THROUGH THE FIRE: The Battle of the Wedge — The Human Cost of Being the Model Minority

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By MARY UYEMATSU KAO

We aren’t used to being front-page or national TV news in the mainstream media. But there we are with Asian-hate crimes rising and a groundswell of anti-Asian hate demonstrations in response.

Is this a bittersweet moment for Asian Americans? Or is it one that makes us more uncomfortable in our skins? Are we heartened to see throngs from our communities and our allies standing up against this hate? Or are we embarrassed to see so much attention being given to the hatred we are experiencing?

You might say the upside of media attention on Asian hate crimes means — we the invisible have finally become visible. But we certainly aren’t invisible to our haters. who are responding to our ever-greater numbers throughout the American landscape. The Atlanta shooting forced a federal response from President Biden on down. Three days after the shooting, Misako Envela posted this on YouTube:

“I think the hardest part about this week for me has been that we don’t know the stories about Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Julie Park, Hyun-jeong Park Grant, and the 2 other women who have not been named yet. Who were they? What did they love to do? Were they mothers? Sisters? Fathers? Brothers? These women and men had stories and aspirations, and after their lives were taken from them the media just labeled them as “8.” I just can’t get over that.

In an attempt to channel my pain/anger into art, I decided to put together this video about my grandma. Just a few months ago, we sat down to talk about her life and her work at the JACCC, AADAP, etc. She is one of my heroes and has taught me what the word “community” truly means. She’s spent her entire life uplifting, building, and supporting the Japanese American community in Los Angeles. Her name is Marlene Lee. She’s a mother, sister, aunt, the biggest animal lover I know. and this is just part of her story.

 

One of my favorite video rants on the issue is by Charlotte Yun from Austin, Texas. She calls out white supremacy as the driving force that even people of color subscribe to whether knowingly or not. In Charlotte’s words:

Misako Envela as seen on her YouTube page. She created the video “Dear Grandma” after the Atlanta shooting that killed six Asian American women dead.

“As shameful as I am to admit, I have seen a lot of anti-Blackness in the Asian community as I was growing up. And it has been made more visible to me when I saw some people in my community express anti-black sentiments after seeing a few Black folks commit hate crimes against us in the post-COVID era*.

“The Black and Asian communities have a long history of both solidarity and tension. And history has taught us that our tension hurts us both, whereas our solidarity benefits us both.

“My wish is that the two communities can repair our relationship so we can strive for a better future together. The bare minimum I can do to work towards that is to unlearn my own anti-Blackness, and to hold my community and myself accountable.

“I understand that forgiveness and solidarity cannot be demanded from either side. But for those who want to join me, I appreciate you all.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/CMvaIdXJ2so/?igshid=1bnve29s6i5j

* Does Texas use the term “post-COVID era”?!!

Donald Trump, the icon for the white supremacist movement in this country, activated this latent hate by scapegoating and demonizing China and Chinese for creating and spreading the COVID-19 pandemic. And yet Trump’s financial empire depends on the tourism industry, which can easily be blamed for the global spread of COVID-19. Cruise ships were floating death traps spreading the virus, while the origins of New York’s outbreak was traced back to Europe, NOT CHINA.

Charlotte Yun in her video rant that went viral on TikTok and is seen here on Instagram. She is talking about how Frederick Douglass spoke out against the Chinese Exclusion Act.

While Trump led us down a misguided partisan response producing the highest global death toll, he threw Asian Americans under the bus with his excessive repetition of “kung flu” to further deflect from his own idiocy on how to control this pandemic — like injecting bleach.

So if there have been attacks on Asians by other people of color, does that mean we can’t stand in solidarity with people of color? Or why is the logical conclusion to fighting Asian hate come down to standing up for Black Lives Matter?

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that ALL of our lives are at stake. We live in a moment of “all-for-one-and-one-for-all” more than ever before. White supremacists may be gloating at the higher death rates of Black and Brown people. But I’m willing to bet that it’s the same white supremacists who whine about masks and shutdowns taking away **their** freedom that are the same ones jumping the vaccine lines, after masklessly partying, demonstrating to open up, recalling Gov. Newsom for locking the state down, and scapegoating Asians for creating this mess.

The thin veneer of the moniker “model minority” has been ripped off to show that we are “NOT WHITE” after all! Our position as model minority and current scapegoat has no easy solutions. The media has always favored us as the model minority, inadvertently or not, encouraging resentment from Black and Brown people against us. Acceptance of the model minority position means our willingness to be the wedge, or roadblock, to keep Blacks and Browns behind us — the buffer zone between whites and the rest of the people of color.

It has been a long time since I’ve had to think twice about walking to the post office by myself. Will somebody who’s pandemically crazed lash out at me as the easiest target for all the oppressions they are experiencing? I hope we as Asian Americans take this moment to reflect on what life must be like for Black people — in Breonna Taylor’s case, she wasn’t even safe sleeping in her own bed! While Black people have every reason to distrust the police, who are brutally killing them on a daily basis, ironically, police departments won’t even recognize Asian Americans are targets and victims of racial hate crimes.

There are no quick and easy answers on which way to move forward, and every movement faces different paths for the best resolution of the problem. As white supremacy has bared its fangs and is now proudly flexing its muscles, our salvation lies with the unity and solidarity of all people of color, including non-white supremacist white people. You might have seen many signs for Black Lives Matter at the anti-Asian hate rallies — this is encouraging that our young people are on the right track.

Come May 19, we again celebrate the birthdays of Malcolm X and Yuri Kochiyama. And given the troubled times we live in, May 19 becomes even more meaningful. Malcolm X was never honored with a national holiday, likely because he effectively debunked white supremacy single-handedly. While his main motivation was to give African Americans their self-pride back, he opened the door for all people of color in the U.S. to realize their true self-identities. Yuri Kochiyama, life-long human rights activist and known friend of Malcolm, famously held him as he lay dying on the stage of the Audubon Ballroom.

Yuri has been our human bridge between the Asian American Movement and the African American Movement. May 19 celebrates a new path that was cut bringing these two movements together.

Happy May 19th Birthday, Malcolm X and Yuri Kochiyama!

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Mary Uyematsu Kao, is a retired, freelance photojournalist, and has been writing for the “Through the Fire” series for the last five years. She self-published her photography book “Rockin’ the Boat: Flashbacks of the 1970s Asian Movement” in June 2020. Comments and feedback are welcome at: [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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