Tag Archives: AsianAmericanIdentity

Race, Religion, and Civil Rights: Asian Students on the West Coast, 1900-1968 (Asian American Studies Today)

Histories of civil rights movements in America generally place little or no emphasis on the activism of Asian Americans. Yet, as this fascinating new study reveals, there is a long and distinctive legacy of civil rights activism among foreign and American-born Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino students, who formed crucial alliances based on their shared religious affiliat514v-J0nPbL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ions and experiences of discrimination.

Stephanie Hinnershitz tells the story of the Asian American campus organizations that flourished on the West Coast from the 1900s through the 1960s. Using their faith to point out the hypocrisy of fellow American Protestants who supported segregation and discriminatory practices, the student activists in these groups also performed vital outreach to communities outside the university, from Californian farms to  Alaskan canneries. Highlighting the unique multiethnic composition of these groups, Race, Religion, and Civil Rights explores how the students’ interethnic activism weathered a variety of challenges, from the outbreak of war between Japan and China to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Drawing from a variety of archival sources to bring forth the authentic, passionate voices of the students, Race, Religion, and Civil Rights is a testament to the powerful ways they served to shape the social, political, and cultural direction of civil rights movements throughout the West Coast.

Jason Shen: What is life like for the Asian American man in 2015?

I didn’t really think much about how my own race/ethnicity affected my life until 2011, when I read the ludicriously long piece in New York Magazine. It was called Paper Tigers, with the subtitle: “What happens to all the Asian-American overachievers when the test-taking ends?” and it covered issues I had discussed occasionally with friends but rarely saw elsewhere.

Questions like how come Asians are rarely in leadership positions despite being “so smart”? Or is it possible to maintain traditional Asian values like being humble in a loud, show-off-to-get-ahead world? Or why the hell was dating so damn hard?

I thought Wesley Yang’s article was going to lead to a national conversation about these issues, given that Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom by Amy Chua had been all over the media for months. But it didn’t happen. It’s understandable in some respects because he admits that he is “in most respects devoid of Asian characteristics”. While born to Korean parents, he does not: speak Korean, believe in Asian values, date Korean women or have any Korean friends. Maybe this was all he wanted to say about being an Asian man.

And yet, there’s more to our story.

Asians are the fastest growing minority group in America, while in sheer number are far fewer than blacks or latinos. a far smaller minority group compared with blacks and latinos, but are also growing faster than either. We often get lumped into the same category as whites in tech diversity reports, but when it comes it executive leadership, Asians are 2.5x less likely to be in an executive role compared to whites.

I was having some conversations with an old friend of mine, who’s Chinese, and who has been grappling with these issues both at work (he’s a resident at a hospital in NYC) and in his dating life (where he’s single again after a 3 year relationship). He encouraged me to write more about this topic, and I decided that if I were to do that, I’d need a lot more than a few stories from my own life and from my friends.

So I’m collecting some data via a side project called The Asian American Man Survey.

Already, over 100 East, South, and Southeast Asian men living in the United States have taken the study, sharing their perspectives on how they’re treated compared to whites, and non-Asian minorities, how they feel their race affects their opportunities at work, and how it plays a role in who they date and who they settle down with.

If you’re are an Asian man living in America or you know some who might be interested in this, I’d love if you could share this study with them.

I’ll be closing results on November 30th and sharing results sometime in December.

Source: http://www.jasonshen.com/2015/what-is-life-like-asian-american-man-in-2015/

What is all this about? — on the subject of race

image

Recently, I found myself in a surprising role as the “media spokeswoman” for the Philadelphia 2/20 rally. You may ask how did I stumble into that role, well, I will save the reminiscing for another time. I certainly did not see it coming.

Before this, race was never something that I talked about publicly. In fact, the subject of race is something very personal to me. For example, although I am proud of my heritage I chose not to join any professional organizations with a “Chinese” in its title.   I feel strongly that, as an academic, I should be evaluated and grouped purely by the content of my ideas.  Having grown up in America, I do not remember encountering discrimination.

As a second generation immigrant I felt, and still feel, very comfortable with being yellow in America. It is only the recent events in the news that bothered me on a deep level. Bad things happen in America to all races, but recently they seem to be happening at an increasing frequency to Asian Americans.  There was the witch-hunt that led to the hasty arrest of Sherry Chen last year.  And then of Xiaoxing Xi right here in Philadelphia.  Now, we see this selective prosecution of Peter Liang.  Was I oblivious before, or is this anti-Asian sentiment really gathering steam?

image

So, after this 220 rally for Peter Liang, a group of dedicated volunteers in Philadelphia are riding the momentum to start an Asian civil rights movement. I am proud to say that I am part of this passionate group!  But before I start calling myself an activist, I have to figure out what this is all about.

Why are we doing this? Most second generation Chinese that I know do not seem to be bothered by the recent events.  Many of these ABCs, or American Born Chinese, are also doing very well, through their hard work they are working in stereotypical non-Asian fields such as lawyers, artists, and even politicians. So, this racial “discrimination”, if we may call it that, is it unique to fresh-off-the boat (FOB) Chinese immigrants?

But, Peter Liang was second generation!  Seems we can’t just wait for assimilation to be the solution. Even a second generation local kid gets treated this way. But how much of Liang’s unfair treatment was because of his skin color, and how much of it was because of his remnant fob-ness, his lack of assimilation? If he were an assertive, truly Americanized banana, would he have met the same fate?

image

At the press conference for the 220 rally I was asked the question “Do you think there was discrimination against Liang?” After hesitating, I said, “discrimination is a strong word. In Peter Liang’s case, there was unfair treatment. ”

In the following days, I lost quite a bit of sleep over this question. Was that the right way to answer it? My instinct was that in America people hate it when you play the race card. Or, more accurately, the white majority hate it when you play the race card. But we are playing the race card, why deny it? Yet, if Peter Liang were white, would I still think this outcome is unfair? Absolutely! But I probably wouldn’t feel strong enough to protest it on the streets.

image

So now, for this civil rights movement or whatever it should be called, our main goal is to get Asians to become more socially and politically engaged, to stop being the silent minority.  How should that be achieved? And what role does assimilation play in all of this?

Will political involvement and social engagement come naturally as immigrants find and adjust to their new identity in this adopted country? For me, a second generation schizophrenic Chinese American, identity is an especially illusive concept.  For everyone, finding identity in America must be a personal thing, something that needs to be taken at one’s own pace. If anything, I hope that my involvement in this whole cause can help others find their own voice.

If you have read this far, well, I would really like to hear how you feel. What do you think our efforts are all about?

image