Asian Americans — Assault on the Excluded Minority

There is much to say about the discrimination and bias against Asian Americans and it didn’t start with COVID-19. From the end of the 1800s and well into the mid-1900s, it was led by the United States Government and permeated through our society. It’s time to set the record straight, stand up, and be counted while there is a spotlight on the treatment of the Asian American community.

While I’ve written about this for decades, there is so much mis-information about the Asian American community. There are three considerations to understanding the assault on Asian Americans which has been going on in America for two centuries.

First, there is a major disconnect with this community that is unlike any other minority group. At approximately 5.6%of the population, this truly is a racial minority group in America. This is less than half the population percentage of African Americans. Only Native Americans have a smaller population. I make this point because when you think of minorities, it seems that not all minorities are treated equally.

This disconnect starts with the lack of understanding between who are Asians in America and Asian Americans. Let me be clear. Asians in America are those from Asian countries who are sent to the United States to go to school and often move to the United States under work visas in highly compensated positions across a spectrum of industries. Generally, they are highly educated, best of the best if you will, and wealthy. From the view of many Asian countries, they are the privileged class where the disparity is great. Further, and this has played in part to the issues we face today; most of the Asian countries were (and some still are) male dominated societies.

On the flip side — and literally 180 degrees different are Asian Americans. Asian Americans as a consolidated group are generally in the lower economic spectrum, many grew up in homes where English is a second language, and most are generally under the medium educational level of white or black counterparts. Yet, for decades; in this country, Asian Americans have been given the moniker, the “model minority” well into the 1980s to the present. This term, in and of itself, shows how Asians in America and Asian Americans are somehow piled into one community.

The next point that is incredibly important is that the term Asian American does not mean anyone’s heritage from the Asian continent. Before the Vietnam era, Asian Americans considered themselves similarly to the style that Europeans used in the 1800s. Then, we had Italian Americans, French Americans, German Americans, etc. Similarly, there were Korean Americans, Japanese Americans, and Chinese Americans. Because of the way that people of Asian descent were treated by this government, many immigrants would form a micro-community in large cities rather than mainstream and over time, those communities became known as J-Town, K-Town and China Town. Many large cities still have these community microcosms and in some cases are more like a tourist destination than an integrated community. Then, in the post-Vietnam era; mostly because Asian Americans were referred and categorized as “yellow” or oriental by the government, the term Asian Americans came about. It was to shift from a conscious and an unconscious bias against Asian Americans to one that would hopefully bring about more inclusion. To be clear, food and rugs can be Oriental — people are not. Further, consider that in more modern times, it’s not the whole of the Asian continent that are Asian Americans. For example, I can’t think of anyone who would consider or refer to those from Russia or Saudi Arabia as Asian.

You have to understand that this is one of the most significant issues in understanding the turmoil that Asian Americans live in. Next, you have to understand the history of America and the Asian continent. In WWII, it was the Japanese who bombed Pearl Harbor and that may have been the beginning of the view of Americans of the Asian people. In the mid-1940s, the United States put hundreds of thousands of Japanese American citizens — yes American citizens in camps after the war. That takes us into the 1950s when America became involved in the Korean War and how American military lost their lives in support of a people they didn’t understand fighting in a war so far away from home. Move further into the 1970s when America again was part of the Vietnam Conflict in a war that tore apart the United States. By this time, modern television showed images that brought the war into living rooms and and the feelings about Asian people along with it. It was about this time that several disparaging terms associated with Asian Americans became common place.

It was past these two major conflicts in Asia that a number of children immigrated to the United States through adoption of orphans from Korea and Vietnam. In fact, some studies reflect that about 10% of all Asian Americans with Korean heritage were in fact, of or from being adopted into the country since the late 1950s. Generally, these children were raised in white homes absent of their native heritage. In my case, for example, I didn’t fit into the Asian community because there wasn’t one and I didn’t fit in the white community because growing up in the 1960s in America, as an Asian American was painful.

Like the progression of higher education in America due to the GI Bill, the growth of home ownership with VA Loans; a significant number of military members assigned to the Pacific Rim married local citizens who immigration from the Philippines, Thailand, Korea, and Japan. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of children being adopted into the United States, a significant number of immigrants came to America as spouses of our military members.

Consider this history and then add to the mix, the economic history of how Japan started out as a country who exported what many called “junk” products and evolved into an economic powerhouse that exported high quality products. Also, consider how America looked at “made in China” products in the 1980s and 1990s. It was primarily trinkets and poorly made products and now the second most powerful economy in the world. This viewpoint of the transition of products from Asian countries over time adds to the unconscious bias that some have toward Asian Americans.

Finally, consider that some colleges and universities started reverse admissions in California to reduce the numbers of Asian students — which in fairness, were mostly Asians in America and not Asian Americans. I’m not a fan of any kind of quota or affirmative action for any group of people because I believe the negatives over time out-weigh the intent of such programs. This is one such example.

If you still have questions about the plight of Asian Americans in this country — consider how the laws have encouraged the discrimination of Asian Americans. In 1924, the Asian Exclusion Act restricted those of Asian descent to even immigrate to the United States. Bring us your huddle masses — unless you are from Asia! It wasn’t until 1943 when the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed. It wasn’t until the early 1950s that immigrants from Japan, Korea and others were eligible for citizenship! How did that impact the views of other citizens? When the Civil Rights Act came into law in 1964, it had to be amended in 1965 to specifically address Asian American’s rights as Americans. Let’s be clear, Asian Americans were excluded from this significant legislation that was for civil rights of all citizens; and yet apparently not all. Instead of being called the model minority, Asian Americans should be called the absent minority or the invisible minority or the excluded minority.

When you put all this into a shaker and mix it up, the result is a real history, that I’ve barely touched on and yet, helps to illustrate the perceptions and beliefs toward Asian Americans. Scholars smarter than me have writings that far better share the story of the Asian American experience. Asian Americans have faced incredible challenge unlike that of others and is too often the brunt of unconscious bias and outward hatred. I’ve seen it first-hand throughout my childhood, adulthood and into the 21st Century.

Let’s quickly examine my own history. I grew up in America as a first-generation Asian American in the 1960–1980s. I was physically assaulted nearly every day in school. I was sexually assaulted. I sustained burns over 60% of my body because of my race in the 1980s. I’ve been discriminated in stores and by others for decades to include as recently as 2020 where I live. Before you poo poo on my view of this world — walk just 20 feet in my shoes or the shoes of many Asian Americans in this nation who have experienced similar scenarios and worse.

When I heard the most senior leaders of the country in both the Executive and Legislative branches of government make comments regarding the assaults on Asian Americans recently due to the origins of COVID-19, I ask where they were for the past century? I further, question in earnest why two of the most senior leaders of our country say that the assaults on Asian Americans is an issue of women’s rights. I’m sorry — when it was about Black Lives Matter, it wasn’t only female or male African American citizens — yet for Asian Americans, the senior elected officials view it as a woman’s issue? The other nuance that has been integrated by many members of Congress, especially among the “so called” progressives is that they use terms like “black and brown” communities. When were Asian Americans categorized together with any racial group other than African Americans? This is a slap toward Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Alaskan Natives. It’s wrong yet it has become the 2021 term of making anyone who isn’t an African American a “who cares” minority. I am not only appalled, I am outraged.

The bottom line is this. How we treat the citizens, all citizens, who make up the fabric of America is not a political issue, nor should it be. Yet, it seems to have permeated the political spectrum that creates divisiveness and further discrimination. We don’t need more laws — we need more compassion, more understanding, and acceptance of everyone who we call Americans. Make no mistake, I love my country. I served in public service for 35 years, 28 of those in the United States military. I sacrificed for this Nation and yet, I continue to wonder why many in this nation don’t see me as an equal citizen.

The bottom line is that Asian Americans are a vital thread of the American fabric just as are all who come from a different perspective than the one that you and I have. These threads create our America. Just as others have made notable and unique contributions, so have Asian Americans. We live next door to you. We may not all speak English well. We may not have the resources that others have. We may not have the education that the majority of Americans have. We love this country and we are a vital part of its citizenry — and if COVID19 helps bring a spotlight on this, well, I say good.

Unfortunately, the reality is that the spotlight will fade quickly and there will be token actions. For example, on March 26th, it was announced ON March 26th that it was #STOPASIANHATE Day. So, one day is enough to stop the violence, hate, and discrimination of nearly 6% of the population? No preparation, no actions — and for literally a half day or less by the time it was released at 1 pm. It is this kind of “inaction” and “pseudo action” that makes the seriousness of discrimination, hate, and violence toward Asian Americans a non-issue for our government and civic leaders.

More must be done…Now. Too many Asian Americans (yes, men and women) will continue to be assaulted, discriminated against, and killed. Too many Asian Americans have lost their life in silence to discrimination and bigotry. Too many Asian Americans face discrimination in the workplace, in society at large, and in their communities. May is Asian American Pacific Islander Month. Watch and see, unlike Black History Month which is in February of each year, there will be token, if any, observance of the Asian American community. You know it’s true.

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T Spike! Terwilliger

T Spike! Terwilliger

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Thought leader, Author, Veteran, Educator served 35 years in pubic service and host of the podcast Boy in the Trash Can https://www.csjin.net