(Warning: this article is not my usual lighter style, due to it’s serious nature, but as always, it is what is on my heart.)
I, too, am enraged by the attack on our Capitol on January 6, 2021. My country is under attack! Democracy in America is under attack! Americans are under attack … by… by… by Americans. Does that last one evoke an unbearable heaviness on your heart? Like you are underwater and just been propelled into the mesosphere simultaneously, struggling to breathe but not able because there IS NO AIR.
Focus, take a breath, Focus, have an open mind, Focus, let your heart lead. I’m going to say something that you may not realize. This has often been a part of the American experience for many “Americans”, especially if you were, and are, what we now simply label a Person of Color, as the term encompasses so many in the melting pot that is the United States of America.
Just saw a Facebook Post shared by my friend Jennifer Jackson of a Tweet by Natasha S. Alford on that same day. “When Black Americans talk about generational trauma and terror, this is what we mean. That energy you see at the Capitol is the same energy that burned down Black towns, lynched black citizens, and ensured slavery, Jim Crow and segregation was encoded into American life.” Normally, I do not reference my friends by their ethnicity, however, I feel it is relevant for you to know that like the journalist Ms Alford, my friend Jennifer is also African American.
I cannot personally speak to the African American experience and will never truly know it. BUT I can acknowledge it, learn from it, do my best to understand it and teach to it to my children and someday my grandchildren. We can not, nor should we ever say, “That is in the past” and not learn from the lesson that every experience has to teach.
I AM Chinese American. Covid-19 has reenergized a, never sleeping, ugliness that had, until recently, played coy and mostly lurked in the shadows. The last four years has brought forth an onslaught of hate toward Asians in America. So first, let me say there are many instances across the Asian-American experience. The reference to Asian-Americans, like when we reference African-Americans, refers to a group of people from a continent, not singling out each country within the continent. To be truthful, the past few days has taken a mental toll on me, and thinking about the following historical events is literally like forcing open a wound that is trying to heal, so I can only briefly touch on history, but this part of history is not commonly found in the history curriculum of America. So, rather than share personal experiences of late, let’s look back at history for a bit.
I will specifically speak to the Chinese experience though. An experience that relates to who I am. Do you know where the phrase, “… hasn’t got a Chinaman’s chance.” originated? In the 1850’s the murder of a Chinese miner by a white man was overturned in People V. Hall where the Supreme Court expanded the definition of “black person” to include “all races other than the Caucasian” therefore throwing out evidence provided by testimony of a Chinese person. So murder of Chinese by those of European descent was known to not carry punishment by law and therefore condoned. Additionally, in the 1860’s, when the Transcontinental Railroad was being built, Chinese men were lowered over cliffs in baskets with explosives to set. Once set, their lives depended on those above, most often not only Chinese workers, to pull them back up in time. They were often considered expendable and many didn’t survive the task. In my Asian American Studies class in college, my white professor said, and it has always haunted me, that sometimes crucial seconds passed before the basket was pulled, almost as if it were a game.
Illegal Immigration, did you know that it wasn’t a thing until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882? Prior to that, there were no laws banning immigration to America. The Chinese Exclusion Act is the first and only legislation specifically making immigration to the United States illegal to an entire ethnicity. But it was repealed in 1943 to allow 105 (no comma needed) Chinese annually. Barriers to immigration were finally removed in 1965 with amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Many would argue that the advancement of civil rights in the 1960s have changed all that. Perspective… what ethnicity drives your experience?
On June 19, 1982, a Chinese American man named Vincent Chin went with friends to a strip club in Detroit to celebrate his upcoming wedding. That night, two white men who apparently thought Chin was Japanese, beat him to death. At the killers’ trial, the men each received a $3,000 fine and zero prison time. The light sentencing sparked national outrage and fueled a movement for pan-Asian American rights. (History.com How the 1982 Murder of Vincent Chin Ignited a Push for Asian American Rights, Becky Little, May 5, 2020)
The men that murdered Chin were autoworkers that blamed Japanese car manufacturers for the decline of the American Auto Industry at the time.
Just since the beginning of the pandemic, via social media, you can find thousands of instances of violence against Asian Americans. These vary from unprovoked racial slurs, which I have experienced, to unwarranted physical attacks of varying degree. These attacks increase in frequency with each referral of Covid-19 as the “China Virus” or other derogatory references attaching the virus to the Chinese.
I’ve often said, and you witnessed it on January 6th, that when those in positions of great power and authority speak, their words have influence. Therefore, they bear responsibility for what they say.
I love my country, the United States of America, passionately so. I am American, proudly so. Like 97% of Americans, we or our ancestors arrived on this continent from another country. We, along with Native Americans, are all Americans. Together we have built America and it is home to ALL of us! May God bless America…