“Now more than ever, as Asian Americans, we must wake up. We must hoot and holler, bang on our drums, jump on cars, flail our arms around, pounce at any opportunity to scream, just so that others can pay attention to us. We must walk with our black brothers and sisters, ensuring that Black Lives Matter. We must stand up for our Muslim neighbors who are attacked. We must sit with our Hispanic friends, those whose lives are about to change. We must hug our LGBTQ community and let them know that they are loved. Because continuing to remain idle leads to genocide. – David Yi”
On Facebook, my daughter, who is half-Asian, expressed her disappointment and concerns about the results of the election and the impacts that will have on women, Muslims, LGBT+, Latinos, and people of color. My Caucasian husband’s family member, (for the sake of preserving anonymity, I shall call her as “Shelly”) exploded in comments. Shelly told my daughter you’re an Asian, Asians are not a threat to this country so in essence, she should shut up and be quiet. She should suck it up and move on. My daughter stayed quiet, not wanting to engage in a word war with Shelly. I on the other hand was incensed by Shelly’s idea that Asians have to be okay with the discrimination of other minorities because we have not been the prime target (yet). According to this logic, Asians would have to be perfectly fine with the holocaust, or Rwanda genocide. By her thinking, we Asians should stay quiet, look out for our own skin and the hell with anyone else who is different.
If you wonder what the fallout is from the election as far as relationships are concerned, here is my answer. The friends you unfriended are the ones you’ve long suspected of leaning toward bigotry. The family member who offended you with his or her view of the world has always been a xenophobe at heart. It’s just that the disdain and mistrust they have felt toward the “others” were concealed by a layer of thin civility because society does not accept bigots and racists. Today, society has largely accepted that everyone is to be treated as equals. Which is why all of us are frantic with worries that the slow and hard earned progress we have made in this country will become undone within the next four years. We all know that the good side of humanity has to be unearthed with labor, blood and sweat while the evil side can sprout like prolific weeds and has the staying power of cheap plastic flowers.
All of my twenty years of marriage, I of course have suspected that a few of my Caucasian American husband’s family have never been overly happy with him marrying an Asian immigrant. None of Shelly’s rants to my daughter and later to me in a message, came to me as a shock. I had sat through dinners, have in fact heard rants about Jews and the N- word being uttered in their small Missouri town. I had quietly witnessed to the big “news” in town, when a phone chain was fired off because someone spotted two black men passing through the town stop by at the gas station. The whole town held their breath and only let it out when nothing happened. The men put gas in their car, never realizing the stir of this town, and drove on.
Asians are not a threat, Shelly, my white relative-in-law said. A threat to what? To American values and principles? To their perceived entitlement? To national security? To all of the above or none of the above? Is it because I had been meek at their tables, in their houses, silent as a mouse pretending that I belong? Is it her perception that we aren’t a threat because we aren’t on the news, waving banners demanding Asian rights? Because we stay in our corners and work harder to prove that we are worth keeping, even when oppression comes barreling down on our heads? You all are fine, she said. I could almost hear the unspoken words at the end. For now. As long as you remember your place.
Has she forgotten that not too long ago, the Japanese Americans were forced into the internment camps? History has shown that the minute something stirs, we too have been disregarded, and treated as outsiders, or an outside threat. She is not alone in this convenient lapse of memory. There are many Asian Americans including my fellow Burmese Americans who are just as willfully ignorant of this past. They think they cannot be touched because they have worked hard, made a success out of their lives, and think they are above being discriminated. For the newly arrived Asian American immigrants, perhaps discrimination is nothing new. It’s something we have always endured, something we’ve learned not to make a fuss about. Buckle down and try harder to belong is what I’ve always thought of. Dress nicer, speak clearer, send your kids to Ivy League schools and I too will be absolved of my crime of being an immigrant. I realize now that that is the small minded bury-our-heads-in-the-sand thinking. Just today, I’ve read news about Steve Bannon expressing his dismay over Silicon Valley having too many Asian executives. It appears we have become too successful. It appears we are risked being seen. “Economy is not everything,” he said, dismissing what “American dreams” have always been about: setting goals, working hard, overcoming class, racial, language, cultural or economic barriers and achieving whatever any little girl or boy of any color has dreamed of achieving.
History, on the other hand, is everything. It has always had its fair share of people who want to oppress the small and the powerless. It has always had dangerous leaders who appeal to the majority in the name of “nativism” and “nationalism” to rule over or eliminate the minorities. Today in America, 6.1 million people voted for this idea that white majority must oppress and suppress any one different than them regards to race, color, religion or sexual preference. Already, I am hearing disheartening idea of Muslim registry being pushed by Trump’s advisor, Kris Kobach, who in fact cited Japanese internment camps as a lawful precedent. We have seen the roads that have led when one race claims superior rights over others above all else. If we don’t pay attention to history, and go along with the tide that takes us to the dark waters, the horrors will repeat again.
I call on all Americans who are dismayed by the results of the election to take part in whatever ways to keep this place a safe place for everyone. Please go out and give your time or money to the organizations that will make sure this country move toward equality and justice, and not the opposite. Today, if you see someone who looks, sounds, dress different than you, give a smile, say hello. Sit with an immigrant, and ask his/her story. Ask what their favorite meals are, what hobbies they like, and get to know their stories. Learn from my experience with Shelly who thinks Asians are okay because she gets to know Asians, while she has never known any other race or religion that she is opposed to or fearful of. Maybe had she known other races, she will say, they are okay too. That we are all on the same team, that we are all okay, regardless of our race, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual preferences.