Asian American Awareness

Preface

Asians come to America believing in the American dream. There are many Asians in big cities, in the tech industry, in medicine, and in academia but yet, they are so invisible. There is the common myth that Asian Americans are thriving in the US and they are not facing problems. But is this true? Unfortunately, the struggles of Asian Americans are rarely covered in the mainstream media until this pandemic of COVID19 pandemic. Attacks on Asian Americans have been soaring and heightened in the worst form, including a recent mass shooting in Atlanta that took many Asians’ life. I spent a good 5+ years in Atlanta doing my Ph.D. study thus have a deep connection with this city. This tragedy is extremely saddening for me, and as a result, I felt the need to do something.

Inspired by Dae Kim’s address to congress, Michael Lu’s open letter on the discriminations that Asians are facing, Andrew Yang’s book “The War on Normal People”, as well as other resources, here I briefly summarized a few points to raise the Asian American Awareness.  

 

Why Asian Americans are “over-represented” in tech industries, medicine, and academia?

Many reasons, including cultural and political. I would like to highlight a major reason, which is due to the 1882 “Chinese Exclusion Act”, the first and only federal law of the United States that explicitly designed to single out an entire race of people from immigrating to the United States. This law existed for close to 100 years and only ended around the World War II era. Because of this law, Asians with a diverse background cannot immigrate to the US freely to take on jobs in various fields for a very long period of time. The increase in Asian immigrants only started after WWII, mainly for those who came to the US to pursue advanced degrees. Thus, there was a “selection” of a particular group of Asians that were allowed to enter the US. Asians are concentrated in the medicine, academia, and tech industries, of which the employers have difficulty finding talents. These job opportunities generated an unusual opportunity for Asians to come to the US to take advanced education to fill these gaps. 

 

Are Asian Americans really the model minority?

Hardly. Studies have found that the wealth disparity between the richest Asian-Americans and the poorest is the largest of any ethnic group in America. In New York, Asian-Americans have a higher poverty rate than any other minority group. One in four Asian-Americans are living below the poverty line. In particular, poverty rates among Asian-American seniors are much higher than the national average, who are often the easy target for attacks. 

Sadly, none of these statistics are adequately covered in mainstream media. Despite this wide disparity of experiences, Asians continue to be labeled as the model minority in a way that distracts from a troubling picture that is the reality in the Asian community. It is at best purposefully manipulating, that mainstream media use the most successful Asians to represent the totality of Asians, and ignore real problems in Asian American communities.

 

What is the bamboo ceiling?

Asian Americans have a strong presence in many fields, but even in these fields, Asian Americans are rarely in leadership roles. It is found that Asian Americans make up 27% of professional staff at the top five companies in Silicon Valley, but only 14% of executives and 2% of Fortune 500 CEOs; 11% of law firm associates, but only 3% of partners; 7% of tenured faculty, but only 3% of deans and 1.5% of college presidents; 9.8% of the federal workforce, but only 4.4% of senior executive service. Asian Americans lack representation in sports (Who are the Asian stars in the national football league?) or the entertainment industry (have you seen an Asian hero on a big-screen movie?). Asian Americans also lack representation in the Congress, Senate, or Supreme Court. 

 

Are Asian Americans real Americans and contributing to American history?

Although Asian Americans have been an indispensable part of American history, the vital contributions of Asian Americans are often ignored or erased. It is essential to know that without tens of thousands of Asians working day and night under slave-like conditions, there would be no transcontinental railroad connecting the east and west of the US and there would be no California, Silicon Valley, or a “united” states that connects two oceans. While being known by very few, the US Army 442nd Infantry Regiment, which was made up entirely of Asian Americans, was the most decorated combat unit in American history. Without Wong Kim Ark’s fight for his US citizenship in the US Supreme Court, “birthright citizenship” regardless of race will not be a constitutional right for all Americans who enjoy it without even thinking about it.

In modern days, Jensen Huang established Nvidia completely changing the computing architecture for advancing artificial intelligence computing; Eric Yuan built the Zoom videoconferencing app that we are using on a daily basis; Roger Tsien discovered the green fluorescent protein that revolutionized biomedical imaging; Feng Zhang, who makes the CRISPR technology widely accessible, is changing the landscape of genome-medicine; Lieping Chen revealed the PD-1/PD-L1 interaction, which forms a basis of modern cancer immunotherapy benefiting millions of people; David Da-i Ho invented the “AIDS cocktail” therapy that extended the lives of countless people with HIV. And Andrew Yang, who ran for US president and popularized the concept of universal basic income (UBI) to combat poverty for all races (while his campaign was often "accidentally" blacked out by major media). Also, don’t forget millions of Asian Americans who are working in the restaurants and other service industries (e.g., hair/nail salons, massage parlors, and spas) to make everyone’s life better, but sadly are easy targets of hate crimes. 

I am sure there would be many more Asian Americans who change the history of America, but due to the ongoing suppression of Asian Americans' voices, that I don’t know about. It is crucial that we all work together to further raise Asian American Awareness.

 

Why are Asians “invisible”?

You can see Asian Americans on the street but not as heroes in Hollywood movies. Asian men in movies are always shown as sexually neutral or unattractive. Asian stories or struggles are rarely covered in textbooks or mainstream reports. Elite Universities impose debatably “Asian quota” just like what they did to cap the admission of Jews back in the 1930s. Studies showed that Asian voices are often suppressed in mainstream media and Asian Americans are purposefully portrayed as “perpetual foreigners”.

Ironically, Asian Americans only become visible in times of crisis. Michael Lu alarmingly pointed out that “Anti-Asian scapegoating has become an American tradition”. Anti-Asian scapegoating is the reason the “Chinese Exclusion Act” was introduced, the reason hundreds of thousands of Asian Americans were thrown into internment camps during WWII, the reason that two killers who murdered Vincent Chin never served one day in the jail, and the reason behind what happens today. We need this tradition to stop, now.

 

What can we do to change?

Make Asian Americans’ voices heard. Many Asian Americans have cultural traditions that encourage them to keep their heads down, and to get things done. It is time to stand up and speak up. Connect with other communities to get our voice heard, and get our stories told. Go out to vote, and let lawmakers see the Asian faces and the Asian issues. Raise voices in school districts to increase Asian American Awareness, and include Asian American history for the next generation in the textbooks and teaching. It is vital to understand that Asian Americans are Americans, and Asian American history is American history.

           

United as one with other ethnic groups

All ethnic groups face struggles. While socioeconomic inequality and poverty could be the root cause for many problems, blacks particularly could face criminal justice issues, Latinx may disproportionately suffer from issues related to the broken immigration laws, and the problems of whites are vividly revealed in the book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance. As a researcher and educator, I firmly believe that improving education starting from K-12 is one essential way to solve many of these issues. Yang Lab is committed to providing strong support to underprivileged individuals to advance their careers and pursue their dreams. We stand together with all ethnic groups to build a better future for everyone.

by Yang Yang,

 

April, 2021

 

 

References:

 

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

https://www.history.com/topics/immigration/chinese-exclusion-act-1882

Michael Lu: We must lift the veil on anti-Asian racism in America

https://news.berkeley.edu/2021/03/22/michael-lu-we-must-lift-the-veil-on-anti-asian-racism-in-america/

Berkeley expert: In times of crisis, anti-Asian violence is an American tradition

https://news.berkeley.edu/2021/03/17/berkeley-expert-in-times-of-crisis-anti-asian-violence-is-an-american-tradition/

Asian Americans Are Still Caught in the Trap of the ‘Model Minority’ Stereotype. And It Creates Inequality for All

https://time.com/5859206/anti-asian-racism-america/

Asian Americans Are the Least Likely Group in the U.S. to Be Promoted to Management

https://hbr.org/2018/05/asian-americans-are-the-least-likely-group-in-the-u-s-to-be-promoted-to-management

Building the Transcontinental Railroad: How 20,000 Chinese Immigrants Made It Happen

https://www.history.com/news/transcontinental-railroad-chinese-immigrants

Born in the USA: The Immigrant Son Who Fought for Birthright Citizenship

https://www.history.com/news/born-in-the-usa-the-immigrant-son-who-fought-for-birthright-citizenship

442nd Regimental Combat Team "Go For Broke"

https://www.goforbroke.org/learn/history/military_units/442nd.php

How the 1982 Murder of Vincent Chin Ignited a Push for Asian American Rights

https://www.history.com/news/vincent-chin-murder-asian-american-rights

Feng Zhang

https://zlab.bio/

Lieping Chen

https://medicine.yale.edu/immuno/profile/lieping_chen/

Roger Y. Tsien

http://www.tsienlab.ucsd.edu/

A Visual History of the #YangMediaBlackout

https://vocal.media/theSwamp/a-visual-history-of-the-yang-media-blackout

'Hillbilly Elegy' Recalls A Childhood Where Poverty Was 'The Family Tradition'

https://www.npr.org/2016/08/17/490328484/hillbilly-elegy-recalls-a-childhood-where-poverty-was-the-family-tradition