By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
Wing Luke Museum’s “Asian American Women Rising: NOT Your Model Minority” was a masterfully crafted webinar on May 22, with the goal of inspiring viewers to participate in our democracy for the purpose of ending hate and violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), especially women. Starting with vital information on discrimination and the Model Minority Myth, the talk led to topics of police violence, institutionalized racism, and fetishization of Asian women, and ended with a call to action.
Doan Diane Hoang Dy, senior tour manager, started with a sample of the tour of the Museum’s history as a hotel for AAPI immigrants. Walking through halls where hopeful immigrants once lived was the perfect set up for a conversation about how life has not quite been the “American Dream.” Dy described the treatment of women in the 1800s and early 1900s, when any female was suspected of coming here for the purpose of prostitution. She also pointed out how the first major immigrant groups—Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos—formed organizations to help each other, and she turned her camera towards the awnings that we still can see in the Chinatown-International District, which beckoned to newcomers and let them know there was a family of sorts here.
From these early days, an idea was forming in the minds of white Americans that these new immigrants were dangerous, might take their jobs, and would damage their way of life. Legislation such as the Chinese Exclusion Act created a situation where people denied citizenship would be disadvantaged in building lasting prosperity in their new country.
Connie So, president of the Seattle Chapter of OCA, brought us up to date on what developed into the Model Minority Myth, how to debunk the myth, and how it relates to hate crimes. “Asian Americans are perceived as a favored minority…because we work very hard,” so the myth goes, and are “out-whiting whites—whatever that means.” When civil rights leaders in the 1960s accused the U.S. of institutionalized racism, responders went to the Asian American population to show that minorities do well here—but the statistics were skewed.
Then and now, statistics to “prove” this myth most commonly use median family income and level of education, which don’t tell the true story. They don’t tell of the multiple people living in one household—which is why an individual income marker is more truthful, or of educated immigrants who have to find blue collar jobs when they get here. They tell us that most AAPIs live in large cities, where income is higher—but they don’t tell us that life is expensive there.
So’s talk led to the disturbing rise in hate crimes against AAPIs, which picked up significantly once the coronavirus was called the “Kung Flu.” In Washington state, between March and December of 2020, 542 hate crimes against AAPIs were reported, the second highest per capita in the nation, and this number is expected to be larger in 2021. Ninety percent of perpetrators are white people whose fears of the “Yellow Peril” are perpetuated by misleading data.
By this point in the presentation, many people had to be thinking about recent examples of hate, such as the murders in Atlanta, which the next speaker, Amy Huang, a social work practitioner at the University of Washington (UW), tied into sexualization and fetishization of Asian American women that leads to misogyny.
“U.S. colonialism and Western imperialism has generated and perpetuated white supremacist narratives,” Huang stated. Asian women are stereotyped, for the benefit of the white male, as submissive. Huang gave examples from the Vietnam War, when local women were offered up to U.S. military men. From there, it was just a few steps of twisted thinking until Robert Long murdered massage workers to assuage his own sexual deviance.
What can we do against the waves of lies that serve the majority and perpetuate false narratives? Moderator Velma Veloria, former Washington state representative, took us to the next stage of the webinar by introducing Tianna Andresen, spoken word artist and activist. “We are hopeful that we have the younger generation that could help us continue this struggle.”
Andresen emphasized that anyone could fight for social justice, and that just showing up in support is important.
“Imagine if we had an event and no one was there?” Her own involvement, which was pivotal for change at Garfield High School, shows that one person can make a difference when joined by like minds and directed action.
“Without that collective power of students, [Garfield] wouldn’t have land acknowledgement, ethnic studies, and gender neutral bathrooms.” Now a student at UW, Andresen brought up discrimination in the budgets of so-called “liberal” academic institutions. “The way money is used is important…Academic systems like to act like they are on the students’ side, but won’t do anything until their pockets hurt.”
According to Andresen, UW funds “companies responsible for genocide and colonialism” by giving money to Boeing, for instance, or through their own police department that “harasses Black and brown people.” The conversation moved here to police funding, a topic taken up by Aretha Basu, an example of someone who, as a campaign coordinator for Nikita Oliver and staff member for Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, fights from the inside and the outside.
Basu clarified that “defunding the police” doesn’t mean removing all funding from the police force, but redistributing resources to other, more appropriate recipients.
“If we’re imagining a plate of responsibilities, a lot should not be on their plate…It is about that their budget is larger than any social service budget in our city, such as mental health services. The idea is that we should divest from the police budget and invest “to meet those needs…we don’t need a gun and badge response. There are better responses that are culturally relevant.”
Coming full circle, Basu talked about how the Model Minority Myth serves the dominant white culture by requiring that AAPIs “stay in the shadows, stay silent, hoard resources…and deliberately throw other communities under the bus.” This leads to anti-Black racism, for instance, among Asian communities, when we should all be supporting each other.
“The myth keeps us separated and fighting for scraps, and keeps us believing that our struggle is siloed.” Basu asserted that if it had not been for the diverse crowds that protested in the past year, Seattle’s police budget would not have been defunded by 20%.
“That win was the result of everyday people rising up and choosing to be civically engaged.”
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.