Asians Are Easy Targets Everywhere

April 21, 2006

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.


Momo Chang

Senior Contributing Editor

Momo Chang is the Content Manager at the Center for Asian American Media, and freelances for magazines, online publications, and weeklies. Her writings focus on Asian American communities, communities of color, and youth culture. She is a former staff writer at the Oakland Tribune. Her stories range from uncovering working conditions in nail salons, to stories about “invisible minorities” like Tongan youth and Iu Mien farmers. She has freelances The New York Times, WIRED, and East Bay Express, among other publications.



What we have here is a failure of communication when ethnic violence happens. And often this failure of communication is due to the mass media controlling the debate and the spin.How often do asian social leaders -- who are especially articulate & thoughtful, get to voice their thoughts and feelings about racial and social topics? And when invited to speak, how often do just hear the status quo? Perhaps in asian culture there is a tendency not to "rock the boat" and to remain lowkey and non-confrontational. I don't mind a non-confrontational style, but it would help to deepen our social analytical skills and then forthrightly speak truth to power -- either in Asia, in America or elsewhere as well.Prior to many if not most ethnic injustices, what precedes them is a media campaign, agitating to demonize the target ethnic group.In pre-WW2 Germany, Nazis blamed "The Jews" for economic inequities. Krystalnacht followed, with the vandalism and burning of stores, followed by the Holocaust.Prior to the Chinese Exclusion Act, biased newspapers often ran racist stories and editorials demonizing Chinese workers for taking jobs.After Pearl Harbor, biased newspapers, especially in CA, turned up the "Yellow Peril" rhetoric drumming up the case for Japanese-American internment. (So that certain CA landowners and business interests could gobble up J-A property at firesale prices.)Before the ethnic massacres of the Tutsis by the Hutus, on Rwandan radio - bigoted broadcasters inflaming long standing racial hatreds, driving the Hutus to blame all the injustices that they felt upon the Tutsis.Media racism isn't the culprit for racist injustice, but it is an enabler. And can prime the majority populace to be on hair trigger to look for an excuse to do injustice or violence, -- especially when there are already festering social and economic injustices stewing. It gives imagery and ideas for targets when things go bad.Many groups wear their social consciences on their sleeves to improve their image, and are quite aware of social perceptions towards them. I would just recommend being more aware of these perceptions, and then trying to make a difference for positive social change. And to say that racist images that provoke hate/dehumanization/inferiority are not ok -- venomous portrayals are not harmless fun.For example --It is mind boggling to me to learn of Abercrombie and Fitch's racist T-Shirts and then go to the mall and see asian girls flock to A&F stores and buy up that stuff because it is so cool. WTF?Are the clothes so cool because A&F's marketing portrays a hip, exclusive, all white image?
What kind of headline is that? I suggest you to change that headline soon or else you'll hear from my lawyer! That is very rude, saying asains are "target"!!!!!! I will come back and check what changes you've made within 3 days, and if no action of any sort was taken, for example, A CHANGE OF TITLE. You will hear from my lawyer.
I just want to say I agree with this post. We need to speak up. No one else is going to do it for us.The Abercrombie thing boggles my mind too. I think most of those Asians shopping in there are ignorant and don't even know about the T-shirts. And I do think they are drawn to the store because of the preppy white image projected. It is an "aspirational brand" in that way, if you aspire to be white. I mean, everytime I walk by there, it's people of color shopping in there.
Dear JSP:I agree with all of your points. Knowing that something has to be done is one thing but having the courage to take action is more challenging for many of us.It's interesting that you brought up the Rwanda genocide. Reuters recently had a piece about it.“Rwanda massacre survivors say three films got it wrong. Many appreciate attention drawn to the genocide but cite inaccuracies” we blame Hollywood and the media? Yes and no. America being the funny house that it is, Hollywood and the media are comprised of the occupants of said funny house.Craig Furgeson, who is better known as the dimwitted boss of Drew Carey on the Drew Carey's show and the host of the Late Late Show has this to say about Amreica. Great observation, I say. I now believe it's the immigrants, the foreigners who know more about America than the born-in-the-USA Americans themselves. America needs us as its conscience and heart. See below.And dear unsigned-comment person:I shall put my lawyer in touch with lawyer in order to address your objection to the headline. What is your & your lawyer's name, by the way?===Excerpt: 'Between the Bridge and the River'by Craig FergusonWhite Americans have a very unusual sense of history. They make it up as they go along, constantly revising to suit their tastes in a manner that would make Stalin blush. Very few of them saw any irony in the fact that during a recent nasty Balkans conflict, when Uncle Sam intervened to stop the Serbs from ethnically cleansing the Bosnians, the military action was performed using Apache helicopter gunships. Helicopters named after a people that had been ethnically cleansed in the United States less than one hundred years previously. Sixteen-lane highways across the sacred burial grounds. Yee-hah.I-40 runs all the way from Nashville, Tennessee, to Barstow in California, where it joins I-15, which can either take you north to Las Vegas and then on to Salt Lake City or south to Los Angeles and Mexico. For most of the way it follows old Route 66, a highway White America remembers fondly because for them it conjures up a time of innocence before cigarettes gave people cancer and gasoline fumes burned a hole in the sky. A time before homosexuality and drugs, a time when the only threats to the world were Soviet Russia, aggressive extraterrestrials, or perhaps the occasional mutant insect that had inadvertently fallen into a nuclear reactor and grown to five thousand times its original size and was intent on eating Chicago.In short, Route 66 was a symbol of what White America is really nostalgic for: a time that never existed.
In regards to the comment made by :"Posted by: jsp at April 21, 2006 04:12 PM"you should probably think about requesting a "donate" tab for legal pursuits. I can think that anyone would be STUPID enough to bother suing you - but there are lots of white people out there with more money than sense, just view :>> "You can bleach the colour of your skin, but you can never bleach your blood" --Anon