Much like a snapshot of a seemingly happy family on vacation glosses over the fuller picture of fights, tension, and love that occur on a daily basis, the Pew report glosses over and even fails to mention entirely some key issues, namely:
* Entire countries of origin were pretty much left out of the report. Most Southeast Asian communities in the US, with the exception of the Vietnamese American community, were mentioned on one page titled “Other Asian Americans.” As many have noted, it is these communities–Hmong, Laotian, Cambodian–that face extreme poverty in this country, as well as a long history of US-led war and aggression in their home countries. And out of all South Asian immigrant groups, only Indian Americans were given a thorough analysis, despite growing Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, both of which tend (at least in New York City) to have extremely high rates of poverty.
*Many Asians are the very definition of the working poor – in New York City, 20 percent of all Asians lived at or below the poverty line, and 40 percent were low-income, according to a 2008 report by the Asian American Federation of New York. AAFNY also found that half of all working-age Asians living in poverty held jobs – highlighting the extremely low-wage work that is the only option for many Asians.
* Poverty levels for almost all Asian communities are as high as or higher than levels for the general population, compounded by language access issues and inability to access government services.
* Structural racism is a reality for many of our communities – Southeast Asian youth around the US are targeted by the police as members of “gangs,” and after 9/11, racist attacks against South Asian communities dramatically increased, and continue to occur on a regular basis, compounded by domestic spying and surveillance by local police forces and the FBI and CIA.
* A large portion, about 13 percent, of the Asian immigrant community is undocumented, many of them young people and low-wage workers.
And the list can go on and on. At CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, where I work on a daily basis with Chinese immigrants living throughout New York City, I see every day how Asian families are struggling with low wages, threats of eviction, language access issues, and cuts to needed social services. Where was this detailed in the Pew report?
But–I’m not writing this to show how Asian communities have it bad (too). What’s *more* interesting to me is thinking about how the report in many ways neglects to frame our communities within a broader analysis of race, migration, and economics.
The second perspective that restricts race-talk is the common notion that spirituality, much like life in America, is a personal matter. From prayer, to worship, and even to acts of compassion, American evangelicals find their worldviews thoroughly enculturated in individualism.
One of the hallmarks of individualism is what many racial scholars call “the bootstraps model.” This states that the key factor for an individual’s or groups’ success is their value system. Ethnic minorities achieve via hard work and sacrifice; Christians through effort and growing in the “Fruit of the Spirit.” The former perspective is usually espoused by those who believe America is a land of equal opportunity, where all people, regardless of their racial, gender, or economic backgrounds can attain the American Dream by pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.
Asian Americans are held up as the bootstraps’ poster children. Since I will address this more in the next section, I’ll only say this here. Wonder why Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, rose to Time Magazine’s 2011 Top 100 People List? My speculation: to maintain the belief that hard work, sacrifice, and helicopter parenting are the “keys” to success. And Asian Americans, like Chua, have a monopoly on it.1
Please don’t misinterpret me: value systems that include the aforementioned qualities are extremely important to progress. But this argument, when applied to America’s racial dynamics, works by ruling out all other external factors from why certain groups succeed and others don’t. It does not analyze how racial groups are treated differently on account of their race, both historically and presently.2
Michael Emerson, in Divided by Faith, wonderfully demonstrates how this bootstraps argument is one of the main culprits for American evangelicals’ lack of racial concerns. As his research studies white Americans, he shows how they often perceive moral choices (i.e., value systems) as the root cause for why whites and Asian Americans do well while Latinos and African Americans do poorly. They are, thus, never taught to look at other institutional culprits that affect certain racial groups’ opportunities, access, and lives. For example, how Bank of America intentionally charged Blacks and Latinos higher interest rates than whites on home loans; or how research shows “blacks and whites use drugs at about the same rate, yet African Americans are 10 times as likely to be imprisoned for drug offenses.”
Despite American evangelicalism’s individualistic history, it brings me great joy to know that much of the American Church is returning to its roots of biblical justice. In particular, addressing the vast disparity between rich and poor is becoming a priority. Christians’ understandings of the causes of poverty and all its residual effects are becoming more complex than the oversimplification of poor life choices.
If Christians can make the connections between how structures of power shape and (can) determine the outcomes of people’s lives, perhaps they can expand this understanding to American racial politics. Forty Catholic leaders recently released a rebuking open letter to some of the Republican presidential candidates, challenging them to “reject the politics of racial division, refrain from offensive rhetoric, and unite behind an agenda that promotes racial and economic justice.” These Catholics understand how racialized and disparaging comments can perpetuate and reinforce the way race shapes our views, categorizations, and treatment of certain groups.
I deeply apologize for not posting this sooner. ::side-eyes tablet::
However, I am so loving Paul Matsushima’s post on how the tenets of US exceptionalism and The Model Minority Myth isn’t helping conversations about race—and strategizing ways to deal/combat racism—in some Asian American evangelical churches at the R today.(via racialicious)
We moved from College Station to a town outside of Houston the summer before 6th grade. I remember the first high school football game I went to that fall. I was 10 going on 11, one of the youngest in my class, one of the smallest in my class, a bag of bones with buckteeth. The football stadium was a huge concrete behemoth, astro-turfed, professionally lit. Even though I’d moved from College Station, home to a Division I college football team, and I’d gone to Aggie games, already committed the story of the 12th man to memory, sat on my dad’s shoulders during The Aggie Bonfire–a world record-worthy totem to A&M’s rivalry with UT–and even struck up a correspondence with then-Aggie Coach Jackie Sherrill, I was dazzled. Texas 5-A football is its own mythical beast. I remember as I walked down the concrete steps of that stadium with my new friends, I understood I was in a hallowed place.
And that’s when I heard someone from the stands, on our side, yell “CHING CHONG CHING CHONG CHING CHONG CHING CHONG.”
I kept walking like it never happened. More than feeling wounded over what I’d heard, I felt mortified that my friends might have heard what I’d heard. If they did, if they’d heard the worst that could be said about me, they’d think of me differently. How could they not? Naturally, I remember nothing else about that game. Who I was with, whose parents drove me home, who won or lost. None of it.