14 Photos That Show The Original Asian-American Resistance
By the 1960s, Asian-Americans were already being portrayed as a U.S. “model minority” ― a group whose diligent work, personal responsibility and success proved that the American dream was attainable to all. It turns out, the label didn’t tell the full story.
As a new exhibition at the Los Angeles Chinese American Museum argues, young Asian Americans of the time were busy writing their own narrative and protesting just like their Black and Chicano counterparts. Through protest and art, they denounced the Vietnam War and refused to be pigeonholed as model minorities who could easily overcome systemic barriers.
“Beginning in the late 1960s, Asian-Americans nationwide were building social service institutions and feminist collectives, marching against the war, critiquing and sometimes even trying to overthrow the U.S. government,” said Ryan Wong, one of the curators of the exhibition “Roots: Asian American Movements in Los Angeles 1968–80s.”
According to Wong, it’s no coincidence that the term “model minority” was being coined around the same time the Asian-American movement was radicalizing a generation of young people. Groups of Asians protesting for their rights wasn’t the story most media outlets or social theorists wanted to acknowledge.
“The ‘model minority’ idea was used as a weapon against the social movements of the civil rights era, suggesting that activism wasn’t necessary if a group could only ‘work harder,’” he said.
The Asian-American movement chronicled in the exhibition shatters that myth, he added.
White Students’ Unfair Advantage in Admissions
As a Chinese-American alumnus who interviews applicants to Yale, I’m often asked one question by Asian-American students and parents: “Will being Asian hurt my chances?”
I deflect these queries, since I’m just a volunteer, not a member of the admissions committee. But I understand their concern.
A 2009 Princeton study showed Asian-Americans had to score 140 points higher on their SATs than whites, 270 points higher than Hispanics and 450 points higher than blacks to have the same chance of admission to leading universities. A lawsuit filed in 2014 accused Harvard of having a cap on the number of Asian students — the percentage of Asians in Harvard’s student body had remained about 16 percent to 19 percent for two decades even though the Asian-American percentage of the population had more than doubled. In 2016, the Asian American Coalition for Education filed a complaint with the Department of Education against Yale, where the Asian percentage had remained 13 percent to 16 percent for 20 years, as well as Brown and Dartmouth, urging investigation of their admissions practices for similar reasons.
There’s ample evidence that Asian-Americans are at a disadvantage in college admissions. This issue has divided Asians and others who debate the relative benefits of diversity versus meritocracy in our society.
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I’ve often heard Asian-Americans express resentment toward blacks and Latinos for benefiting from affirmative action. As a Yale senior, I remember feeling disillusioned myself when an upper-middle-class black classmate with significantly less academic achievement than I was admitted to a top medical school that had rejected me.
But if Asians are being held back, it’s not so much because of affirmative action but because of preference for whites. The 450-point advantage that the Princeton study demonstrated blacks have over Asians draws the most attention. But the number that is most revealing is the 140-point advantage for whites over Asians.
To explain that disparity some might cite the myth that while Asian students have high test scores, they lack the well-rounded extracurricular interests and activities that colleges prize. But the study isolated race as a factor by controlling for variables like academic performance, legacy status, social class, type of high school (public or private) and participation in athletics. So that 140-point gap is between a white student and an Asian student who differ by little more than race.
Still, I’ve always supported affirmative action, though I’d much prefer that it was based on socio-economic disadvantage rather than race alone. All students benefit from having a racially diverse class. I would not have preferred to go to a Yale that was predominantly Asian. Colleges should grant an advantage to blacks and Hispanics because they continue to face barriers to equal access and opportunity.
The same is not true for whites, so there is no reason they should have preference over Asians in college admissions. It would be ludicrous to state that whites have been disadvantaged in comparison to Asian-Americans. The opposite could be argued, with xenophobic persecution during “yellow peril” scares, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II as prime examples.
Often-cited examples of race-blind meritocracy are New York City’s elite public schools, such as Stuyvesant High School, for which admission is based solely on a standardized test. Stuyvesant is about 74 percent Asian, 18 percent white, 3 percent Hispanic, 1 percent black, with 4 percent multiracial or other. In California, where race-based affirmative action was eliminated in 1996, admission at the University of California at Berkeley is 42 percent Asian.
I do not like this degree of racial imbalance. But for too long, many elite colleges have done too much to orchestrate the racial composition of their classes. It seems obvious that continuing to hold Asian percentages at near-constant levels required excessive tipping of the scales to the detriment of Asians — and America’s long-cherished traditions of fairness and equal opportunity.
These colleges’ intentions may be good. Preserving a white majority is unlikely to be an overt goal. But whatever the reason for this frozen racial composition, it should be questioned.
A school like Harvard can ensure racial diversity by employing affirmative action to increase black and Hispanic enrollment, or at least keep them stable, but should maintain a level playing field for ethnicities that are not underrepresented — whites and Asians. (And I must acknowledge that there may be signs that this is beginning to happen: the recently admitted Harvard class of 2020 is 22 percent Asian, a slight increase.)
SF school board abolishes Asian segregation rule, 110 years later
SAN FRANCISCO – After 110 years, the San Francisco Board of Education on Jan. 24 formally struck down a long-overlooked board resolution dating back to 1906 that excluded children of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean ancestry from “normal schools” and restricted them to an “Oriental School.”
“The 1906 board resolution reflected an extremely racist time when the Japanese and Korean Exclusion League vilified Asians and anti-Chinese sentiment reached new heights,” said Commissioner Emily Murase, who co-authored the resolution.
Murase is the first Japanese American to serve on the school board. Commissioner Stevon Cook, the newest member of the school board, co-authored the resolution with Murase and all BOE commissioners asked to signed on.
In its early history, district actions led to landmark school discrimination cases, including the 1885 California Supreme Court Case, Tape v. Hurley, in which the parents of eight year-old American-born Mamie Tape successfully challenged the principal’s refusal to enroll Mamie and other Chinese children at Spring Valley School. The Tape case determined that all children, including immigrants, were entitled to public education.
However, in the same year the Tape case was decided, the California State Assembly enacted Bill 268 that authorized school districts to assign children of “Mongolian” descent to segregated schools. This gave rise to the “Oriental School” in San Francisco.
When the school board adopted the resolution in October 1906 authorizing the removal of Japanese students from normal schools for placement in the “Oriental School,” it violated the 1894 U.S.-Japan Treaty of Commerce and Navigation, which established a non-discrimination policy for Japanese immigrants in the U.S.
What Today’s Protesters Can Learn From the History of L.A.’s Asian-American Movement
On Saturday, Jan. 21, hundreds of thousands of people spilled into downtown Los Angeles to protest a president whose promise to “make America great again” threatens to turn back the clock on civil liberties for marginalized groups at least several decades.
Coincidentally, just two days earlier, the Chinese American Museum opened “Roots: Asian-American Movements in Los Angeles 1968-80s," an exhibit that digs into at an oft-overlooked historical resistance, which can inform how we build new activist coalitions for the future.
The Asian-American movement was the first broad, pan-Asian diaspora coalition in America. Within it, activists rallied around causes that ranged from protesting the war in Vietnam to organizing against the eviction of elderly, non-English-speaking residents within gentrifying communities to rallying against youth drug abuse. They boosted socially conscious films and music by Asian-American artists, joining a groundswell of movements that included the civil rights movement, the Chicano movement, second-wave feminism and the gay liberation movement. “Roots” is an effort to contextualize the many causes at work during this era while specifically centering L.A.’s Asian-American activism and identity formation — a mighty task, considering that Asia is a vast continent with individually and regionally complicated histories.
“This idea of Asian America didn’t exist until 1968, and it’s really the work of people in their 20s, even teenagers, coming together and producing culture, making institutions, working on campaigns, that defined this identity. It’s pretty remarkable to think about how Asian-American is a term all of us use now, but it was really created and invented by dedicated young people,” Ryan Wong, who curated the exhibit over the course of years, said over the phone. Wong had previously put together the show “Serve the People: The Asian-American Movement in New York” in NYC’s Interference Archive space.
That show ran from late 2013 into early 2014, and it was during this time that CAM curator Steve Wong (no relation) first entertained the notion of bringing a similar show to L.A. Though the exhibit is hosted at CAM for the next six months, Ryan Wong is quick to point out that this was for the space’s community-oriented mission, rather than a move to, say, center Chinese-American activism: “A really important and significant step for any kind of identity-focused museum is to recognize these common points of intersection and overlap.”
Yellowface Casting Controversy Erupts in Houston
500,000 Asian Americans live in Houston. They are the fastest growing ethnic population in the city.
Yet the Houston Grand Opera seems to be stuck in a different time.
It’s new production of Nixon in China features White actors in Asian roles.
The Houston Chronicle describes the portrayal of those characters as with “Fu Manchu facial hair, slanted eyebrows. conical rice hats. Kung Fu uniforms and traditional Chinese masks.”
In the production Mao Zedong is played by Chad Shelton, soprano Tracy Dahl plays Madame Mao and Patrick Carfizzi, is an evil Chinese landlord. Chen-Ye Yuan is the only Asian actor in a significant role, co-starring as Premiere Zhou En-Lai.
“Blackface/yellowface/brownface is an abhorrent practice that should be abolished, and operas should be taking action towards abolishing those practices, instead of making excuses,” said Diep Tran of American Theatre magazine.
The Grand Opera said it had no intention to portray Chinese as caricatures and said no Asians could be found to fill those roles.