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May 1

AAPI Voices: Are we One or Many? by Jeff Yang

Welcome to May, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, the 31 days designated since 1992 by the federal government as our nation’s official period to commemorate the past legacies and present accomplishments of Asian and Pacific Islanders in the United States. For Asian Pacific Americans, it represents our annual opportunity to gather together in vast pan-ethnic gathering, mark milestones, and reconnect with old friends. And, of course — to eat, drink and party.

But if the past is any guide, this month will also serve as a trigger for questions designed to kill our communal celebratory buzz: Questions like, “What is ‘Asian Pacific American’ heritage, anyway?” “Does it even make sense to talk about all of you as a single group?”

Questions like this can be frustrating to those of us who are trying to build meaningful coalitions. But the truth is, it’s a question we as APAs should be asking ourselves, because the answers are both illuminating and, ultimately, empowering.

We often forget — or purposely turn a blind eye — to the fact that ours is a population that has within it a startling diversity. We speak many languages, embrace an array of different faiths and mark our ancestry from countries that have had histories of rivalry or outright war. Some of our communities’ roots on this continent stretch back beyond our nation’s founding; others are more recent arrivals, and still others have seen many multiple waves of migration, with each fresh tide bringing a new and slightly different infusion of customs, tastes and dialects.

At the turn of the 20th century, over half of all Asians in the United States were Chinese. Another third were Japanese. Over the next century or so, those percentages have steadily dropped, even as the size of America’s Asian population has skyrocketed from about 235,000 in 1900 to over 18.2 million as of 2012.

one or many aapis

Today, individuals of Chinese ancestry represent just 22% of Asian Pacific Americans, and Japanese, 7%, with the remaining 71% of the APA population made up of other ethnic groups.  These “others” have exploded in size since 1965, when discriminatory policies that had artificially restrained immigration from Asia to a trickle — policies that Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg had called “unbelievable in the clarity of [their] racism” — were eliminated with a stroke of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s pen, when he signed the 1965 Hart-Cellar Act.

The new law abolished practices that, per Klineberg, “declared that Northern Europeans are a superior subspecies of the white race, the Nordics were superior to the Alpines, who in turn were superior to the Mediterraneans, and all of them were superior to the Jews and the Asians.” Replacing them was a system that was envisioned to have two aims: Reuniting families, and encouraging an influx of educated professionals, particularly doctors, nurses, and engineers.

The truth is, few in the Johnson Administration believed that the new law would reinvent America. Secretary of State Dean Rusk famously testified to the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and Naturalization that “the present estimate, based upon the best information we can get, is that there might be, say, 8,000 immigrants from India in the next five years. In other words, I don’t think we have a particular picture of a world situation where everybody is just straining to move to the United States.”

But in 1970, five years after the law was signed, over 50,000 Indians had migrated to the U.S. By 1980, the Indian immigrant population had grown by another 150,000.

one or many total vs indian

By next year, the 50th anniversary of Hart-Cellar, the number of Indian-born individuals in the U.S. will almost certainly exceed 2 million. Today, along with their children and grandchildren, Indian Americans make up a community that is 3.3 million strong, having a population that has risen 76% over the past 12 years, with a continued growth rate that puts them on track to surpass Filipino Americans as the second-largest Asian ethnic population in the U.S. sometime in the next decade.

And yet, the rapid growth of Indian and other South Asian populations in America has been held up as symbolic of the challenges the term “Asian Pacific American” faces as a meaningful descriptor of a racial, cultural or political identity. After all, what groups could possibly be more different, say critics, than America’s two largest Asian ethnic populations, Chinese and Indians?

The 2012 National Asian American Survey of over 6600 nationally representative respondents gives us some ways of addressing that question quantitatively. The survey gave people the option of choosing any of the labels one typically encounters: so-called ethnic categories like “Vietnamese” and “Vietnamese American,” and so-called panethnic categories like “Asian” or “Asian American.”  What it found was that across all ethnic groups (eight are tracked discretely by NAAS, including Cambodians, Chinese, Filipinos, Hmong, Indians, Japanese, Koreans and Vietnamese), 19% identify pan-ethnically, and 84% identify ethnically  — with about 9% saying they identify with both types of labels.

one or many identify

Does the relatively small percentage of Asians in the U.S. who identify as “Asian American” invalidate the APA label? Not exactly.

The same data also show that the emergence of pan-ethnicity is a continuously evolving story, with U.S.-born youth considerably more likely to embrace an Asian, Asian American or Asian Pacific American self-identification. Nearly 40% of Asians in the college and post-collegiate age range — e.g., 18 to 29 year olds — claim a pan-ethnic sense of identity, double the percentage of APAs overall.  And, as statistical analysis ofAsian American survey data has shown, this sense of convergence extends beyond self-identification to a wide range of other social and political attitudes. [FIGURE 4 DATA]

There are many potential explanations for the growing sense of common ground among younger Asian Americans. One is the persistence of “outsiderness” in America: Even U.S.-born Asians with fluent English (and minimal ability to speak their ancestral tongues) report having been treated like a foreigner at one or another point in their lives. A sense of being different from the “mainstream” is often a powerful driver for a sense of community at the margins.

But an even more important dynamic relates to what’s happening internally within our communities — especially at colleges and universities, where many of young Asians end up converging. (49% of Asian Americans go on to obtain college degrees, with Indian Americans at 72% and Chinese Americans at 53% having the highest college graduation rates of all Asian ethnic groups, significantly higher than the U.S. rate, 32%.)

They go on to spend the most socially and politically active years of their young adult lives in an environment where they represent anywhere from 10% to 56% of the population — a concentration of Asians that is two to 10 times greater than that of the U.S. as a whole. (This “focusing effect” is most prominent in California, which is also the state with the nation’s largest population of Asian Americans: Asians make up about 40% of undergraduate students in the University of California system.)

Colleges are largely organized around pan-ethnic definitions of APA identity. It’s how Asian student extracurriculars are generally defined, with most schools having one or more pan-Asian umbrella groups. It’s how research on and teaching about Asians is programmed, under the rubric of Asian American Studies. On campus, pan-ethnicity is essentially the norm.

Today, many of the children of the great post-1965 wave of immigrants have children of their own, who are rising through the primary and secondary school systems and who in all likelihood will be headed to college themselves over the next five years. And most of this third generation will not need to learn about Asian pan-ethnic identity for the first time on campus: They’ll have encountered it already, through their parents, their teachers, their diverse networks of friends — and through events like Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

So the most accurate answer to the question of whether it makes sense to talk about Asian Pacific Americans as a group is to simply respond, Asian America is a work in progress, not a finished piece: Check back again in a decade.

I’m Asian American and… I Want Reparations For Yellow Fever

Apr 7

E(RACE)D But Not Forgotten REGISTRATION OPEN

Brown University’s conference on Asian Pacific American identity and organizing is happening on April 19! I’ll be making the closing remarks, and you can register for the conference here.

Apr 1

ROOTS: New York City Asian American Student Conference (NYCAASC) 2014 | Facebook

Register today for this year’s conference through our website!http://www.nycaasc.com/attend.html

The New York City Asian American Student Conference (NYCAASC) is a free, all-day, student-run conference on Saturday, April 26th, bringing together youth in the metropolitan area and providing a space to discuss racial and sociopolitical matters pertaining Asian/Pacific/America through a series of inspiring and empowering workshops. 

Our theme this year for our 8th annual conference is Roots. We want to remind everyone of our roots by examining our past and current struggles in order to prepare ourselves as students, organizers, and budding activists to educate and promote further community action in ways that are meaningful to both ourselves and to others. 

NYCAASC is a great chance for exciting networking opportunities with conference speakers and student attendees. Complimentary breakfast and lunch will also be provided. 

This year’s conference will be held at New York University’s Kimmel Center for University Life (60 Washington Square) on Saturday, April 26th, 2014 from 9AM to 6PM. 

Do you want to take part in helping make NYCAASC successful? Sign up to volunteer for the day of the conference! You get a free t-shirt, free food, and a chance to know what it’s like to be part of one of the largest east coast Asian American conferences! 

Register to attend/volunteer RIGHT NOW at http://nycaasc.com/attend.html!

Be sure to like NYCAASC’s Facebook page to get all the updates as we approach conference day: http://www.facebook.com/NYCAASCpage

"Growing Up As an Asian-German, Part One" by Thi Yenhan Truong

“Do some Kung Fu moves, like Jackie Chan! “

It happened when I went to elementary school; I must have been about seven or eight years old. While I was standing on the playground in recess, some kids from my class started to gather around me. “Can you do some cool moves, like Jackie Chan?” I was intimidated by their request – I notoriously sucked in PE, and I had never tried any martial arts. But I knew why the other kids asked: because I was Asian. I was the only Asian kid in my year. I felt all kinds of awkward and alone.

Growing up with Vietnamese parents in a German town with a population of 17,000 was not always easy. The feeling I recall from those times was loneliness. Given that I was a weird child who was not too good at socializing (I still am not) but being one of the few Asians in the whole town made things even worse. Of course, there were a handful of other Asian families: Chinese, Korean, Philippino, some even Vietnamese. But the difference between them and us couldn’t have been greater. “Don’t play with those children”, my mom used to say, “They’re not refugees like us – they came as communist contract workers.” To my parents the Cold War had never ended, and there was a strong divide between the “good” Vietnamese and the “bad” ones. So I only had white middle-class friends.

“You speak such a fine German!”

The feeling of alienation stayed consistent during my whole school career: I was frequently questioned by teachers and other students how I could speak such good German. How I could ace in German because I was, you know, not German. The nationalistic view that you can only be German if your ancestors were German is still alive and kicking. Hence I was not German. In order to prepare me for the hardships of being a foreigner, my mom taught me: “We are outlanders, the Germans look down on us. So you have to prove them wrong, you need to do everything perfectly.”

I resented being different: Why couldn’t I just be like all the others? My skin and my hair color felt like a constant source of embarrassment. The fact that my parents don’t speak German very well was even more painful. “I have a hard time getting everything your parents say,” one of my best friends once confessed. So as a way of compensating I did everything to perfect my German. I read canonical German literature, from Goethe to Heine to Jelinek. My sentences were filled with the rarest German words imaginable – words that the average German would have to look up in a dictionary.

You can read part two here.

Jan 5

Transformed Into White Gods: What Happens in America Without Love

"Whose World Is This" -Jody Loud and Son Child

lead single from Jody Loud’s 2013 mixtape ‘The Last Summer’ soundcloud.com/jodyloud Directed by Marlo A. Custodio

To all students or members of organizations (on campus or off campus):

My name is  Juliet Shen and I am the Professional Development Coordinator for the East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) National Board. As a national, student-leader run organization, ECAASU’s mission is to inspire, educate, and empower those interested in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) issues. 

I wanted to let you know about two of ECAASU’s initiatives to connect with students, the Campus Ambassador Program (for individuals) and the Affiliate Organization Program (for organizations). These programs would be a great start to working with others and other organizations that work on AAPI work across the East Coast. 

The Campus Ambassador Program allows students across the East Coast to network and organize on national and local scale initiatives actively contributing to projects, campaigns, coalition building and grassroots activism through ECAASU National. 

 The deadline to apply is OCTOBER 27, 2013 at 11:59 PM EST. Feel free to visit ECAASU online or email Lindsey.lue@ecaasu.org for more information! 

The Affiliate Organization Program aims to connect organizations directly with ECAASU and other student organizations on the East Coast. Additionally, this program will work as a resource on how to successfully organize Asian American and Pacific Islander focused events and programs on both a national and local scale. The deadline for this application is October 27, 2013 11:59 PM EST. Feel free to contact diana.lee@ecaasu.org with any questions or concerns.

Please visit our website at www.ecaasu.org to learn more about our organization and programs and share this opportunity with other student organizations that have an interest in being more involved with the AAPI community.

We are currently accepting applications for these programs, and I didn’t want you to miss the chance to apply! 

Please share this opportunity with other students who may be interested. We hope to see your application.

Sincerely,

Juliet Shen

Asian-Americans To Evangelicals: We're Not Your Punchline

"We the undersigned, are distressed about the continuing divide that persists in the North American evangelical church in the area of racial harmony."

That’s the first line of a four-page open letter to American Evangelicals (“On cultural Insensitivity and Reconciliation in the Church”) from a coalition called Asian American Christians United. The letter was released earlier this week.

The roughly 700 signatories are a who’s who in Asian-American Christian circles: a seminary head, several professors of religion, dozens of pastors, even a few popular bloggers. It was drafted after a few weeks of painful missteps by one of the evangelical community’s most prominent members.

Rick Warren is the author of The Purpose-Driven Life: What On Earth Am I Here For?, which stayed on the best-seller list for years. He’s also a pastor of the Orange County-based Saddleback Church. Saddleback is considered a crown jewel in the American evangelical diadem and Warren is one of the country’s most visible evangelical pastors.

(The first McCain-Obama debate in 2008 was held at Saddleback — a prestigious precedent-breaker, since no modern presidential forum had ever been held in a church.)

Warren has spearheaded outreach to multiple ethnic groups and invited them to join him in the cause of Christ. And he’s opening myriad Saddlebacks abroad, to spread the Gospel to what he calls a dozen “Gateway Cities” on several continents.

A Problematic Facebook Post

Pastor Warren returned from opening the church’s Hong Kong campus last month. Soon after, he posted a photo of a Red Guard, the young Communist cadres that policed their communities during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. The poster showed a smiling, rosy-cheeked young woman in the drab gray uniform the Red Guard typically wore.

His post (since taken down) said “The typical attitude of Saddleback Staff as they start work each day.” (there are still several screen captures of it, though, like this one:)

Although the Saddleback pastor said he intended the photo to be a joke, many Asian-American evangelicals were not amused. Many come from Chinese immigrant families, some of which suffered greatly during Mao’s Great Leap Forward. (Some 15 million people are estimated to have died during that time, from “discipline” administered by the youngsters in the Red Guard, by the Red Army and from outright starvation, the product of nonsensical agricultural practices that, literally, bore no fruit.)

The Joke That Launched A Letter

Warren’s initial response on his Facebook page was to tell readers that sometimes people on the Internet didn’t get irony: “It’s a joke people! If you take this seriously, you really shouldn’t be following me!” That, in turn, was followed by what many consider to be a pro forma apology.

But a few weeks later, Warren spoke at a conference that featured a video in which a white pastor talked in a fake Asian accent, and engaged in goofy Karate with another character, replete with bows, and tinny “Asian” music.

That was too much for many Asian-American Christians. Hence, the letter.

"Over the past decade," it pointed out, "Christian evangelicalism has been the source of repeated and offensive racial stereotyping, and Asian Americans have been inordinately affected… Asians have been caricatured, mocked or otherwise treated as foreigners outside the typical accepted realm of white [evangelicals]. And the situation has not improved over time."

In fact, the letter cites about a half-dozen offenses in recent years. And it points out these are only the incidents that have been highlighted by the media. For every one of those, the writers believe, there may be myriad others that never capture the public’s attention.

Some of the letter’s signatories were as (or perhaps more) disturbed by the reactions they encountered when they expressed offense.

"Get A Sense Of Humor"

Kathy Khang, a minister and the author of More Than Serving Tea: Asian American Women on Expectations, Relationships, Leadership and Faith, wrote to Warren, saying his apology was about as offensive as the initial mistake. Kang asked Warren to “please reconsider your comments that essentially told many of your brothers and sisters in Christ to get over it, to get a sense of humor, to lighten up, etc….because you don’t get to tell me to laugh about the Communist Red Guard, because it isn’t funny.”

Comments like that struck home. Warren ultimately pulled the offending Maoist illustration and posted a longer apology:

"If you were hurt, upset, offended or distressed by my insensitivity I am truly sorry," he wrote. "May God richly bless you."

The point of the letter, according to many of the people who signed it, is to begin a much-needed, long-delayed dialogue within the evangelical church. And to acknowledge that although they are all one Christian family, Asian-American evangelicals are feeling a lot like unloved step-children at the moment.

The Asian-American Awakening: That Moment When You Realize You're Not White

I connect with this a lot.

What was your Awakening moment?