Asians, primarily Chinese, have been the target of hostility and violence for their almost-monopoly control of the economy and close ties to the corrupt government of this South Pacific island nation, a member of the British Commonwealth. Solomon Islanders are Melanesians.
There has been scant report in the American press and with almost no mention about Chinatown and Asians. A lot more are being reported by the Aussie and Kiwi's presses. Links are below.
I don't know what you all think, but this is and should be so TIMELY and RELEVANT for us to discuss as the US immigration debate is raging on and the warning of potential backlash against Asians by Professor Ling-Chi Wang, as quoted in an entry posted by Harry Mok on this blog.
It's fine and good that we, Asians/Asian Americans, stand in SOLIDARITY with the progressives, Latinos and other communities in the marches and protests against the war in Iraq, draconian immigration laws and other civil rights and social justice matters.
However, it's MORE IMPORTANT that we take advantage of these occasions to make our voices heard, our faces stood out from the crowds and our presence felt. It feels like somehow we always get relegated to the sidelines or the background totally, even in the cities such as San Francisco where Asians are THE SECOND largest ethnic group at 35%, after white which is about 42%.
What would it take? I am not advocating for rude behavior like hogging the mic or elbowing our ways to the front during photo-ops. But my god, we HAVE GOT an image problem here!
The conversation threads on this blog speak volume.
The looting and burning of Chinatown in the Solomons bring back memory of growing up half-Chinese in small Mekong Delta towns of Vietnam. Vietnam in those days, like most Southeast Asian countries where more than 80% of the population eked out a subsistence living from the land, the poor farmers had to buy the seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and other farming essentials from merchants who were almost always of Chinese descent. A lot of the times, the farmers had to buy things on credit against their next crops. If the crops failed...oh well.
Once the crops were harvested, they had to deal with the middle men would be Chinese because they were the only ones who had the means to transport the crops, store and resell them to the open market. At much higher prices, of course. This is all part of business transaction. Nothing sinister or unethical about it. But the poor built up resentment...and poof...Chinatown burned.
It was not on the same level as racism in America, but it pointed to the level of passivity on the part of the Chinese merchant class. It pointed to the un-articulated and un-expressed sympathy and compassion that the Chinese had for the farming poor. It also pointed to the insularity of the Chinese community.
Even though my mother was a third-generation Chinese Vietnamese, many of her relatives maintained a way of life that was apart from the Vietnamese. And she herself grew up a "Chinese" until she met my father, who worked for my maternal grandfather as a bookkeeper right out of college.
What was happening in Vietnam was also happening else in the region. The Chinatown of Kuala Lumpur was looted and burned more than once, the last time was in 1969. The Chinatown in Jakarta, Indonesia was most recently looted and burned in 1989, with over 2,000 Chinese-Indonesians and their employees killed, many hacked to dead. Chinese in Manila have been frequent targets of kidnappings. Many prominent (read: wealthy) Chinese Filipinos now have to have round-the-clock armed-guard protection, even their children when they go to school.
Further back and a continent away, when the psychopathic dictator Idi Amin came to power in Uganda in 1972 he ordered all Asians, almost all of whom were of Indian descent, to leave Uganda within 90 days. Ugandans of Asian descent had been in Uganda for over a century and they were the backbone of the economy.
At the end, over 60,000 Indians were expelled from Uganda, many penniless because their businesses and properties were confiscated by Amin.
The same thing happened again in Tanzania, Kenya and Zimbabwe. In all these instances the governments that came in power were nationalists regaining independence from European colonial powers. Even though the Asians/Indians were prejudiced against by the British colonialists, the Black majority did not cut them any slack because they "controlled" the economy.
When Los Angeles Koreatown was looted and burned in 1992 in the aftermath of the trial against four police officers who had been videotaped beating up Rodney King, a Black motorist, America and the American political establishment did not come to the Koreans' rescue. Korean-owned businesses and Korean Americans were targeted even though they had nothing to do with the no-guilty verdict. For days on end the American press was fixated on coverage trying to understand and explain inner city-America's racial problems but not much attention was paid to the plight of the Korean Americans.
Asians in America have been the easy target since day one. We have to be able to achieve more than just being in "solidarity" with like-minded groups and exchanging platitudes about harmony and unity. It's not enough that we hold Chinese banquet fundraisers for elected officials and politicians of the day.
We have to not only able to hold those we support accountable but we also have to have a voice that has to be reckoned with.
Look at what happened to John Huang, Eugene and Nora Lum, Johnny Chung and Charlie Trie, among others, during Bill Clinton's presidency. They thought they had it covered by buying influence from the Clinton's administration and the Democratic Party with millions of dollars in donation and political contribution. They thought they had the political heavyweights in their corner, from Honolulu to Washington, DC. When table was turned on them, the Democrats hung them out to dry and the Asian American communities were dragged through the muck with them.
We have to stop being easy target. With China on the rise economically and politically and more universities like UC Berkeley being filled up with Asians from Asia and Asian Americans, once again, we, Asian Americans, the "foreigners," the "orientals" who will get picked on.
Sonny Le is a San Francisco-based media consultant and Hyphen advisory board member.