A man threw punches and kicks at a pet owner and her dog as they were walking in L.A. Teenage girls hurled racial slurs and physically harassed a 51-year-old woman in the Bronx. An Instagram page threatened a mass shooting in New York’s Chinatown and claimed to kill any Asian person on sight. The President of the U.S. called COVID-19 the “Chinese Virus.”
As Asian-Americans, we are often seen as the “model minority,” immigrants in the U.S. who have broken the socioeconomic barriers held traditionally by white Americans. However, in a disappointing—and frankly embarrassing—turn of events, former presidential candidate Andrew Yang seems to think that we need to be more American than others to prove an age old myth that those in power use to oppress people of color.
In a Washington Post op-ed, Yang argued that Asian-Americans need to step up their Americanisms in order to help out those who might not be so receiving of such people during this pandemic. Some of the things Yang called for was wearing red, white and blue and for us to remember the history of the Japanese Americans who were in internment camps during World War II.
Yang’s statements on patriotism are disingenuous to those Asian-Americans who have served in uniform since coming to the United States. Asian-Americans in the military are some of the most decorated and highest achieving members in American history.
The all Japanese and segregated 442nd Regimental Combat Team of WWII is still the most decorated unit in all of American history, with more than 18,000 awards in less than two years, including 9,486 Purple Hearts and 4,000 Bronze Star Medals. The unit was also awarded eight Presidential Unit Citations, of which five were earned in one month. Twenty-one of its members were awarded Medals of Honor, including the late Senator Daniel Inoyue.
It is not a question of whether we are willing to show our “American-ness.” Rather, it is whether we continue to accept racist and xenophobic ideals that have traced as far back as the late 1800s.
Due to the depression of 1876, anti-Chinese legislation and violence became so strong that it led to Congress’ approval of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which is the only law in the history of the U.S. that has prevented immigration and naturalization due to race. The law was not repealed until 1943, when there was a shortage of manpower for the draft during World War II. Over 40% of the Chinese men who served during the war were actually not U.S. citizens, but served honorably nonetheless.
After the exclusion act came a succession of other racial injustices.
Chinese students in San Francisco were denied the right to attend public schools. The Gentlemen’s Agreement regulated and restricted immigration from Japan. Exclusionists labeled the influx of South Asian Indian immigrants as the “Tide of the Turbans” or the “Hindoo Invasion.” Anti-miscegenation laws prevented Filipino migrant workers from engaging in interracial relationships or interactions.
Casual/conversational racism against Asian-Americans is also widely accepted not only in America but throughout the world. The tropes of “Asians can’t drive,” “Asian women are here to serve you” and the many ways of trying to imitate our thick accents seem to be never-ending.
“You can be racist to Asians. That’s what we’re finding out,” said “comedian” Shane Gillis on his not-so-secret podcast. Gillis was later fired from SNL for these comments, which at the time included newcomer Bowen Yang as a co-writer on the show.
In a country that is commonly described as a diverse melting pot, it almost seems like Gillis has never met an Asian-American person in his life. The shared community that immigrants have in this country is a cornerstone principle of the American identity. But ironically, promoting a sense of community is the exact opposite of what the U.S. is known for.
As American sociologist Robin Murphy Williams, Jr. wrote in his book,“American Society,” one of the most defining aspects of American culture is its distinctive individualism, or focus on the rights and concerns of each person.
Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia are among several countries considered to have collectivist norms and stress the importance of the community—even more reason to emphasize the error of Yang’s logic.
The only aspect about America that is truly united is its effort to discriminate towards non whites. Based on recent events and this country’s long history of racial aggression, it does not look like the discrimination is going away any time soon. Despite the hardships faced, our identities as Asian-Americans are not subject to submission. American patriotism should not have more priority than our cultural stereotypes, nor should we have to choose between the two.
“We should show without a shadow of a doubt that we are Americans who will do our part for our country in this time of need,” said Yang.
We should show without a shadow of a doubt that we are Asian-Americans who will do our part for our country in this time of need.