Asian Americans have still not achieved full equality in American life… they occupy unique and constantly shifting positions between black and white, foreign and American, privilege and poverty.
– Erika Lee, The Making of Asian America, 2015, 8
Erika Lee cites historian Ellen Wu as she explains how Asians have been, and to this day are, treated as “definitely not white” (7). Even the so called “good Asians” or “model minority” are not exempt from this discrimination. Below are some ways Erika Lee has revealed as part of today’s masked racism (6):
colorblind racism: assumes that race no longer exists and in doing so ignores the pervasive racial discrimination that still infects us today
cultural racism: supplants race with culture and judges people based on oversimplified perceptions of beliefs or behaviors, which are claimed to determine the group’s overall superiority or inferiority.
micro-aggressions: everyday insulting actions towards people of color
I learned the other day, from Joy Buolamwini, a panelist on MIT’s live webcast of Cornel West’s lecture, “Speaking Truth to Power,” that racism even takes place in the coding of our software, specifically in the making of AI recognition technologies. Just how deep do these malicious energies flow? I am grateful knowing that we have people like Joy critiquing and revolutionizing new technologies. I hope, that through my work, I can de-create harmful values and find respectful ways to revolutionize design that are – accessible, equitable, multiple, and – “definitely not white.”
The idea of Asia remained central to the invention of America, and European colonization on both sides of the Pacific Ocean led to the first migrations of Asians to the Americas.
– Erika Lee, The Making of Asian America, 4
The Spanish and British Empires, and later the United States Empire occupied and extracted people and resources from India, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, East and West Malaysia, Laos, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Timor, Brunei, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Cocos Islands, and China (5). One could say Asians were subject to the colonial forces of “yank and shove,” to then be exploited and eliminated.
Further movement of Asians to America was “pushed” by violence and social, political, and economic instability in their home countries, and “pulled” by dreams of education, freedom, and peace (4-5). Though I imagine it could be argued that the “yank and shove” still happens today.
Obscured by the broad definition of “Asian” and “Asian American” is a staggering diversity of peoples that represent twenty-four distinct groups… Both the diversity and the shared experiences of Asian Americans reveal the complex story of the making and remaking of Asian America. There is not one single story, but many.
– Erika Lee, The Making of Asian America, 3
Many stories, but few are told. In my history and social studies education, the only mentions of Asian Americans were of the gold rush and Japanese internment. Of course, my family’s and my own experience have added to that mix – and what vivid stories they are!