to desegregate Southern schools.
There are a couple of sociological lessons here. As I wrote regarding the New Yorker/Obama and Vietnamese American art controversies referenced above, visual images have an almost irrational power over many Americans. Secondly, just as statistics do not speak for themselves and can be interpreted in many ways, such visual images can also be used to support two complete different and opposite viewpoints and world views.
Such is the case with the confederate flag. It is also a given that the battle over whether the confederate flag represents southern valor or White supremacy will continue to rage. I won’t go into the details of that particular debate because people will continue to have their own interpretations based on emotion and personal experiences.
For me, what’s more interesting is the confederate flag’s resurgence and emergence as a reaction to and backlash against globalization.
As the article above notes, the confederate flag seems to enjoying greater acceptance these days, not necessarily because of its association with White supremacy, but because it represents a kind of yearning and nostalgia for how not just the south, but how America in general used to be, before the uncertainties of globalization.
In other words, the resurgence of the confederate flag can be seen as the latest illustration of America’s struggle to find or redefine its position and supremacy in the 21st century international and globalized stage. As many scholars will tell you, globalization has not been kind to many Americans, particularly those in the working class — the same demographic usually associated with confederate flag sympathizers.
So for them, as they struggle to come to terms with the effects of globalization on their lives, it is understandable that they would embrace the confederate flag as a symbol of America’s past dominance and supremacy.
As I’ve written about before, there are other examples of this kind of “backlash” as well. Probably the most visible up to this point has been the emotional debate regarding illegal immigration, but others include heightened criticism against China (although did you notice the irony in the article that the modern “supersized” confederate flags are actually made in China?).
The bottom line is, with many Americans struggling to adapt to globalization, nostalgic symbols of America’s past supremacy are inevitably going to become more popular and that, in such culturally and economically uncertain times, even “moderate” Americans are willing to overlook a particular symbol’s unfortunate association with racism.
No matter how much we as Asian Americans show that we want to be part of the American mainstream, it seems almost inevitable that we encounter resistance, hostility, and at times, violence in that process. One group of Asian Americans for whom that is a sad part of their daily lives is high school students. As the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports, the demographics of a town or high school can change, but violence against perceived “foreigners” still lingers:
Student leaders stopped in St. Paul, Minneapolis and White Bear Lake asking school administrators to address problems facing Hmong students. Racism, hostile school climates, college readiness and language barriers were some of the challenges discussed. . . . Students said violence also is often an unavoidable part of their school lives.
Kabee Chang, who is not related to Mysee Chang, has only lived in the United States for two years since emigrating from Thailand. At Minneapolis’ North High School, Kabee Chang said it’s difficult to avoid a fight. His friends have been hit in the head and punched while going from one class to another.
“One time I could see my friend had been hit, so I was afraid to go in the bathroom because the same thing would happen to me,” Kabee Chang said. Out of fear, he said now he won’t go into the bathroom or hallways by himself.
It is nothing less than an outrage and tragedy when students of any racial/ethnic/cultural background encounter violence and harassment in their attempts to get an education, so that they can improve their lives, their family’s lives, and be a productive citizen of the U.S. We cannot expect students to excel academically when even their most basic need to feel physically safe can’t be guaranteed.
In that context, school districts and officials bear the responsibility to ensure that students can get an education in a safe environment. Yes it would be nice if teachers and counselors are culturally-competent and nurture students as much as possible, but at the very least — the bare minimum, schools need to provide their students with an environment that is free from ongoing threats of violence and physical harassment.
In an earlier post, I wrote about a persistent pattern of discrimination and physical violence perpetrated against Asian American students at Lafayette High School in Brooklyn — so bad that the Justice Department had to step in to force the school to take corrective action to protect the Asian students. Following up on this trend, the Associated Press reports that despite recent efforts to highlight this growing problem around the country, physical attacks still continue to occur:
Nationwide, Asian students say they’re often beaten, threatened and called ethnic slurs by other young people, and school safety data suggest that the problem may be worsening. Youth advocates say these Asian teens, stereotyped as high-achieving students who rarely fight back, have for years borne the brunt of ethnic tension as Asian communities expand and neighborhoods become more racially diverse. . . .
Stories of Asian youth being bullied and worse are common. In recent years: a Chinese middle schooler in San Francisco was mercilessly taunted until his teacher hid him in her classroom at lunchtime; three Korean-American students were beaten so badly near their Queens high school that they skipped school for weeks and begged to be transferred; a 16-year-old from Vietnam was killed last year in a massive brawl in Boston. . . .
Increasingly, some victims are fighting back. A 2003 California survey . . . found that 14 percent of Asian youth said they join gangs for protection. Department of Justice school crime data found the number of Asian youth carrying weapons nearly tripled from 1999 to 2001. “There are more Asian kids being brought to juvenile court for assault and battery,” Arifuku said.
“The thing we’re finding in their history is that they had been picked on — called names and teased — and in some cases they lashed out and retaliated.” Advocates and students say that, typically, large fights erupt after weeks or months of verbal taunting.
It is truly sad and infuriating to see Asian American students — or any students for that matter — first, being targeted for physical violence on an everyday basis, and second, being subjected to utter indifference and even contempt by school officials who deny that there are any problems. It should tell you something that even the Bush administration’s Justice Department felt that things were getting out of hand at Lafayette High and had to finally step in.
For every article or news story that describes how Asian culture is increasingly being accepted, embraced, and integrated into the American mainstream, there are stories like this one that remind us that in many ways, Asian Americans still have to fight an uphill battle not just to be considered “real Americans,” but for many, just to stay alive.
You’ve probably heard of the reality TV show “What Not to Wear.” Well, maybe someone should profile Lafayette High School in Brooklyn as “What Not to Do” in terms of supporting the equal education of Asian Americans. As Newsday reports, the Bush administration has just brought federal civil rights charges against Lafayette High, alleging that it failed to address racially-motivated violence against Asian American students and therefore, has violated their rights to a public education:
An Asian student who was a freshman at the Brooklyn school was punched on his way home in April, but administrators refused to investigate or to let anyone look at a student photo book to identify attackers, according to the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund in Manhattan.
Among other cases involving Asian students this past school year, one boy was choked by a classmate in the boys’ locker room, and another boy complained that administrators told him they had lost the paperwork on his report.
“An atmosphere has been bred at the school where students feel free to harass Asian students without much retribution,” the group’s attorney, Khin Mai Aung, said Friday. “It’s been going on for years and nothing has been done to effectively fix things.”
At first glance, my reaction is that I can’t believe Asian American students are still subjected to this kind of treatment. It’s one thing to be the target of a racially-motived physical attack. What conpounds the misery even more is when the people who are entrusted to protect your rights and well-being ignore your complaints and instead, actually make it easier for you to be repeatedly victimized.
The irony is that this high school is not located in some isolated rural community where 98% of the students are White — it’s located in Brooklyn, NY — perhaps the most racially/ethnically diverse city in the entire U.S. and where one-quarter of the students are of Asian descent. Absolutely amazing . . .