Another little intra-community tiff this week points up the impossibility of creating a monolithic Asian American identity that actually works in the task of representing broad community interests. Here you go, Uncle X: we're not special, we're just as insensitive, lunk-headed and back-biting as the rest of you Americans.
300 Philly Cambodian Americans have signed a petition asking the mayor to fire his Asian American community liaison, Korean American businessman Mahn Suh Park. The petition was offered in response to a Philadephia Inquirer story on Dec. 12, 2004 about Cambodian Americans still haunted by the horrors they suffered under the Pol Pot regime.
In the story, Park was quoted making dismissive statements about Pol Pot survivors' experiences, among them: "Killing fields or whatever. Does that mean they have to have the special treatment?... Whether the killing field or not, that's their fault."
When asked about the petition Park responded with: "So what? It is a volunteer job. I spend my own time. I have done so much for them. If they don't want me to work for the Cambodian community, fine. I won't do anything for them. What's the big deal?"
Wow, I've uttered some insensitivities in my time, but this one really takes the kim chee. One (I) might venture to suggest to Park that it's time he closed his mouth and stopped embarrassing himself -- not to mention the rest of us self-appointed pan-APA community reps.
Two possible, mutually compatible spins on this:
1) Politicians and flunkeys of every stripe and level may be learning from Dubya's example: The best defense is a good offense, no matter how offensive. Just keep at it and the furor will die down sooner or sooner than that.
2) My horror is horribler than your horror is a zero-sum game. Revisiting history or recasting history as a community activity is often simply a matter of uttering hurts -- for the first time, or for a definitive time. It's not necessary to comment upon, criticize, or evaluate a community history review. It's enough -- and essential -- to know about it, respect it and move on. This is a lesson we, as a pan-ethnic bloc, keep trying to get across to mainly white mainstream America. But maybe we're not getting the message ourselves.