Sunday, May 31, 2009

"Asian American experience is American experience"

To close out APA Heritage/History Month, I want to give you the text of a speech by Jennifer Hyashida, which she made to City Hall in NYC. I know Jennifer--she is an AMAZING scholar-activist. Her words are truly inspiration and the perfect note to end APA Heritage Month:

2009 APA Heritage Month Celebration

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

City Council Chambers, City Hall, New York City

Jennifer Hayashida

I am here as an educator at Hunter College, where I have been the Program Coordinator and Acting Director of Asian American Studies for the past two years. So, here’s the good news: about 30% of Hunter’s student body self-identifies as Asian or Asian American. And, the entire CUNY system serves more than 40,000 Asian American students – taken together, that’s as many students as there are enrolled at most large state schools, like one of the larger Penn State campuses, or UCLA.

But, it’s not just about the numbers: Asian American Studies is about more than just serving percentages of Asian American students – it is about how Asian American history is American history, Asian American experience is American experience.

To list just a fraction of what we do in Asian American Studies classes at Hunter, we study the relationships between first generation parents and their second-generation daughters and sons – in other words, we study the lives of you many of you in this room. We look at novels and poetry by Asian American writers; we look at how what happens in Pakistan impacts Asian American communities right here in New York City.

To sum it up, we look at events and experiences from U.S. history that are frequently overlooked or given just one page in the high school history textbook. These big gaps in what students learn lead to gaps in how they experience themselves as Asian Americans – just that term, “Asian American,” means that we insist that we can be both Asian AND American, that we do not have to choose between being foreign and being the invisible model minority. We began this struggle 40 years ago at San Francisco State College, and we still have a lot of work ahead of us.

Right now, I frequently have students who enter my classes with no idea about the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, WWII Internment of Japanese Americans, or hate crimes against Filipino men who wanted to marry white women in the 30s. Students don’t know that Chinese Exclusion is a precedent for the Patriot Act, that Japanese Internment predates post-9/11 detention and deportation of South Asians. Students don’t know that Depression-era anti-miscegenation legislation against Asian Americans is currently being examined as part of the legal debate around gay marriage.

Asian American history and experience – our “heritage” – is a cornerstone of American history and identity, but right now it is buried and inaccessible to most of the students, Asian American or not, of our city.

This knowledge is especially vital to our young people who are arriving as first- or 1.5- generation immigrants, who find themselves between cultures and identities, and who are struggling to find a place where they don’t have to pick between being foreigners or being invisible. Learning about their ancestors’ experiences gives them a foothold in America. And, just as importantly, learning about Asian American history can build bridges between Asian Americans and other communities of color.

It is our responsibility to advocate for the rights of our daughters, sons, nieces, nephews, cousins, and, for that matter, fathers and grandmothers, to be able to attend schools in this city and expect to learn about APA heritage, the heritage we are here today to celebrate. That way, we can celebrate the triumphs of people like Fred Korematsu, who ultimately received justice from the Supreme Court, fifty years after he was jailed for refusing to be interned. Or we can celebrate the 1965 Immigration Act, which eliminated the restrictions on immigration from Asia and made it possible for many of us to be here today. Most importantly, we can then truly celebrate the everyday accomplishments of the communities we live in today, because we will have a better understanding of where we come from, the obstacles we have triumphed over, and the work that is left before us.

[Tip of the hat to Angry Asian Man]

[REMEMBER: Today is the last day to post a comment during the month of May (which is APA heritage month) you will be automatically entered to win one of five books donated by Hachette Book Group. Read the May 14 post (scroll to the bottom) to see the details of the books and how to win]


Svaha said...

White Woman's Burden
There are a small number of blogs now, by women from the West in the process of getting married to, or already with, an Indian husband. Interestingly many of these blogs call out to themselves in "skin color" terms: "WHITE Indian housewife" or "GORI girl". Perhaps I am overly sensitive, but there seems to be a mild air of prejudiced condecension in the subtext of these blog titles.
'Look at me, I am white but I am trying to make it with a "colored" man in very difficult circumstances. I am liberated and don't care about race (what about those color references as the defining characteristic of the blog titles?) but look at my husband's family and country -- caste system, higher fees at parks for foreigners, they shit and spit in the street, mom-in-law looks at my "blonde" hair and "fair" skin in envy -- so much of a white woman's burden (sigh!).'
Methinks there is an externalization of collective prejudice perhaps? When 9/11 happened, Sikhs got murdered in Phoenix, AZ, coz some European-Americans couldn't be bothered with the difference between them and Al-Qaeda! Sikhs and Muslims thrown into the same category because they have turbans and beards is the ultimate irony! And speakin' of Australia --- well, lets examine the immigration policies from a few years ago or how "aborigines" have been treated.....the less said the better! Australia, South Africa, and the US are examples of institutionalized prejudice in European-dominant societies, in the same way as one might think of the caste system in India. There is unfortunately no racial monopoly when it comes to prejudice, although the evidence points to greater violence related to institutional prejudice in "white" societies.
Another important point about these (mis)conceptions is the equating of race with skin or eye color. Any decent anthropologist or evolutionary biologist will tell you that human beings are essentially all racial hybrids and are genetically indistinguishable from each other racially compared to other species, say, apes or mice. Indians and Europeans are actually all caucasians who even share a common original language called proto-Indo-European -- read Max Mueller!! This is what really gets me: that these women/men think they actually have married into a different race because of differences in skin color. It never occurs to them in their ignorance that they should question the prejudices they grew up with in their own societies/families. The externalization of ignorance is the the very essence of prejudice.So skin color is just a political manifestation of "racial" self-identity in institutionally prejuduced societies: us vs. the aborigines, us vs. the "blacks", us vs. the injuns, us vs. the japs we put in the internment camps, us vs. the wetbacks, us vs. the curry-smelling brown guys, us vs. the shudras, etc., etc. I have never actually seen a WHITE-skinned person, they are mottled pink or cream, or yellow, or brown, or whatever. White is the color of the printer paper next to your PC -- its an invention of convenience to define separateness in very superficial terms.
So, I might ask, are Westerners like that only, but I may be accused of generalizing to an entire group or race or set of countries, and that wouldn't be right, now, would it?

Jennifer said...


I don't know if you just stumbled across my blog and wanted to use the comment section to express some sentiments you have about race and about how you feel others' are misguided about race in the Western world (from your comment it would seem that you are not from a Western country? It's a bit unclear, or perhaps you are a person of color who doesn't identify as being influenced by Western culture?)

At any rate, I allowed your comment to go through, but truth be told, it has little bearing on the post it is connected to--celebrating Asian American heritage month and especially recognizing Jennifer Hayashida's very insightful speech on Asian American heritage. Unless, of course, you are questioning the very category of "Asian American" as suspect because all racial categories are suspect.

If that is the case, I think you will find that you will create more dialogue (if that's what you seek) by making your point more clearly (and perhaps a bit less polemically).

If you want to clarify your comment in relation to this particular post, I welcome hearing from you. If you are simply looking to rant, I'll probably delete future comments unless they have relevancy to the actual post's content.

Hope to hear from you again!

Gori Girl said...

Jennifer - Svaha has just been spamming this exact comment on every interracial/mixed race/intercultural blog in my blogroll - I'm not sure why. Sorry that she came here too!

Jennifer said...

Gori Girl,

I had a feeling that this was "spam" but I re-read it twice and figured it wouldn't hurt to let it through, with the follow-up comment from me and a warning about future deletions.

I do wonder about the nature of her particular "rant"--there's a fair amount of frustration/anger, but who it is exactly direct at and why is harder to figure out--her wrath seems directed at white women married to South Asian/Indian men, but it's also directed, seemingly, at all "Americans" (and there seems to be a bit of conflation about American = white) and some anger at anyone in the U.S. who uses racial terms (which I guess mean almost everyone, right?)

What really interests me is the why. Why the desire to rant and spam people's blogs? Surely she has to understand that she would catch more honey with flies--that in other words, if she wants people to understand some underlying problem she has with mixed-race couples of this particular gendered/ethnicized pairing, then putting it in terms where she could have a dialogue with others (who may not agree with her but none-the-less may very well enagage in reasonable debate) would be better than simply spewing, and spewing with out a real connection to the post's topic.

I guess now I'm ranting a bit myself, but I've always been mystified at the spammers (beyond the one's advertising their inter-racial "love" dating websites--I delete those "comments" on a regular basis) who have one note that they continually bang on their drum of contention. I suppose Svaha isn't interested in discussion but just ranting.

Anyway, thanks for the heads up because if she does simply rant again, I'll know that it's a pattern and it will be easier to delete her without worrying that I'm shutting down room for discussion.