Q: What about undocumented API immigration is not represented in the stereotypical narratives of immigration politics?
Chinese workers built the nation railroads but were asked to step aside when iconic photographs were taken at Promontory Point of the nation’s new railway tracks. The injustice faced by these workers is the point sometimes missed by common narratives of immigration activists. We Dream Activists usually rely on the logic of being American because we are exceptional, educated, or particularly talented. But we shouldn’t be waging a struggle to suggest that our GPAs and fancy degrees make us the right type of immigrants or the good racial minorities (though I’ve fallen into this idea time and time again). I know that this is a deliberate move and often necessary if we want the establishment to make concessions, but we cannot lose sight of the mission even when we engage in strategic essentialism.
I don’t deserve citizenship because I am exceptional: I deserve it because my long-term presence in this nation makes me a member of local communities and because migration is a human right. My talents and achievements are the result of social support, specific local policies, and the family members who sacrificed everything to encourage my education. Most people are not that lucky but that doesn’t make them less deserving. My parents deserve citizenship not because they don’t have criminal records: they deserve it because they are those Chinese workers, laboring in the background and participating in the gritty toil of making this country work. My motivation is not ‘giving back to the nation’ to prove myself; it is the recognition of immigrants as essential and precious stakeholders of American society.
I say all of this only because the model minority discourse has particular meaning for Asian Americans. More than other racial groups, the idea that I am a foreigner is cemented even if I was born on US soil. I want the recognition of this experience, this discourse, this existence of being an immigrant naturalized as a central force that shapes American culture—and not a legally separate and peripheral racial figure. This is a demand I make as an Asian woman because the politics of assimilation cannot work for a race that is deemed inassimilable.
Exceptionalist attitudes also reject critiques of imperialism and establishment politics, and not many are outspoken about the destruction wrought to the lands of our birth by American war machines. If you’d like to displace me from the only country I’ve ever known, please take responsibility for our homelands being ravaged by your predatory capitalism and power plays. If you’d like to guilt-trip me for being critical of Obama or either political party, consider how many families have been torn apart in the last 4 years and critique the motions of capital that lay waste to entire nations. I’m not saying don’t love this country—- I certainly do. But my critique is not out of loyalty to the nation-state, it is out of the need for justice. Critiques are not ungrateful if they result in social progress.
I was both drawn to America and pushed out of Pakistan. For Asians, the legacy of yellow peril and migration restrictions have always had to do with the nation-state’s enemy du jour. Right now, it’s en vogue to deport Muslims because they are the latest looming threat for the white middle class. Displaced Latin@s who have seen drug violence or NAFTA ruin their homes are also witnesses to first world meddling leading to third world havoc.
Playing into the discourse of ‘good immigrant’, being an Asian overachiever and all that jazz—all of this does not bode well with how Asians must negotiate model minority status. I am not here to repeat the same mistakes of leveraging myself against other people of color.