My parents came from China to the United States in 1991, penniless but filled with hope. They had faith that this new land held promises of a brighter future; they had to, otherwise uprooting themselves from everything they had ever known would be all for naught. Coming here was a gamble, and they were all in.
The 1965 Immigration Act, which eradicated immigration quotas, led to a large influx of immigrants from Asian countries. For my parents and many other Asians who immigrated to the U.S. in the late twentieth century, their sacrifices paid off. While juggling a new baby (my older sister, age one) and late-night jobs in dishwashing and hosting, my father earned his doctorate and my mother, her master’s. They found jobs, worked hard, kept their heads down and earned a spot in the United States’ upper-middle class. It’s the classic Asian immigrant success story, and it’s this trajectory that has earned Asians the title of the “model minority.”
The title may seem like a compliment, but upon further inspection, the implications are troubling. Why are Asians seen as the model minority? Is it because they work hard and frequently achieve the American Dream? Or, is it because we stay relatively quiet about social issues and do not often speak up about injustices we face?
Although we may be a model minority now, the last century was rife with anti-Asian sentiment, and we cannot let our present relative fortune make us think that we have nothing in common with the many Muslims barred from entering or reentering the United States. From 1917, with the Asiatic Barred Zone Act, to roughly 1943, with the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Asian Americans were the targets of immigration laws. We must not forget that, at one point, 70 percent of immigrants detained and interrogated on Angel Island were Chinese.
The news would have you think the U.S. is black and white, but in truth, Asians still face racism and bias in the U.S., sometimes blatantly and on national television, such as Chris Rock’s exploitation of three Asian children for a racist joke at last year’s Academy Awards. However, these offenses do not receive as much media attention or spark movements, partly because there is a lack of Asian Americans in politics and media to bring awareness to the issues, but also because Asian Americans have a tendency to avoid “stirring the pot” or being politically active.
There are a few prominent public figures who give a voice to Asian Americans in the media — Constance Wu, who has no problem criticizing Hollywood on its white-savior casting of Matt Damon in “The Great Wall,” comes to mind — but they are still a minority within a minority. More commonly, Asian Americans are comfortable as the United States’ model minority. Why risk the role over a few grievances?
As a result, many Asian Americans feel distant from the issues that other immigrants and minority groups face in the U.S. However, this mindset has to change. As we enter Donald Trump’s presidency, which has already imposed a travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries and signed an executive order to begin construction on a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, it is more important than ever for Asian Americans to stand in solidarity with the new president’s targeted groups.
Now is not the time to be bystanders, because although Trump’s policies may not targeting Asian Americans specifically, they are targeting an immigrant minority, and we are not strangers to that. We can no longer stay quiet and pretend these issues do not affect us. We can no longer turn the other cheek under the guise of not being “political.”
President Trump will not reward us for being model anything. If he is waging a war on immigration, it would be naive to believe that Asian Americans are exempt from it. After all, he has already shown his dislike for Chinese and Japanese businessmen during his election campaign with a grossly racist impersonation. Asian Americans may not be Trump’s primary target right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be, won’t be or weren’t.
We must remember that, besides those truly native to America, we are all immigrants here. And we must stand together.
Ashley Zhang can be reached at email@example.com.