As we can see from this chapter, Asian American experiences are diverse and have long histories in the United States. The relationship between the U.S. and Asia have been influenced by race relations in the United States such as within immigration, labor, and war. One of the most perplexing conundrums facing Asian Americans is the myth of them being “perpetual foreigners” when in reality their collective history is long. This idea of perpetual foreigners contributes to the outcasting, scapegoating, and fear-based attacks that continue to impact the community and has for centuries. When the histories of Asian Americans are known, this serves as resistance to the forgotten struggles that are masked by model minority myths. To understand Asian American experiences is to recognize the U.S. presence in Asia, the panethnic identity used to promote collective power, the long and still-existing struggles surrounding who is a citizen, and confront the ways Asian Americans must contend with the sub-oppression inflicted towards Pacific Islanders. This chapter not only sheds light on the many stories and perspectives from Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), but it also contributes to healing wounds that counter the violent and painful past.
- Panethnic is when people of various ethnicities are grouped together, largely for political reasons. A panethnic identity for Asian Americans came out of struggles for power and resources such as resisting racial oppression
- Orientalism, as described by Edward Said (1978), is a “Western style of dominating, restructuring, and having authority” over Asia. Since European identity was based on how it contrasted from “the Other,” Orientalist ideas framed the West as “masculine, conquering” in opposition of the East as “feminized” and “ripe for conquest.” Orientalism was rooted in the “impulse to dominate, possess” and it was about setting Europeans apart as a people who are not only different, but superior to Asia.
- Yellow Peril is an extension of Orientalism, framing Asians and Asian nations as economical, political, sexual, or moral threats to the West, or European and American nations. An example of yellow peril is white anxiety around Asian immigrant laborers replacing white workers. Racist rhetoric related to yellow peril comes out when the U.S. is at war, during economic crisis, or when Asians/Asian Americans are the target of a perceived threat, such as the rise of anti-Asian hate upon news of the COVID-19 outbreak.
- “Model Minority” Myth is a racialized stereotype of Asians/Asian Americans as culturally or biologically smarter, economically well-off, successful, obedient, and docile. These deceptively “positive” generalizations of Asian Americans as “model minority” help to reinforce imagined social trends while marginalizing Asian Americans who don’t meet this perception. The myth also casts Asian Americans as subservient and still, “a foreigner.” The model minority myth functions as a way to divide Asian Americans from other oppressed communities of color, helping to push a narrative that the U.S. is a meritocracy and colorblind. It also helps to denigrate challenges to systemic racism and minimizes demands for social change and according to Robert G Lee, the “model minority had less to do with the actual success of Asian Americans than with the perceived failure—or worse, refusal—of African Americans to assimilate” (2010, p. 256).
- Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 is one of the first immigration acts in the U.S. that excluded people based on race. It was one of the first of other acts that excluded Asian immigrants. This is in part due to fear that Asians were taking jobs away from white laborers and also connected to Yellow Peril, fears that Asians were taking over not just economically but also morally, and more.
- The 1965 Immigration Act opened up immigration after restrictions especially against African and Asian groups. The act prioritized certain classes of laborers (i.e. “high-skilled”/high demand) and preferences family who were already in the U.S.
- Coolies are often attributed to Chinese and Indian laborers especially in Latin America/the Caribbean, but in particular lower wage laborers.
- "White Man’s Burden" is the title of a poem by British writer, Rudyard Kipling who purported the west’s moral obligation to “uplift” the “savage” “little brown brothers,” or Filipinos. He wrote the poem at the start of the Philippine-American War, and this ideology justified American imperialism in the Philippines, the phrase and poem becoming “a euphemism for Western imperialism.”
- “No-no Boys” is the nickname given to the approximately 12,000 Japanese American men who answered “no” to two questions in the loyalty questionnaire handed to them while incarcerated during World War II. The questions asked if the men would serve in the U.S. armed forces on combat duty and if they would swear unqualified allegiance to the U.S.A. and forswear allegiance to the Japanese emperor or any other foreign government. The men who answered “no” did no because they questioned the U.S. government’s motives and found that the loyalty questionnaire added insult to injury. The “no-no boys” were sent to Tule Lake Segregation Center as punishment, a camp that was turned into “a maximum security center with additional barbed wire, increased guards and tanks, and an eight-foot-high double ‘man-proof’ fence.” No-no boys also met backlash from fellow Japanese Americans, like the leaders of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) who criticized them as draft dodgers and dishonorable.
- Refugee is used to describe people who often have no choice but to flee their homeland due to war or in order to escape dire political situations. Refugees differ from immigrants in that they’re often unable to make a plan of departure and may not bring as many resources with them, including material wealth. Refugees may also experience being separated from family members during or before their journey to a place of sanctuary.
- Pacific Islanders are a vast group of people from islands in the Pacific Ocean. The Office of Management and Budget states, “A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands. In addition to Native Hawaiians, Guamanians, and Samoans, this category would include the following Pacific Islander groups reported in the 1990 census: Carolinian, Fijian, Kosraean, Melanesian, Micronesian, Northern Mariana Islander, Palauan, Papua New Guinean, Ponapean (Pohnpean), Polynesian, Solomon Islander, Tahitian, Tarawa Islander, Tokelauan, Tongan, Trukese (Chuukese), and Yapese” (OMB, 1997 in Wright and Balutki, 2013, p.97).
- Settler Colonialism is when people settle in lands in which they are not indigenous and create institutions, enact policies, and build settlements that displace and erase indigenous people and cultures. This is done for the benefit of the settlers and settler communities.
Check Your Understanding
- Define and compare “yellow peril” and “model minority” myth and how they both work to racialize Asian Americans.
- Considering immigration laws and histories, describe Asian immigration to the United States.
- Summarize 2-3 examples of how Japanese Americans resisted and/or persevered mass incarceration during World War II.
- Explain the perceived stereotypes about Pacific Islanders and counter with the way Pacific Islanders express who they are themselves
- Think about your racial/ethnic group(s) or about yourself as an individual. Part I: Has there ever been a time when you were seen as a "model"? Or on the other side, have you been seen as "non-model"? What kind of privileges/benefits came with being "model"? What kinds of disadvantages came with being "non-model"? Part II: What are the differences with being seen as model/non-model as a group vs. as an individual? How might this relate to being seen as "model minority" as an Asian American stereotype, including the model minority sub-section of this chapter and undocumented Asian American students sub-section? Write at least a paragraph for Part I and write at least a paragraph for Part II.
- Studying AAPI history is a chance for recollecting forgotten memories. Memories of war, life in homelands that older generations hold but younger generations don't know, histories that are clouded by colonialism and other structural violence. What are some memories that your family holds and shares? What are some things you want to ask about or know a little about but want to know more? What are some memories that you carry that you want your family to know? What are some things you've studied that you want your family to know you've learned?
- Create a T-chart (on Canvas discussion, Google Slide, Google Jamboard, or any other online learning resources)
- On one side, brainstorm when it might be useful for Asian Americans to use a panethnic label. You may pull evidence from this chapter and examples from your own experiences, observations, or what you've seen on social media. For example, a great historical instance of when organizing under a panethnic label was useful was the justice for Vincent Chin campaign. This was a time when Asian Americans organized under a panethnic identity since they could be mistaken for a different Asian ethnicity, as Chin was. This made sense since anti-Asian violence often conflated all Asians as one racialized group, with anti-Asians not caring to distinguish between ethnicities or nationalities. Or, perhaps when Asian American students went on strike for Ethnic Studies and Asian American Studies at SF state and UC Berkeley.
- On the other side of the T chart, brainstorm when it might be useful for Asian Americans to use an ethnic-specific label. For example, when campaigning to end deportations of formerly incarcerated Cambodian Americans, it may be more useful to point out the unique experiences of Cambodian Americans as refugees of a war and genocide in Cambodia as it relates to their struggle for justice. Or, advocating for Ethnic Studies classes that focus specifically on Pacific Islanders, so that they aren’t marginalized under the larger Asian American Pacific Islander banner in some programs and classes. Examples might even include smaller scale instances, such as when Asian Americans share their ethnic background, it might make more sense for some to identify as Korean American, for example, pointing to their specific heritage, language, culture, family dynamic, and food.
- Once the chart is complete, we will debrief on the comparisons and why it’s important to recognize how Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders may go back and forth between utilizing a panethnic identity and ethnic/nationality specific identity, depending on the context.
Video Reflection: Crazy Rich Asians
Watch the video Crazy Rich Asians (2018) and then consider the questions that follow. Here is the trailer from the blockbuster hit.
- Why do you think there is such a disconnect between numbers of Asian Americans in poverty and funding for Asian community organizations?
- What would be the unique challenges of obtaining survey data in Asian communities that might not pose the same challenges in other minority communities? How would you suggest addressing these sampling challenges?
- In what ways is the model minority an ideology to justify inequality and racism?
- Do you think dark-skinned Asian Americans might be subjected to more prejudice and discrimination than light-skinned Asian Americans?