On Feb 1, 10 days into the Trump presidency, a video entitled “Asian Americans offer advice to U.S. President Donald Trump” was posted on YouTube by the Asia Society, an organization describing itself as “the leading global and Pan-Asian organization working to strengthen relationships and promote understanding among the people, leaders, and institutions of the United States and Asia.”
In this video, 27 participants of various Asian ethnicities share their advice to Trump and his administration. I watched this video out of curiosity, after having seen it on Twitter, hoping that these chosen representatives of our community would offer something insightful.
Rather predictably, I was disappointed and embarrassed by what I saw. I heard many voices, one after another, proclaim that America was “founded on diversity,” when in reality it was founded on slavery and genocide by a bunch of white people.
The tone the video set was passive, idealistic and almost verged on begging at some points, as one participant said, and I quote, “I wish you the best, and I hope you’ll think of people like me.”
As if Trump, who has consistently worked against the rights of marginalized communities since taking office, and who ran on a platform of racism, sexism and xenophobia perpetuated by the fears of the “white working class,” would suddenly change his course simply because of our pleas. As if asking politely and sucking up ever got us anything. (Note: it hasn’t. Our rights have been hard-earned.)
I said I was predictably disappointed because this complacency, this inaction, is not a new look for the Asian-American community.
We are stereotyped as the “silent minority” and the “model minority” — the ones who don’t complain, who work hard, and who have found success unlike those “other minorities.”
The saddest thing is that most Americans, including many in the Asian-American community, have come to believe it. The last big protests by Asian- Americans extensively covered in the media were the misguided and ultimately detrimental Peter Liang protests in early 2016.
In 2014, Chinese-American police officer Peter Liang shot and killed unarmed black man Akai Gurley, and was charged with manslaughter for discharging his weapon and failing to offer CPR. Many in the Chinese-American community felt that Liang was a “scapegoat,” saying he was charged unfairly when no white police officers have been charged in the past. Their passion was felt nationwide in the 15,000 people who showed up to protest, many of them claiming they had been “awakened.” This grand awakening came at the expense of black people because the protesters were advocating against justice — they wanted Liang to be awarded the same privilege as white police officers, instead of demanding that white police officers get the jail time they deserved.
The Liang protests and our “silent” stereotype make it appear as though we don’t protest much, and when we do, it’s for the wrong reasons. The media called the Liang protests the “biggest and most impactful Asian-American protests in history,” but as it turns out, they were completely wrong.
We are not as silent as they say we are, and I myself didn’t realize our extensive history of protesting until I began to research it online. Jennifer Fang, the main blogger at Reappropriate, wrote a piece titled “No, Pro-Liang Protests Were Not the Largest or Most Impactful Asian American Protest Movements Ever.” In it, she recalled protests after the beating of Peter Yew by police after a routine traffic stop (1975), protests against the hate crime leading to the death of Vincent Chin (1982), protests against the Delano grape strike by Filipino-American table grape growers that led to raised wages (1965), and many others (go read the article!).
So we are not as silent as many might believe, but I do think we need to better educate our communities, reject these pervasive myths, and invest in movements that work towards a common goal of liberation of all marginalized communities.
For example, since I have begun to understand, 1) how much black people face on a daily basis, 2) how much they contribute to America and its culture despite the oppression they face, 3) how the Civil Rights Movement and all the activism work black people have done has positively affected us, and 4) how Asian-Americans contribute to the oppression of black people by upholding the “model minority myth,” I have focused much of my efforts on eradicating anti-blackness from the Asian-American community. As the “Asians 4 Black Lives” group says on their website, “We understand that our liberation depends on the liberation of Black people.”
But others may find something else they’re passionate about and want to focus on, and that’s cool too. In any area, much of the work is in educating yourself and others, realizing we are people of color and that we and other communities of color share a common goal, ditching the “model minority myth,” and understanding that our stereotypes were made to directly contrast with stereotypes of other communities of color for a reason.
In addition to education, it also means that we need to show up to the fight, as we have done for generations, but that the media conveniently ignores.
There are many causes we should invest in: the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, Black Lives Matter, against the Muslim ban/Muslim registry and in general, resisting fascism.
If we want to be seen, and if we don’t want to let the Peter Liang protests or sad idealistic videos by the Asia Society dominate our narrative, then at some point we need to make our presence known.
We need to be so big that they can’t ignore us. Remember the work our ancestors have done. Remember the work other communities of color have done for us. Remember that Asians mixed with other races exist and that they belong, too. Internalize these things, and then resist.
Sara Onitsuka, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at SOnitsuka18@wooster.edu.