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?
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?
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.
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?
Thanks Nancy for getting the ball rolling on this blog. You’ve captured my feelings very well as an Asian growing up in this country. This is the time for Asians to start speaking up, and to get rid of the stereotype of being quiet, obedient citizens. The place to start for all of us is to get more involved in the political process. For most first generation immigrants especially from China there is a general attitude to not get involved with politics other than talking about it, because no matter what you do nothing can be changed in your old country. If you are an Asian with green card, please get your citizenship and start voting ASAP. Mexicans are doing the same to vote against Trump.
You might have heard about the fight against SCA 5 in California https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Senate_Constitutional_Amendment_No.5. In the past mid-term election for state assembly, several republicans beat democrats in close races. I believe all of these races were tilted by Asians. In our district, the republican candidate Catherine Baker won by several hundred votes. We attended a Baker fund raiser organized by the Chinese community. It’s very likely that the several hundred people who attended that event would have been agnostic or democrat leaning without SCA5. But because of their involvement to stand up on an Asian issue the outcome of the election changed.
If you’ve read this far, I ask all of you reading this blog to think about this more during the coming election. Listen carefully to the issues of the candidates and go out to vote. Contribute money and time to ones your feel strongly about. We all can make a difference.
It is all about pursuing an ideology of the true spirit of America,which is well defined in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness……..”
With this spirit of pursuing our human rights of fair justice, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, this is how impossible stories get written.
It is with this spirit, the absorption of one’s identity in something larger — the nation that “out of many, we are truly one.” America is not interested in where you came from. This country is interested in who you are.
Prejudice and injustice is a part of every nation and every race, long rooted in human history. The early white American immigrants who came to this land were also fighting for their “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
For some of us including myself, either born here or naturalized to be the citizen of America, who never felt mistreatment nor discriminated during their professional career, take equality for granted and become complacent. On the other hand, I have also heard endless times about how our fellow Chinese citizens choose to surrender their rights when it comes to bullying, prejudice and injustice, due to weakness, shyness, and fear.
In Liang’s case how much is the resulting judgement against him related to his race? I am not an expert on racial analysis and therefore not able to make a judgement call on that. However, one thing is certain – many times “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” do not come free. It comes with a price.
So the event of 220 is a wake-up call. For many Chinese residents of America who have been used to or chooses to be silent, carrying on the true spirit of America to fight against prejudice and injustice and for “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” makes us proud to be AMERICAN.
正是由于有了这种追求人类的公平正义，自由和幸福的权利的精神，这片土地上的不可能的故事被写入她的历史。 正是有了这种精神，我们便超越了自我和自我民族的局限，使这个世界上出现了由多民族形成的一个民族 – 尊贵的美国人 。 他不在于你来自哪里，而在于你是谁。
在梁的案例里，他的行为是不应被定义为“罪行”， 因为他没有 犯罪的动机和愿望也没有打算要杀死另一个人，对他的判决结果与种族有多少关系？我不是种族分析方面的专家，因此无法给出一个主观正确的判断。然而，有一件事是肯定的 – 很多时候“人权，自由和追求幸福的权利”不是免费的。它的得来需要代价。