By Mahlon Meyer
Northwest Asian Weekly
If you have been reading this paper long enough, you probably know that during the 19th and 20th centuries, Chinese Americans faced appalling mistreatment at various times in this country. You probably also know that the subject was rarely taught in schools.
Now, there seems to be a solution. Washington State House Bill 5246 calls on the state to deem January “Chinese American history month” and encourages schools to “designate time for appropriate activities” to commemorate “the lives, history, achievements, and contributions of Chinese Americans.”
The bill is largely symbolic, but it is a good start, said WA Asians for Equality, the group that lobbied for the bill. In an emailed statement, the group said “Senate Democrat leadership blocked the bill not once, but twice, this past session… How can this be seen as anything more than an extension of the anti-Asian racism that Asians have been experiencing for generations now?”
So why is it stalling in the State Senate with a Democratic majority that espouses principles for equity and which just enacted a holiday for “Juneteenth,” to celebrate the end of slavery in the United States?
The answer depends to some extent on who you talk to.
For the Republican who sponsored the bill, Sen. Keith Wagoner, the bill is a chance to extend recognition to another marginalized group.
“I voted for Juneteenth,” he said in an interview.
Moreover, Wagoner is married to a Taiwanese woman whose father was a leader of the Chinese Nationalist’s navy. Wagoner, a former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot stationed in Okinawa, visited his wife’s ancestral home in China with her father in 1992.
“I usually get asked to sponsor things like this,” he said, mentioning that the Taiwanese government had bestowed upon him thousands of masks during the outset of the pandemic for him to coordinate distribution.
But for WA Asians for Equality, it is a direct plea for the state and country to wake up to the wave of anti-Asian hatred that has been roiling society since before the start of the pandemic.
They contend that, since the bill is stalled in the Senate (as of press time), this shows a bias of the Democrats against Asians—and apparently in favor of other marginalized groups—since they control the chamber and recently passed the bill for Juneteenth.
“The Democrat controlled Senate stalled Asian bill and let it die yet put Black bill on fast track to pass,” said a press statement from the group on April 9.
Democrats, reached by the Asian Weekly, on the other hand, say the bill is being used as a wedge to divide Asian Americans from Blacks and even create tensions within the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community at a time when urgent action is needed on other fronts, such as combating the pandemic.
They say that symbolic statements such as the one in the short bill, which requires no funding from the state, can be issued either by a resolution from the floor in the Senate or as an executive order from the governor.
By contrast, the bill creating the holiday of Juneteenth required the state to provide funding to pay for the salaries of state employees that would be compensated for taking time off.
Yet the bill calling for Chinese American history month requires no funding from the state and therefore does not need the approval of the legislature, one of whose functions is to apportion funds.
“Juneteenth needed appropriations, so it needed to go through the legislative process,” said state Rep. My-Linh Thai. “Chinese American history month would not need to go through the legislative process, it can be done through executive order by the Governor.”
Moreover, she said, “I have learned that for a bill to have a better chance in the legislative process, it needs to be involved, engaged, and supported by communities at large for feedback and inputs.”
WA Asians for Equality and other organizations with similar agendas have often allied themselves with the Republican Party, where they have found common interests, including opposition to affirmative action.
But state Sen. Joe Nguyen questioned that such an alliance was based in common opposition to anti-Asian hate incidents. The Republican Party has often protected those within its ranks who have spewed anti-Asian invective, including in the state legislature, he said.
“The anti-Asian rhetoric is coming from a party that is now trying to sponsor the bill,” Nguyen said.
Complicating the issue are outsiders such as Stephen Ling, a former teacher at Bethel Junior High School, who was contacted by the Tacoma News Tribune to voice support for the bill.
Ling said he supports the bill because he believes the region’s public schools have grievously neglected their duty to prepare students for a future in which they are “world citizens” as China becomes increasingly dominant.
Ling said the bill was about the future, not the past, and hoped it would encourage more public schools to offer classes in Chinese language, history, and civilization.
Mahlon can be reached at email@example.com.
WA Asians 4 Equality says
And lastly, Mahlon is twisting facts again when mentioning our denouncement of Rep. My-Linh Thai’s 3/22 speech in Renton. Below is our full denouncement:
Any anti-Asian hate crime is a hate crime, no matter who committed it. And any racism towards Asians is racism. A recent study based on hate crime data between 1992 and 2014 found Asian Americans have a higher chance of being victimized by non-White offenders when compared to Black and Hispanic people . We need to call out, and bring justice to all anti-Asian hate primes, not only those fit certain political agendas. We should bring justice to all victims of hate crimes, not selected some. To make the narrow association between a subgroup of our society and anti-Asian hate crimes, Rep. Thai completely missed the mark. We strongly oppose Rep. Thai’s use of Asian pains and sufferings for her political agenda..
Also in Rep. Thai’s speech, she asked to focus on Southeast Asian community, Pacific Islanders community, and the Native Hawaiian community. What about all other Asian Americans? If you follow the news, many of those hate crimes were carried out against Chinese, Japanese, Korean. Rep. Thai’s speech sent a chilly message to the rest of Asian American community that your life does not matter because you are not the chosen few. No, the Asian American community will rally against her divisive view. We stand united to fight for all of members of our community, and for everyone who is a victim of hate crime.
Link to the denouement here: https://waasians4equality.org/2021/03/26/denounce-rep-my-linh-thais-3-22-speech-in-renton/
WA Asians 4 Equality says
And for everyone’s reference, below are 3 questions that Mahlon asked us with our comments:
Mahlon: Do you think the suffering of Chinese Americans has been downplayed in order to disproportionately give advantages to Blacks, who are depicted as the only ones who have suffered?
Linda: No, and this should not be about playing one race against another. That is neither constrictive nor accurate. There are fundamental historical issues that need to be addressed when it comes to discrimination against Asians. Their issues are quite unique to them. The issues need not be combined. I think there is inherent bias against Chinese Americans and Asian Americans in general. The society tends to overlook Chinese Americans’ contributions and hardships.
Mahlon: In other words, do you think the recognition of a Chinese American History Month will help people understand that everyone has had to work hard on a basis of merit to achieve their success coming from tragic historical circumstances?
Linda: Given Chinese American’s important role in the development of Pacific Northwest, I think Chinese Americans’ contributions and hardships should not be forgotten. And Chinese American History Month will help steer the conversation and build awareness. I hope as people learn more about Chinese American’s history in this country, the misconceptions such as “model minority”, “ privileged” can be corrected. Chinese Americans struggled, were expelled from this country, had to fight against discriminations, segregations, yet, many are able to achieve American dreams. Their accomplishments should be cherished, not punished due to a perceived success in some cases. Everyone, no matter their race or where they are from, wants to fit in and be part of American society, and that is kind of what America has always been about – a melting pot. However, in the case of Asians, this willingness to assimilate has led people to ignore the price they have paid as a group when it came to discrimination and abuse, until now anyway. Asians are finding their voice as never before in America.
Mahlon: Why isn’t Chinese American History Month mandated? In other words, why aren’t you trying to force schools to teach Chinese culture or Chinese language? Some people say this is even more important so as to get American students ready for the future in which China will dominate?
Linda: Yes, our long term goal is to add Chinese American History curriculum to K-12 education. As you can see, we faced tremendous hurdle to even attempt to pass a symbolic bill SB 5264. To mandate Chinese American History curriculum is a even tougher uphill battle. I think OSPI and our schools should add Chinese American History to social studies curriculum. And we will work on making that a reality. For this session, the Washington Legislature should pass SB 5264, and encourage public schools to commemorate Chinese American’s contributions and heritage.
WA Asians 4 Equality says
First of all, we demand NW Asian weekly to correct the inaccurate information in this article. Before this article was published, we have contacted the editor and Mahlon, with true representation of what happened “Washington Asians for Equality initially responded with their statement on SB 5264, later withdrew due to concerns over their statement being insinuated into context they disapprove and may be misquoted or misrepresented.”
Secondly, Rep. Thai’s explanation is in accurate: A Senate resolution is not a law. An EO by the governor is also not a a law. A passed bill, on the other hand, will be written into the law. As a lawmaker, her lacks respect to law makes people questioning if her qualification.
Thirdly, why a Chinese American history month bill would divide Asians and Blacks, while the Juneteenth bill would not??