135 Years and Here We Are

When Trump delivered his inauguration speech, he made an attempt to unify the American public with: “whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.” His call to patriots, a disillusioned epithet of an American, glaringly seemed to forget us (the non-black, non-brown us’s). Throughout the campaign and post-election, Asian Americans, as an ethnic group, have been largely left out of the explicit foul rhetoric.

There is a pernicious violence of invisibility as the discourse forgets about us. And perhaps it is a result of this invisibility, in the political process, in our mass media, that we see an epidemic dis-involvement in the political process, grassroots movements, student protests. We have been behooved with the mythical ‘model minority’ - a tool of white supremacy to keep us complacent, perpetuating a violence against other PoCs. It is a false ideology that collapses Asian Americans to a monolithic identity that does not consider its global, panoramic scope. To identify as Asian American in our day and age is a neutral act, insofar as it describes your ethnicity. But as Karen Ishizuka succinctly puts it in Serve the People: Making Asian American in the Long Sixties, it was once a defiant resistance against a White America that sought to codify their immigration to create a taxonomy of Americanness.

Protestors from L.A.'s Asian American movement. Photo by Alan Ohashi.

Protestors from L.A.'s Asian American movement. Photo by Alan Ohashi.

Our activist history is largely absent from our literature – and I implore you to recognize the powerful Asian Americans whose political awakenings built a movement to create Asian America. We have the Black Liberation Movement to thank for their precedence and leadership. And now, in the spirit of their strength and racial solidarity, we must come together to actively resist Trump’s regime built on xenophobia and prejudice.

This regime is not new, and the fact that White America seems to think so is mistaken. Chinese Americans were the first ethnic group to be barred from the States in 1882 from the Chinese Exclusion Act. They provided cheap labor that then became a threat to the “white working class.” The 1907 Gentlemen’s Agreement followed shortly after, barring Japanese Americans. The fear that undocumented workers are stealing jobs and hurting the American economy is not new. The talk of a Muslim Registry echoes the horrors of the Japanese internment. Be sure, White America has been manicuring its body politic with deeply rooted racialized beliefs, fearing that any non-whites will adulterate their ideal homogeneity.

When Japanese Americans began moving to Hollywood in the 1920's, white Americans formed a campaign to "keep Hollywood white." Source: National Japanese American Historical Society

When Japanese Americans began moving to Hollywood in the 1920's, white Americans formed a campaign to "keep Hollywood white." Source: National Japanese American Historical Society

To continue with this appeal- federal judges have refused to reinstate Trump’s travel ban and barred the core provision of the ban from going into effect. On February 9th, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order upholding the court order from the federal district court in Seattle to block the Executive Order. This nationwide order halts the Trump administration from these National Security efforts to ban nationals from seven countries to travel to the US for a 90-day period and the ‘indefinite suspension’ of admitting Syrian refugees to the States.

And yet, in the week following the judge's decision,  ICE officials raided the five boroughs of NYC, leading to a total of 41 arrests in these “targeted enforcement actions”. The raids inspired fear across immigrant neighborhoods across the nation that the new administration may be steamrolling out their campaign promises. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said the raids yielded a total of 680 arrests in various metropolises. However, despite the panic that these ICE raids sowed among undocumented people and immigrant communities, these raids are not unusual, especially not under the Obama administration. Politico cites, “Similar efforts in March 2015, August 2013, April 2012 and September and June 2011 yielded 12,119 arrests.” To combat these raids, various officials, on state and city levels, have taken measures to ensure the safety of its residents. The promise of a sanctuary city that limits local entanglement with ICE and the national government to overturn undocumented residents becomes ever more necessary.

However, what has been confounding and appalling to see is various Asian American groups voicing their opposition to sanctuary cities. A group of Chinese Americans have banded in their local politics to testify against making Maryland a sanctuary state.  Their opposition represents a failure to recognize the multi-generational consequences of our nation’s history of prejudices. The fear that the Asian newcomers will steal jobs from the American public has persisted through racist discourse, but now, the targets of that discourse has shifted to mainly Latinx communities. The fear that undocumented people will undermine the hard work of other documented immigrants is based in a false meritocracy to “pull yourself up by the bootstraps.” This ideology both reinforces the aforementioned fear while simultaneously exploiting undocumented workers, excluding them from the mainstream economy. We are so unwilling to dismantle the fabrication of meritocracy because it suggests that people’s success have not been hard-earned. To uphold the divisive myth of the model minority, Asian Americans are tempted to to raise ourselves on a pedestal, focusing on our differences from other communities of color, instead of what binds us together. Unfortunately, our pedestal’s infrastructure is poorly built, a fragile undergird that is set to fall apart. And we must let it crumble because the sense of stability we get from our proximity to whiteness only grants us false security - from uplifting our own communities at the expense of others.

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We can use the parallels in our histories to center the present experiences of those communities targeted today. If you feel dismayed by politics because it sidelines your existence, then let’s bring a ferocity to this fight that no one can ignore. We must forsake the racial myths that have implicated us as submissive and docile. Barring ethnic groups and exploiting low wage workers is in not new, but we are now witness to the new iterations and implications of this violence. In solidarity, we can resist inhumanity: No Bans. No Walls.


 

Meet Britina.

Britina Cheng (New York, NY) is currently an Online Editorial Intern at New York Magazine. She studied English Literature and Film Theory and Criticism at SUNY Geneseo. During her time there, she worked as an Assistant Gallery Coordinator at the Lederer and Lockhart Galleries in Geneseo, NY. Her experience in the arts and media has created a medium to understanding race politics in a particular facet of representation, performance and artifice. She is particularly invested in the power of storytelling, visual and textual, as a means to explore different truths, creating pathways to understanding and relating to other people. Recently, she has been dabbling in cartooning and illustrating graphic novels, marrying texts and visuals as a way to analogize ideas that she sometimes can’t manage to articulate in words alone. She is interested in centering the narratives of women of color by women of color.

Instagram: @peachlikeabruise