Anti-Asian American bashing isn’t new; this isn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last.

I’m never surprised when it comes. As a Chinese and as a woman, I know.

Marion Kwan.

Hate and discrimination against Chinese women and girls started almost from the time of the first large arrival of sojourners from southern China to the U.S., about 175 years ago. At that time, sexual relationships between white women and Chinese men were prohibited, as was marriage between them. Chinese men tricked girls from poor Chinese households to find riches in America—this country the Chinese called Beautiful Nation and California, known as Gold Mountain. Chinese started emigrating in 1848-1849 when news of gold was discovered in California. Under these conditions, Chinese women and girls suffered both the horror of human sex trafficking as well as the indignity of being the unwanted minority in White America.

Chinese had no rights, could not testify in court, could not become citizens, children could not attend public schools. Extra taxes were levied against only the Chinese. Over 200 Chinatowns were plundered and burned in California, Chinese lynched and shot. Reportedly, Africans had already arrived 230 years earlier and the Chinese were the next wave of people to dominate. Before that, Indigenous People/Native Americans and Mexicans have already been subjected to white discrimination. The pattern of US white power has been consistently used against peoples of color and to those of Jewish descent.

Portrait of a Chinese woman in San Francisco, circa 1870s.

Two unusual and significant Acts were passed in Congress in 1875 and 1882:

The 1875 Page Act, introduced by Republican Rep. Horace Page, was to “end the danger of immoral Chinese women coming to the U.S.”  The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act had ended all Chinese from entering U.S. for two generations.

These are significant because both Acts are believed to be the first time ever, that Congress closed its borders – first to a specific sex, and then to a specific race. This has never happened before and has not happened since. It was all about the Chinese.

Then in 1892 Chinese were required under the Geary Act (Dog Tag Law) to carry a photo id card to prove they were legal immigrants. The Act prompted 100,000 Chinese in mass protest, considered to be the largest civil disobedience of the time in the U.S.

Identity cards had their roots in America slavery where Blacks were required to bear papers proving they were not slaves, or were slaves living at a certain plantation.

Never mind that females of Asian descent were “not the only females in the U.S.” who performed so-called immoral acts. Prostitution in this case was really slave labor forced on Chinese females, especially girls. Unfounded claims made by health officials blamed Chinese sex workers as spreading syphilis, and that other diseases rampant at the time (smallpox, chorea, other) were also caused by Chinese in San Francisco and Chinatown. Chinese were portrayed as…“..breeders of disease, but also denied them access to health care…Chinatown is a social, moral, and political curse to the community..(1885) – source:  “When Chinese Americans were Blamed for 19th-Century Epidemics, They Build Their Own Hospital,” C.Wang, 4/13/2020 in Atlas Obscura.

Chinese women detained at the Angel Island Immigration Station. Photo courtesy of Calif. State Parks.

Such misleading health news is glaringly familiar to today’s 2020 pandemic and the upswing of love/hate of Asians, especially Asian women. Although the performance of sex has nothing to do with the coronavirus that is airborne, the past discrimination surrounding Asian women persists re-emerging once again against Asians, America’s convenient scapegoat. Six Asian women were systematically shot down in massage parlors in Georgia; elder Asians killed and wounded in U.S. streets. Recently thousands of such reports have been documented. Trump’s “Kung Flu” will do. ”China Virus” can do. Vigilante style ambush is seen as acceptable again.

Why now, again? Why the sudden peak of anger and hate against Asian Americans?

Desperate times take on desperate measures: The timing was ripe to take on a scapegoat.

I have two observations, among others. The Coronavirus pandemic and George Floyd; both incidences kept people at home, and normal life was/is on-hold. Both incidences had to do with imminent death on a very personal, and glaringly intimate level.  Fear leads to desperation.

Covid happened, and white conservative Americans were not used to this. Fear and safety on a daily level is usually relegated to other people like minorities and gays and women and other “vulnerables.” Becoming an unwilling victim to a pandemic that is faceless, colorblind, ageblind, sexblind can be unnerving. No family is exempt.

Mural in memory of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN.

Then two months later George Floyd happened. A courageous teenage bystander with her phone videoed slowly, frame by frame, as the world watched, stunned. Coupled with the pandemic, fear of dying lies in front of a lens. And racial harm, racial wrong, is being done right before our very eyes, in slow motion. The world seemed to be holding its breath too.

Suddenly, nobody is thinking anymore of the MMM (Model Minority Myth), another misnomer and false idea created by and for the advantage of White America; White America tries to put another blame on Asians to create discontent and comparisons among all their other-fellow minorities. Suddenly the model Asian becomes the 2020 scapegoat, encouraged enthusiastically by Trumpism.

“Chinese Must Go!” was a dreadful, terror slogan in the 1850s. Almost repeating itself today, yes it’s scary and frightful. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Asian American can be used as pawns.

I have never been to China. Don’t call me a Chinese. I am Chinese American, born and raised. Proud of being both. Please don’t tell me to “go back to where I came from.” I’m never gone from the US, from whence I came.

Please ask another American who may have been to China numerous times, they are the experts on China, and not me.  (My favorite author on China does not happen to be Chinese at all.)

So please ask yourself, why am I Chinese or Asian? Why am I not also “American?”

Anti-Asian hate rally in Portsmouth Square, SF Chinatown, March 20, 2021. Photo by Eddie Wong.

When I took my two-shots of COVID-19 in February and March of 2021, I had to check the part that identifies my race. The only box I could check was “Asian.” There were many other boxes for peoples of color to check their “ -American-ness,” but there was nothing for an “Asian American” checkbox.

I need to remind everyone that Anti-Asian bashing is really Anti-American bashing.

I am an elder, thereby I already took the scheduled 2-shots of Coronavirus inoculations early, ahead of those younger like my adult children. I was born and raised in San Francisco Chinatown. I became a Freedom Fighter/Civil Rights Worker in 1965 and 1966 in Mississippi. I was a community worker with the YWCA and a Head Start teacher, both in Chinatown. I retired from the City College of San Francisco as a counselor to “low-income first-generation to college” students, serving all minority communities in the Bay Area. My colleagues and friends come in different colors and sexual orientations and languages – not by design but by a singular purpose and mission: we advocated for the basic human rights for all Americans.

Thank goodness for this new Asian American generation, and for other young generations of color as well as whites. They are multiculturally aware, they fight for BLM and for the right to be Asian Americans, or to be of any other color and ethnicities; they fight for LGBTQ; for fair housing, health care, climate change. They take themselves Off on Fridays from school for Friday Protesting & gun control.

Rally and memorial for the murdered women in Atlanta, Madison Park, Oakland Chinatown, March 23, 2021. Photo by Eddie Wong

I like to believe that my generation, making history for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, helped forged the path for this new generation – to continue upholding Justice for All. My older generation helped raise consciousness on Black/Yellow/Red/Brown Power. Now, I like to believe that we no longer need to fight racism and discrimination alone – Blacks only for Blacks, Asians only for Asians, or Gays only for Gays.

A real silver-lining that came out of this tragic turnout of anti-Asianness—has been the instant turnout of help coming from outsiders of Chinese communities. Other racial groups and individuals have come out to help protect and guard elderly and Asian Americans. Violence against Asian Americans and against Asian American women are always around; but the recent violence has galvanized young organizations to become effective in providing public reports and defense communication training workshops for Asian Americans. And now we are not alone in this fight.

We Asian Americans can learn from such examples and we, too, can help support other Americans who are different from us. There is much that we can learn from one another’s struggles. All ethnic-racial groups have benefited from the Black struggles and contributions, as an example. Together we are stronger.

I have protest signs that read in Chinese characters (oh I can write it but I can’t read it well): “Black lives are also lives” and “Black lives are precious and valuable.”

We do need to move on…follow the road least traveled and forge a new Movement of inclusiveness and allyship.

Asian/Black solidarity rally with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Portsmouth Square, SF Chinatown, June 18, 2021. L-R: Mike Murase, Mabel Teng, Rev. Jackson, Cindy Ng, Eddie Wong, Butch Wing, Pam Tau Lee, and Donna Kotake. Photo courtesy of Butch Wing.

Author’s Bio:  Marion Kwan worked with the Delta Ministry in Mississippi as a civil rights worker in the summers of 1965-1966. She worked in San Francisco Chinatown as a Head Start teacher, and later as Young Adult Program Director with YWCA. Marion has retired from City College of San Francisco as a counselor serving economically – and educationally disadvantaged students. She was also a consultant in Intercultural Communications with Stanford U., and a trainer for Community Boards Inc., a dispute resolution neighborhood program serving San Francisco.

Today, Marion continues to speak to schools, universities and communities at large on the topics of civil rights. A rare speaker on civil rights who is Chinese American, Marion finds it a challenge and an inspiration to reach out to young audiences and adults about being Asian American, about belonging, and about being inclusive.

Editor’s Note:  Marion Kwan posted her article about her Civil Rights Movement activism in East Wind ezine in 2020 – https://eastwindezine.com/fighting-for-civil-rights-in-hattiesburg-ms-in-1965/

 

 

 

 

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