Monthly Archives: May 2010

APA Heritage Webchat with U.S. Foreign Embassies

As we conclude May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, below is the transcript from a webchat that I recently did through the U.S. State Department with participants connected with U.S. embassies in various Asian countries. Overall, I think the webchat turned out well and I was happy to be a part of it.

At the same time, I noticed that many of the participants (presumably both U.S.- and foreign-based) have the same erroneous assumptions that I’ve discussed numerous times in this blog — that being “Asian” is the same as being “Asian American.” If anything, I hope that my answers helped to clarify both the similarities and differences between these two sets of experiences and issues.

  • What is Asian Pacific American heritage?

    Asian Pacific American heritage includes the history, experiences, and contributions of Americans of Asian descent. These contributions can be cultural, economic, and political.

  • What are your specialties, what is your site about, and how can we participate on your website?

    I mainly study the social and demographic characteristics of Asian Americans and different forms of assimilation and integration that they undergo, such as interracial and interethnic marriage, owning their own small business, living in an ethnic community, etc. My site discusses these and other political, economic, and cultural issues and news events related to Asian Americans. There is a comment section at the bottom of each of the articles an blog posts on my site where readers can share their reactions and opinions with each other. You can also contact me directly through a message form on my site as well.

  • I’m from Cambodia. What can I help contribute to the APA heritage?

    Globalization and demographic changes have resulted in more connections between Asian countries and the U.S. so Asian Americans have a unique opportunity to be at the forefront on such changes for the benefit of everyone involved. Many Asian citizens already have connections to friends and relatives in the U.S. and can serve as a valuable part of this emerging network.

  • Have you studied in a foreign country and if so, what did you think?

    Unfortunately I’ve never studied abroad, which is something that I regret not doing while in college.

  • Do you have any activities relating to Viet Nam and China around Hoang Sa Island?

    I’m sorry but I don’t have any activities that relate directly to that region. My expertise is in Asian American issues, rather than Asian issues. In fact, I should take this opportunity to make a small correction in Jennryn’s introduction of me — I’m a professor of Asian American Studies, not Asian Studies.

  • Could you give some reflections about the relationship between Asia and the U.S?

    It’s certainly a very complicated issue and one that contains many contradictions. For example, the U.S. loves the cheap labor and natural resources that Asia offers but is suspicious of the power that Asian countries represent. It’s a similar situation with Asian Americans — the rest of America loves the cultural contributions that Asian Americans have added to American society like Chinese restaurants, but is wary that Asian Americans frequently are more educated and make more money than the rest of the U.S.

  • A coworker of mine would like to ask C.N. Le about the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. She says this year, it will feature Asian Americans (and Mexico). Dates are June 24-28 and July 1-5.

    From what I know if it, I think it’s a good idea to include other racial/ethnic groups in these kinds of festivals. We all live in the same society and have to interact with a diverse group of people from different backgrounds, so it makes sense to get to know our neighbors more and to celebrate the many similarities and connections that we share together.

  • How can Asian culture spread in America?

    In fact, many aspects of Asian culture has been incorporated into the American mainstream. This includes media and pop culture examples like anime, manga, martial arts movies, etc. Also includes food, some forms of fashion and other kinds of trends. The key component of this infusion of Asian culture into America is that hopefully Americans will understand and appreciate the history of the culture behind the trend, and not just see it as another commodity or accessory.

  • I want to study out side of my country but am poor in English, so what can I do?

    Well I’m not an expert on study abroad advising but I presume that your school or college offers English classes for you to improve your English skills so that you can one day feel comfortable in studying in the U.S.

  • What kind of stereotypes do you address in your website?

    There have been two main stereotypes that Asian Americans have encountered through the years. First is that all Asian Americans are foreigners — this is the idea that we’re outsiders and not ”real” Americans, even though many Asian Americans have been in the U.S. for several generations and in terms of their values, behaviors, and loyalty, are just as American as anybody else. Second is the stereotype that all Asian Americans are the same — that there are no differences between ethnic groups — that being Chinese American is the same as Japanese American etc.

  • People say that America is a melting-pot, what do you think about this?

    There are some aspects of that melting pot image that is true. As I mentioned, different aspects of Asian culture have been incorporated into the American mainstream. Also, interracial marriage between different racial groups through the years have resulted in the emergence of a growing mixed race/multiracial population. On the other hand, in terms of political power the U.S. is still a very segregated society unfortunately.

  • What are main problems of population growth?

    I’m not sure the main problem is population growth per se but rather the economic opportunities that are associated with growing populations. If a society has the proper resources where growing populations can be adequately cared for, educated, and employed, then the problems normally associated with population growth are less of a concern.

  • I don’t understand what you mean when you mention that Asian Americans are not real Americans and there are no differences between ethnic groups. Can you explain more?

    I will use the example of Vincent Chin — he was a Chinese American living in Detroit in 1982 who was beaten to death by two White men who mistook him for being Japanese and blamed him for them losing their jobs as autoworkers. In this example, we see that the two White men did not differentiate between being Chinese or Japanese — that’s the stereotype that all Asians are the same. Second, they assumed that because of his Asian ancestry that he was not a real American and in fact, accused him of being an enemy of the U.S. by taking over their jobs — this is the stereotype that all Asians are foreginers and not real Americans.

  • Can you give us an example of some of the interesting census statistics you deal with related to diversity?

    Yes, Census statistics paint a very interesting picture — Asian Americans are currently about 5% of the total US population but will increase to about 10% in a few decades. The Latino population has increased significantly as well — from about 15% now to about 25% in a few decades. In fact, around the year 2045, Whites will no longer comprise a majority of the population — they’ll still be the largest racial group by far, but non-Whites will eventually make up more than 50% of the US population.

  • America is a new continent, what has America created as their own heritage?

    America’s heritage is that it offers some of the best opportunities in the world for people to improve their lives. That is why billions of people around the world want to come to the U.S. and in fact, feel compelled to come here without authorization. The US is the first choice of destination for many people around the world because of all the opportunities it offers. But that is also why it is so frustrating when people come here and run into different barriers on their way to accessing those opportunities. Hopefully the US can remember and emphasize its role as the land of opportunity as we move forward in the 21st century.

  • Thanks for the opportunity to share my work. I enjoyed answering people’s questions and hope that we all continue these kinds of discussions in other parts of our work and lives.

For a Change: Good News in Racial, Ethnic, & Immigration Relations

I know many of my recent posts have focused on the “bad news” — examples of tensions and hostilities when it comes to racial/ethnic and immigration news. However, there are certainly examples of the opposite — positive and improving relations between different groups in American society that illustrate how cultural differences can be bridged, or at least traditionally underrepresented groups achieving success. Here is a summary of some of the “good news.”

Michigan’s Rima Fakih Wins Miss USA Pageant

Lebanese American immigrant Rima Fakih is crowned Miss USA for 2010. Ms. Fakih resides in Dearborn MI, home of the largest Arab American community in the U.S. and a site of several controversies and tensions in recent years. Nonetheless, her victory is a positive symbol that such tensions can be overcome in this particular instance:

Fakih, a Lebanese immigrant, told pageant organizers her family celebrates both Muslim and Christian faiths. She moved to the United States as a baby and was raised in New York, where she attended a Catholic school. Her family moved to Michigan in 2003. Pageant officials said historical pageant records were not detailed enough to show whether Fakih was the first Arab American, Muslim or immigrant to win the Miss USA title.

Sacramento to Designate ‘Little Saigon’ District

Map of Little Saigon area of Sacramento, CA

The latest officially-named “Little Saigon” celebrates the Lunar New Year in Sacramento CA, home to about 50,000 Vietnamese Americans. As sociologists have documented, these newly-emerging suburban ethnic enclaves have revitalized stagnant areas by bringing in new businesses, customers, tourists, residents, and revenue for the city and state. However, as some of the comments in the Sacramento Bee story linked above show, many people still harbor hostile sentiments to anything that they perceive to be “un-American.”

Thirty-five years after the fall of South Vietnam, Sacramento’s growing Vietnamese community will ask the City Council on Tuesday to designate a two-mile stretch of Stockton Boulevard as “Little Saigon.”

The business corridor south of Fruitridge Road – chock full of restaurants, nail and hair salons, jewelry stores and Asian markets – would become Sacramento’s first official ethnic neighborhood. Community leaders hope the branding will provide an economic shot in the arm that will defuse some of the crime along Stockton Boulevard.

Radio Show Bridges Cultural Gaps with Hmong Hunters

Also in Sacramento, Yia Yang, a Hmong American immigrant from Laos, serves as a valuable resource to educate recent Hmong immigrants about hunting regulations and practices, to avoid the kind of misunderstandings and tensions that led to the tragic hunting murders in Wisconsin several years ago.

Along the barren airwaves of AM radio in Northern California, somewhere between gospel music and traffic updates, Yia Yang can be heard telling his devoted listeners to always be aware of their gun muzzles.

A 50-year-old Hmong immigrant from northern Laos, Mr. Yang is the host of a regular all-things-hunting program on KJAY 1430-AM. The station serves one of the nation’s largest Hmong populations — one for whom the link between hunting and survival is still palpable. “In Laos a main source of food was wildlife,” said Mr. Yang, who owns a used-car lot in Sacramento, a city with more than 16,000 Hmong residents. . . .

State officials praise Mr. Yang for translating the nitty-gritty of fish and game law for people from an ethnic group that can be wary of authority figures. Capt. Roy Griffith, who runs the fish and game agency’s hunter education program and has been an on-air guest of Mr. Yang, said Mr. Yang provided “a huge service to the state.” . . . State agencies overseeing hunting and fishing in Minnesota and Wisconsin have hired Hmong speakers to educate, translate and work as cultural ambassadors to the Laotian immigrant population.

Cal State to Grant Degrees to WWII Internees

More than 70 Japanese Americans whose college careers at California State University campuses were derailed when they were sent to World War II internment camps are getting their diplomas. Six CSU campuses are awarding honorary degrees over the next three weeks to former students who were unable to complete their studies once they were forced into the camps established by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942.

Some of the aging alumni plan to attend the special ceremonies and those who are deceased or unable to travel will be represented by their families. . . . Both the Cal State system and the University of California decided last year to belatedly honor the estimated 950 students of Japanese descent who were interned during the war. Students from four UC campuses – San Francisco, Berkeley, Davis and Los Angeles – received honorary degrees during winter commencement.

Asian Judge Nominee Shows Community’s Progress

Goodwin Liu, Associate Dean and professor at the University of California at Berkeley law school, is poised to become only the second Asian American judge in the federal appeals courts after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to pass his nomination to the full Senate for a vote. More generally, his success represents the progress of Asian Americans entering the highest levels of the judicial system.

Asian-Americans are 5 percent of the U.S. population and 15 percent of the doctors, but about 3 percent of the lawyers. When it comes to lawyers becoming federal judges, which requires strong networks and political connections, Asian-American representation is even smaller.

Ten of 875 active federal judges, just over 1 percent, are Asian-American, according to the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA). On the appeals court level, which has outsized influence in shaping the nation’s laws, only one of 175 judges is Asian: Denny Chin, who was confirmed just last month.

If Liu is confirmed, he would join Chin and Harold Koh, former dean of Yale Law School and currently a State Department legal adviser, as potential candidates to be the first Asian judge on the Supreme Court. . . .

Asian-Americans constituted 8.1 percent of law school students in the fall of 2009, up from 7 percent in the fall of 2000, according to the Law School Admissions Council. And Obama has accelerated the pace of Asian nominations to the federal bench. George W. Bush placed four Asians on the bench and Bill Clinton five; Obama has nominated eight so far, including Liu.

Mayor Proclaims Houston-Nanjing Friendship Association Day

Annise Parker, mayor of the city of Houston, on Saturday proclaimed May 15, 2010 as “Houston-Nanjing Friendship Association Day”. In a proclamation to the newly-established association, Parker said Houston is a city of rich culture diversity and has been enriched by the presence and contributions of its citizens of Chinese ancestry.

“Houston recognizes their (Chinese ancestry) important role in the culture, civic, economic and spiritual life of our city,” Parker said, “A good relationship between Houston and Nanjing from economic, trade, tourism and culture exchange aspects would significantly benefit the citizens of these two cities, and also enhance the understandings and good relationships between the United States and China.”

Arizona, Immigration Reform, and Where the Democratic Party Stands

As I’m sure almost everyone has heard about, a couple of weeks ago the Arizona legislature passed a new law (SB 1070), signed by the Governor, that allows local police to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being an unauthorized immigrant. In making being in the state without authorization a crime, Arizona police can then arrest and begin deportation proceedings against those who cannot properly document that they are legal immigrants.

As many critics of the law point out, the law basically legalizes racial profiling against Latinos, anyone who looks Latino and more generally people of color since it is highly unlikely that this new law can be carried out without the police resorting to racial profiling against the racial/ethnic group most often associated with the issue of unauthorized immigration: Latinos. In other words, it is highly unlikely that Whites will be stopped in large numbers by police and told to prove that they’re in the U.S. legally.

My family and I had plans on visiting Arizona this summer, seeing some friends, and camping at the Grand Canyon (it would have been my daughter’s first visit to the Grand Canyon). But along with many people in the U.S. and around the world who condemn this law, including many Asian Americans, we decided to act on our opposition to this new law by canceling our trip and are now boycotting Arizona. My daughter was disappointed but certainly understands and supports the reason behind it.

Others have written very detailed and convincing critiques of Arizona’s law and I don’t want to just echo what they’ve already said. Instead, I would like to reemphasize some points made by Debra J. Saunders at the San Francisco Chronicle. She points out that while it’s natural and generally for critics of Arizona’s law to focus on Republicans for condemnation, Democrats are not completely free of blame either:

President Obama called the Arizona law “misguided” and said he favors “commonsense comprehensive immigration reform.” It’s all lip service. President Obama reneged on his 2008 campaign pledge to push immigration reform – with a path to citizenship for undocumented aliens – during his first year in office because, well, it’s political poison.

At a Cinco de Mayo event last week, Obama had a new promise – “to begin work this year” on an immigration bill. In Spanish that translates into: Adios, amigos. Of course, not all Latino voters want to relax immigration laws, but to the extent that they do, they have guaranteed that the Democratic Party will take their votes for granted.

Meanwhile, why should Republicans stick their necks out for a demographic that abandoned John McCain in the 2008 presidential election? He risked his political ambitions by pushing for a federal bill with a pathway to citizenship in 2007 and then, according to an Edison/Mitofsky exit poll, McCain won a lousy 31 percent of the Latino vote- down from George W. Bush’s 44 percent in the 2004 presidential contest.

Obama helped kill that bill, and he won 67 percent of the demographic.

When it’s in their interests, Democrats ditch their pro-illegal immigration corner. In 2003, the Democratic California Legislature passed a bill to allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Voters revolted and recalled Gov. Gray Davis, who signed the measure. In a craven act of cowardice, the Legislature quickly voted to rescind the bill it had passed.

In 2009, the Obama administration deported 5 percent more illegal immigrants than the Bush administration deported in 2008. As part of his immigration reform proposal, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, is pushing for a national ID card for all American workers – the very type of documentation that critics of the Arizona law have said will turn Arizona into the “Your papers, please” state.

Saunders’ last point about Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer deserves particular attention. A few months ago, Schumer and South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham laid out their “blueprint” for comprehensive immigration reform (this was before the Arizona law as passed). As printed in the Washington Post, some of their provisions directly mirror the anti-immigrant sentiment that prompted the Arizona law:

We would require all U.S. citizens and legal immigrants who want jobs to obtain a high-tech, fraud-proof Social Security card. . . . We would bolster recent efforts to secure our borders by increasing the Border Patrol’s staffing and funding for infrastructure and technology. More personnel would be deployed to the border immediately to fill gaps in apprehension capabilities.

Other steps include expanding domestic enforcement to better apprehend and deport those who commit crimes and completing an entry-exit system that tracks people who enter the United States on legal visas and reports those who overstay their visas to law enforcement databases. . . .

For the 11 million immigrants already in this country illegally . . . they would be required to admit they broke the law and to pay their debt to society by performing community service and paying fines and back taxes. These people would be required to pass background checks and be proficient in English before going to the back of the line of prospective immigrants to earn the opportunity to work toward lawful permanent residence.

Regardless of their political ideology, almost everyone generally agrees that as it stands, our current immigration system and policies are broken and need to be fixed. For years, conservatives have argued for an strict “enforcement first” approach that focuses on keeping unauthorized immigrants from entering in the first place and deporting as many as possible those already in the U.S. (or at least making life so miserable for them that they voluntarily leave the country).

Historically, Democrats have supported a more forgiving approach to immigration reform that, while acknowledging their unauthorized status, also recognizes the contributions that they make to the economy through sales, income, and other taxes that they pay and in making labor-intensive industries such as agriculture and construction more globally competitive, to name just a few.

But nowadays, as Julia Preston at the New York Times writes, it seems that Democrats have become just as “enforcement-first” as Republicans:

The enforcement would be more far-reaching than anything in place now — or anything proposed by the administration of President George W. Bush. It begins with “zero tolerance” for immigrants trying to enter the country illegally, by tightening border enforcement and by barring them from taking jobs in the United States.

“It shows how far the Democrats have moved in terms of tougher and tougher enforcement,” said Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who studies immigration. “Across the board you see language that would be very comfortable in a proposal written by Republicans.”

This change in direction by the Democratic Party is not an encouraging sign for supporters of addressing the issue of unauthorized immigration in a more holistic manner (recognizing the humanity of the people involved, the economic reasons many decide to enter the U.S. in the first place, the diversity of the unauthorized immigrant population to include not just border crossers but visa overstayers, and the contributions they make to the U.S.). In fact, while there are still some Democratic politicians who share these beliefs, I would say that as a rule, we can no longer rely on the Democratic party or Democratic politicians to be a staunch ally in terms of supporting a humanistic and holistic approach to comprehensive reform. And as much as I hate to say it, this includes President Obama.

Granted, much of the change in attitude among Democratic politicians toward a stricter “enforcement-first” approach is due to the practical realities of wanting to appeal to their mostly White constituents to get reelected (itself a reflection of the emerging White backlash movement). Nonetheless, for many liberals like me, seeing the Democratic Party distancing itself from their traditional support of true comprehensive immigration reform feels like a kick in the stomach and a betrayal.

At least when it comes to the issue of immigration reform, many within the Democratic Party seem to be making choosing what’s convenient over what’s right.