By Matt Chan
Special to the Northwest Asian Weekly
The main reason people immigrate to America is for a better life. Even with the current state of our political discourse, it is still the best place in the world for people who want a shot at a better life for themselves and their family.
But a “better life” just doesn’t happen. America’s history has been and still is a hard and sometimes violent struggle for people of color to earn a better life. It was no exception for the Chinese. Washington state has a dark history when it comes to the treatment of Chinese. Chinese were marched out of Tacoma (Nov. 3, 1886) and Seattle (Feb. 7, 1886), because it was perceived that they were taking jobs away from local “white” citizens. Sound familiar? This anti-Chinese sentiment ultimately led to the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was repealed in 1943. And yet the Chinese survived and thrived, all in the quest for a better life.
When my grandparents arrived in America, they struggled, and sacrificed, but it wasn’t a unitary struggle. Most immigrants, regardless of ethnicity, all faced the same hardships. Add to the mix that our country was built on the backs of slaves, you have a condition where people of color were never on an equal footing with the dominant culture.
Today, the quest for a better life is much the same, yet different. People still come to America to escape hardship and violence, but others come for financial and political reasons, and to seek greater economic opportunities. But there is one truth that escapes some of these new immigrants: the advantages they enjoy now were earned through the suffering, sacrifice, and perseverance by many who came before them, people who were not wealthy or educated but understood hard work and earning your place in America.
This is why I believe that any person with immigrant roots is wrong to oppose I-1000 and support the referendum R-88 that overturns I-1000. Racism and discrimination have always existed in our country. It’s the reason communities of color were always formed in the least desirable areas. Our very own Chinatown-International District came about because of discrimination and systematic redlining. Still, our community survived because it was built on the proposition that our gains must be shared.
The tribalness of the Asians that oppose I-1000 are the worst of the “I got mine so screw everyone else” mentality, as they enjoy and prosper with the advantages given to them that so many have died and sacrificed for. It is the ultimate selfish act. The very privileges they enjoy puts them into an insulated bubble that shields them from the realities of what many people of color face. I understand that where they immigrated from had a different set of rules that forced them into their world view.
But this is America, even in this time of political decisiveness, good people always help those who are in need. It is what makes our country special.
The bottom line is, the Asians who seek to overturn I-1000 should search deep into their souls and try to understand our country and think about all who have struggled, were oppressed, fought the system, and gave their lives for the very opportunities you enjoy. You have the right to prosper and earn your place in America, but that doesn’t include denying others the same opportunities. Asian Americans as a group are one of the most diverse and fastest growing groups in the country. We aren’t all natural scholars, gifted students, smart entrepreneurs. We are people like you who deserve the opportunity for a better life.
Your prosperity should not come at the cost of someone else’s opportunity. Your prosperity should be about everyone having the same chance at a better life, and that is what I-1000 aims to do.
Matt Chan is an award winning network television producer, and creator of the long running A&E series, “Hoarders.” His passion is to use his creative skills to help communities of color tell their stories.