Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Asian-American: Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."

From: JAY CASPIAN KANG, "What a Fraternity Hazing Death Revealed About the Painful Search for an Asian-American Identity," New York Times

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“Asian-American’’ is a mostly meaningless term. Nobody grows up speaking
Asian-American, nobody sits down to Asian-American food with their Asian--
American parents and nobody goes on pilgrimages back to their motherland of
Asian-America. ... My Korean upbringing, I’ve found, has more in common with
that of the children of Jewish and West African immigrants than that of the Chinese
and Japanese in the United States — with whom I share only the anxiety that if one
of us is put up against the wall, the other will most likely be standing next to him.

Discrimination is what really binds Asian-Americans together. The early
scholars of Asian-American studies came out of the ‘‘Third World Liberation Front’’
of the late ’60s, which pushed against the Eurocentric bent of the academy. When
Asian-American-studies programs began spreading in California in the early ’70s,
their curriculums grew out of personal narratives of oppression, solidarity forged
through the exhumation of common hardships. ‘‘Roots: An Asian-American Reader,’’
one of the first textbooks offered to Asian-American-studies students at U.C.L.A.,
was published in 1971; the roots of the title referred not to some collective Asian
heritage but, the editors wrote, to the ‘‘ ‘roots’ of the issues facing Asians in

The project of defining Asian-American identity was largely limited to Ivy
League and West Coast universities until 1982, when Vincent Chin, who worked at
an automotive engineering firm in Detroit, was beaten to death by assailants who
blamed Japanese competition for the downturn in the American auto market. When
Chin’s killers were sentenced to probation and fined $3,000, protesters marched in
cities across the country, giving rise to a new Pan-Asian unity forged by the
realization that if Chin, the son of Chinese immigrants, could be killed because of
Japanese auto imports, the concept of an ‘‘Asian-American’’ identity had

‘‘His death was this great moment of realization,’’ Christine Choy, a Korean--
American filmmaker and former member of the Black Panther Party, told me. ‘‘It
galvanized a lot of people who said they can’t stand by anymore and let things go
without any sort of legal or political representation.’’

Chin’s death came at the beginning of a huge demographic shift on college
campuses. The children of the hundreds of thousands of Asian immigrants who
flooded into the country after the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of
1965 had grown up. Between 1976 and 2008, the number of Asian-Americans
enrolled in four-year colleges increased sixfold. Many of these young men and
women had graduated from the same magnet schools, attended the same churches,
studied together in the same test-prep classes, but their sense of Asian-ness had
never been explained to them, at least not in the codified language of the
multicultural academy.

They found themselves at the center of a national debate on affirmative action.
In the mid-’80s, students and professors began to accuse elite colleges like Brown,
Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, of using a quota system to limit
the number of Asian-American students. As colleges responded with denials, a
movement began on campuses to demand the creation of more Asian-American--
studies programs and Asian-American clubs, student organizations, social clubs and,
eventually, fraternities. The debate remains open and tense. In 2014, a group that
opposes affirmative action sued Harvard, accusing it of discriminating against
Asian-Americans in its admissions process. That suit, which is still unsettled,
inspired a coalition of 64 Asian-American groups to file a complaint against the
university the following year. Both cases received renewed attention this month
when the publication of a Department of Justice memorandum led to the disclosure
of the agency’s plans to investigate the 2015 complaint. ...

Asians are the loneliest Americans. The collective political consciousness of the
’80s has been replaced by the quiet, unaddressed isolation that comes with knowing
that you can be born in this country, excel in its schools and find a comfortable place
in its economy and still feel no stake in the national conversation. [JB emphasis]The current vision of solidarity among Asian-Americans is cartoonish and blurry and relegated to conversations at family picnics, in drunken exchanges over food that reminds everyone at the table of how their mom used to make it. Everything else is the
confusion of never knowing what side to choose because choosing our own side has
so rarely been an option. Asian pride is a laughable concept to most Americans.
Racist incidents pass without prompting any real outcry, and claims of racism are
quickly dismissed. A common past can be accessed only through dusty, dug-up
things: the murder of Vincent Chin . ...

According to OMB, “Asian” refers to a person having origins in any
of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian
subcontinent, including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan,
Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and

The Asian population includes people who indicated their race(s)
as “Asian” or reported entries such as “Asian Indian,” “Chinese,”
“Filipino,” “Korean,” “Japanese,” and “Vietnamese” or provided other
detailed Asian responses.

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