Don’t be fooled. “Divide and conquer” may have been a strategy utilized by various colonial powers throughout history to maintain social control, but it has not been abandoned. The Asian American model minority stereotype is no exception. It is not a compliment to the strengths of Asian culture and Asian people. Instead, it serves only to ridicule others, especially others of color, by asking, “If they can do it, why can’t you?” The consequence: many, including Asians, have bought into the idea, disregarding how Asian Americans are targets for and disadvantaged by racial inequality in various spheres of American society. With crumbling economic circumstances and Occupy Wall Street popularizing the rhetoric of the 99%, it is urgent to smash the model minority stereotype.
So, exactly who are the 99%, as opposed to the 1%? Occupy declares these groups signify the wealth and power disparity in society, with the greater concentration of power in the few hands of the much higher income bracket. The gap also represents the gap in access to necessities, such as an affordable home, a livable wage, healthy food, an adequate education, and healthcare. As the Occupy movement spread internationally, the 99% occupied and reoccupied what it meant to be a part of the majority of society who stand united in asserting that they will no longer be oppressed by the minority. Across the nation and even in countries from the Congo to Malaysia, people were declaring themselves to be the 99%. To develop and grow, we must challenge the symbols and vocabulary we adopt into our movements; the criticism of this image not invalid. It simplifies all the various complexities of the struggles, classes and identities of people into one massive category. Even though this limitation is important, it sends a powerful message of solidarity amongst people of various struggles, including Asian Americans. Also, the popularity of this image has given new life to the class debate which cannot be dismissed. While speaking for all Asian Americans is in no way possible, pervasive perceptions of Asian Americans must be challenged. Asian Americans make up the 99% too!
Statistics show that a higher percentage of Asian Americans are more likely to complete high school and go onto college as compared to African Americans, Latinos, or Native Americans[i]. They also show that they have a lower unemployment rate than all other ethnic groups, including whites, since the economic downturn in 2008[ii]. What these statistics do not account for, however, are the differences among the many Asian identity groups and nationalities. “Asian American” is a rather broad term. Most people aren’t even aware how this group includes Indians and Arabs, among others. There are also nations within nations such as the Tibetans in China and the Baluch in Pakistan. Further, when individuals from these nations of various socioeconomic backgrounds arrived in the United States, they carried with them their unique histories, languages, and cultures. In reality, there are strong disparities among Asian Americans. A 2010 Current Population Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found the unemployment rate of people of Vietnamese descent was higher than people of Indian, Chinese, or Korean descent[iii]. Statistics also demonstrate a higher rate of Indian, Chinese, Pakistani, and Korean Americans with earning college degrees, as compared to a strikingly smaller percentage of Cambodian, Hmong, and Laotian Americans. Even though few surveys account for these differences, the little information redeemed from the data cannot be ignored.
Adherents of the myth recurrently point to the large proportion of Asian American workers in high income work, such as the medical, engineering, and financial fields. This ignores the “brain drain” that helps shape the Asian American population, since many Asian individuals are filtered into the States as “skilled” laborers, unless they are sponsored by their family or acquire refugee status. In addition, a 1994 report examined a still relevant trend: how Asian American workers are affected by a “glass ceiling,” artificial barriers limiting women and people of color from rising to managerial and leadership positions. (This is not to say that more Asian Americans should strive to be CEOs. Our ultimate goal is to eliminate poverty and the imbalance of power inherent in capitalism.) The few Asian American “success stories” are exceptions, not the rule. How Asian Americans can concurrently have a higher median income than White Americans and a higher rate of poverty illustrates this. Analysis data from the Employment Development Department in 2010 further found that jobless Asian Americans face even longer periods of unemployment when compared to Latinos and Whites [iv]. All of this research points to show that Asians are not necessarily the “model minority” but face immense immigration barriers, are victims of institutional racism, and face a wealth gap within themselves.
During the winter months, after most Occupy encampments were raided, the movement went into self-reflection mode. Meanwhile, some Occupiers turned to organize around the foreclosure crisis by reoccupying foreclosed homes, preventing evictions, and working to hold banks accountable for illegal and discriminatory practices. The majority of the homes foreclosed on were of African and Latin American families. Though there is a lack of adequate information about the effect of foreclosures on Asian Americans, evidence does show a drop in the equity of homes where there are high concentrations of the community, such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. Evidence also shows that the Asian American homeownership rate of 59% lags behind the national rate of homeownership at 65.9%, despite higher median incomes and education levels than all other races. [v] Economists now warn the next crisis to burst will be with the bubbling student loan debt that is crippling many, including Asian American families.
Other factors disproportionately affect Asian Americans regarding access, further serving to challenge the model minority myth. One is the effect of the anti-immigration fervor for those both documented and undocumented, from the exploitation of low-wage immigrant workers to the increasing numbers of undocumented immigrants currently held in detention centers. Language barriers additionally exacerbate the prospects of working for a livable wage (which needs to be much higher than the minimum wage) or even access to information on social services. Gender norms in some cultures debar girls and women from higher education or entering fields deemed unsuitable for women. The class background of immigrant parents on second generation Asian Americans also influence access, as their children find themselves having to help their parents navigate through an educational system that is new to them as well. Many working-class families, who tend to live in ethnic enclaves of major cities where the standard of living is high, lack the financial resources to support their children in school, unlike their middle-class counterparts who often send their children to private schools or well-resourced suburban public schools. Institutional racism most notably manifests itself in the way Asian Americans, especially of Muslim, South Asian, and Middle Eastern descent, have experienced intense police surveillance and racial profiling since September 11th. To top this, Asian Americans have also experienced racial violence from Balbir Singh Sodhi to Private Danny Chen.
The most important factor to consider, however, is that most Asian Americans have ties to a homeland where their people have faced a cruel colonial past, nations that are now variably shaped by neoliberal practices by the hands of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, multinational corporations, wars funded or fought by foreign powers, and class warfare within their nations. Additionally, this fear played up by the media where India and China’s economies will soon eclipse that of the United States completely disregards the widespread poverty within these countries. Discarding these truths and perpetuating the model minority myth plunges a wedge between oppressed peoples, globally and in the US, and diminishes any future for all oppressed nationalities to work hand-in-hand for revolutionary change.
While it is true that a handful of Asians compose the elite 1%, the struggles of the majority of Asians thrust them into the 99th percentile. With the Arab Spring and the growing number of international protests against capitalism, austerity, and the debt crises, the momentum for solidarity must not be breached by false perceptions of one another. Occupy has been criticized for being a mostly white, male, college-educated movement but considering what is at stake, why aren’t more Asian Americans out on the streets? That is, on the streets standing with Occupy or the plethora of local organizations doing profound work within their communities. We must hold ourselves accountable in shaping the changes we want to see. If a new, just world is the vision, old colonialist strategies, like “divide and conquer,” must not be permitted to undermine this momentum. Asian Americans who have internalized the model minority myth must challenge their thinking and its colonial roots. Privileged Asian Americans must acknowledge the discrimination and oppression faced by the majority of Asians, and Americans in general. The importance of all people in recognizing these experiences does not mean the struggles of Asians in the U.S. eclipse those of other oppressed groups, but that Asian Americans also have a stake in the struggle for building a more just world. It is only through first reaching an understanding of a common struggle by dismantling such divisive myths that people can link to work to make this new world a reality. _____________________________________________________________________
i. Austin, Algernon. Economic Policy Institute. “Hidden Disadvantage: Asian American Unemployment and the Great Recession.” Washington: 28 May 2010.
ii. National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education (CARE). “Federal Higher Education Priorities and the Asian American and Pacific Islander Community,” 2010.
iii. U.S. Department of Labor. “Asian-American Labor Force in Recovery.” Washington D.C.: 2011.
iv. Semuels, Alana. “Unemployment Lasts Longer for Asian Americans.” Los Angeles Times, 7 September 2010.
v. De La Cruz-Viesca, Melany, and Brian Chiu. Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA) & UCLA Asian American Studies Center (UCLA AASC). “Following the Path to Asian American Homeownership Report: An Analysis of the United States, California, New York, Texas and Select U.S. Metropolitan Areas,” November 2010.
We honor and celebrate all proletarian and oppressed-nationality women.
The domestic worker who rears the spawn of rich white parasites in a foreign land while her own children grow up without her back home.
The garment worker whose hands, eyes and body are worn away by years of labor that is stolen from her.
The mother who travels hours for prison visits to keep her family together.
The survivor of domestic violence, sexual assault and rape.
We reaffirm the struggles of militant women for national and social liberation. We uphold all women who -– like Pirate Jenny in Nina Simone’s rendition of Bertolt Brecht’s classic song — will one day dig graves for their exploiters.
Hamson Daniels McPherson died at the hands of racist Marines in May. Hoping that both McPherson’s and Chen’s cases are encouraging other oppressed-nationality soldiers to speak up about their experiences with racism in the US military.
In a six-month period, there were two alleged suicides of young US-born Chinese men serving in the US military occupation of Afghanistan.
Marine Lance Corporal Harry Lew died in Helmand province. Army Private Danny Chen died in Kandahar province. The first was from California. The second was born and raised in New York City’s Chinatown, the son of a cook and a garment worker.
Before they died, each of them was subjected to physical abuse and brutal humiliation, not from the people of Afghanistan who they were sent to fight and subjugate by the US ruling class, but from their fellow troops in the US occupying forces. In Danny Chen’s case, it has also come to light that he was the victim of racist and anti-Chinese harassment by his army superiors, one of them with a record as an attempted rapist.
Who Is the Real Enemy?
Who is the real enemy? Danny Chen signed up to fight for his country (he thought) against enemies in Afghanistan (he thought) and ended up dead by the actions of racist US troops. It wasn’t Afghans who dragged Danny from his bed across a floor. It wasn’t Afghans who made Danny crawl on the ground while pelting him with rocks. It wasn’t Afghans who tortured Danny, forcing him to hold water in his mouth while hanging upside down.
Danny Chen met the real enemy in Kandahar. He discovered that this enemy isn’t from Kandahar and isn’t Afghan. This enemy isn’t Iraqi or Palestinian. Danny learned that the real enemy is born from the same country where he was born, speaks the same language he spoke, wears the same uniform he wore, and salutes the same red-white-and-blue American flag he saluted.
For now, the dominant narrative is: “Danny Chen wanted to serve his country by joining its military. But, his country and its military failed to protect him. The military needs more effective diversity training programs and other reforms.” We have to closely scrutinize this narrative, its assumptions and its ideology. Whose country is it? Whose military is it and who does this military serve? Who is the real enemy?
A Racist Killing, A Racist Military, A Racist Society
Let’s review some history.
At the turn of the last century, the US killed a quarter of a million people in the Philippines, while white politicians called Filipinos “savages” and bellowed about the civilizing mission of US imperialism. It was during this war that the racist slur “gook” was first coined to refer to Filipino people, later to be used by US troops for other Asian and colonized peoples.
In the middle of the last century, there was the Korean War, when the US engaged in the indiscriminate saturation bombing of the people of northern Korea, dropping more bombs than those used in the Pacific region as a whole during World War II. More “gooks” to be exterminated.
After that, there was the Vietnam War, the My Lai massacre, and the multitude of atrocities that went unnamed.
With this history, is it any surprise that US-born Chinese and Asian soldiers face violent racism in the US military, regardless of how much they profess their loyalty to this country? Racism is inherent in the US military and no amount of diversity training will expunge it.
During the Vietnam War, testimony at the Winter Soldier Investigation exposed how both Asian soldiers in the US military and the so-called enemy in Vietnam were called “gooks” by racist US troops. The investigation also exposed how Black soldiers were beaten and starved by their white superiors.
During Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan, US military veterans testified to the widespread use of the racist slur “Haji” for the people they were occupying.
Like US society more broadly, sexual violence is also part of the culture of the US military. Iraq War veteran Rafay Siddiqui, speaking at Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan, said that in the military, “you’re not a man until you’ve taken advantage of a woman … you’re not a man until you’ve sexually abused.” New recruits witness their superiors being sexually abusive and are pressured to fit into this environment. Women in the military face widespread sexual violence. Victims are pressured by their superiors to stay silent.
Racism, militarism and war are built into the foundations of US society, a society that came about through genocide, land theft and slavery. The US capitalist economy and its globally-dominant currency cannot exist without the largest military that has ever existed in the history of civilization, without the global network of bases, and without the ever-present threat of force towards subject nations that are insufficiently compliant.
For all sections of US society, the American way of life is inextricably connected with global military power and more than half a century of military Keynesianism as state policy. For some sections, this way of life means luxury consumer goods, managerial employment and big houses in the suburbs; for others, jailhouse schools, permanent unemployment, low-wage jobs and prison.
Activists peddle illusions to the people when they imagine that transforming this state of affairs is simply a matter of shifting government budget priorities, e.g. “Money for Jobs and Education, Not for War and Occupation.” Activists fail to connect the dots when they condemn US militarism and military institutions, without explaining how these are expressions of an entire society (an economy, politics and culture) geared for war.
And yet, despite all of this, some of our leaders tell us that the solution is to create a few more diversity training programs in the military.
In the Court of International Public Opinion
Scrambling to do damage control in the arena of public relations, the US military brass has now charged eight soldiers for contributing to Danny Chen’s death. For the same reason, they are planning to meet with some Chinatown community representatives in January.
Yet, the news about Danny Chen has already spread around the world – and that is more important than any coverage it gets in the US media.
Even if the internal investigation turns out to be a cover-up, even if the military and the US courts acquit the racist criminals, enough of the truth is out. From Beijing to Karachi, from newspapers in Africa and Latin America, people everywhere are learning that a young US-born Chinese man enlisted in the US military, went to Afghanistan to fight for his chosen country, and died by the actions of racist US soldiers. Can charges be filed in international courts? Can the case be taken to the United Nations?
Danny Chen’s story – and his name – will be repeated again and again as a lesson that the US Empire consumes and destroys even its own well-meaning and innocent citizens. It will continue to be brought up for years in international forums to condemn the US Empire. If anyone needed a reminder as to the true nature of US society and its military in the Age of Hope and Change, here is that reminder.
Remember Danny Chen
While we continue to develop the groundswell of protest in Chinese and Asian communities, Danny Chen’s death also compels us to do some internal reflection – and criticism. Are community organizers building direct ties with poor and working-class Chinese youth who are not in college, have no plans for college and may be considering the US military? If not, why not? Are campus clubs doing anything about the problems in the community that feed into the economic draft? If not, why not? Do political groups prioritize and unite our communities behind the issues of poor and working-class Chinese people, rather than the assimilationist aspirations of the Chinese middle class? If not, why not?
We need to remember Danny Chen, but we need to live like Richard Aoki. The day will come when Chinese people in the US, all oppressed nationalities and the international working class will need soldiers who defend us against our enemies. But, before that day, we need soldiers who know the real enemy, who know their people and who know themselves. If Danny Chen’s death brings our soldiers, our veterans and our people one step closer towards that realization, he will not have died in vain.
We’re Starting A Magazine! Announcing AQ-47 & Call for Artwork Submissions
You may have noticed new voices on our blog roster, from our coverage of Arundhati Roy’s discussion of the Naxalites to our new convo series on the daily grind of being Asian + female. Stretching to that other Coast with correspondences from the Windy City, FLA is proud to announce our exciting new project called AQ-47, a consciousness-raising publication comprised of somber editorials, nonfiction prose, community voices, praxis, and poetics that foregrounds stories of political struggle in Asian communities. (See our mission statement after the jump.)
To reach out to like-minded Asian youth organizers and cultural workers in NYC, FLA launched a summer film series titled FLA! Film Club (think reading group + film class) to intentionally create a physical and social gathering space for politicking. AQ-47 developed out of the series at summer’s end and ache for reified talk. In these last couple of months, we’ve been busy collaborating and planning new content for FLA in conjunction with the new quarterly magazine. Anticipate more to come. But in the meantime, spread the word and contribute to this exciting FLA adventure and SUBMIT to AQ-47! (For more info, feel free to drop a line in the comments.)
Call for artwork. AQ-47, a volunteer-run consciousness-raising quarterly magazine based in NYC, seeks original artwork for inaugural issue on the state of Asian America. High resolution digital images, electronic submissions with subject line “Artwork inaugural submission” to aq47.magazine[at]gmail.com. Please include artist statement of no more than 500 words. Deadline December 23, 2011. Mediums can include, but not limited to: photography, watercolors, illustration, graphic art, infographics, etc. Feel free to email us if you have any questions.
On November 9th, 2011 the Center for Place, Culture and Politics at the City University of New York Graduate Center held partial readings of “Walking with the Comrades” by Arundhati Roy. The quotes listed in this article are based on those limited readings. For more read: http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?264738-0
image: outlook india.
“Never in history has violence been initiated by the oppressed. How could they be the initiators, if they themselves are the result of violence? How could they be sponsors of something whose objective inauguration called for their existence as oppressed? There would be no oppressed had there been no prior situation of violence to establish their subjugation”. – Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
Arundhati Roy’s essays on “Walking with the Comrades” reiterates similar insightful truth presented by Freire, that is conceived only when one physically submerge themselves at the epicenter of struggles, establishing relationships at the grounds. In 2009, Roy spent weeks with the Maoist rebels in their “liberated area” of the Chhattisgarh State in Central India, where she lived and interviewed many insurgents, in an effort to put humanity to the poster-perfect nameless dark faces notably clad in olive-green uniforms and low strung heavy weapons. They have been dubbed as “the most serious internal threat to India’s national security” by PM Manmohan Singh.
The Naxalites, who are the far-left militant Maoists in India, root their origins to Naxalbari, a village in West Bengal. They now operate in different parts of the country and have organized the Adhivasis (tribal people) of Chhattisgarh since 1970s. While the Indian government strategically labeled the Adhivasi insurgents in Chhattisgarh and publicly proclaimed them as the “most serious internal threat”, they have also niftily taken custody of the Adhivasi homelands, making them illegal squatters in their own lands, ever since the adoption of the Indian Constitution in 1950.
Roy’s intervention to this internal war as a writer and as an activist comes as valiant and unapologetic in times when the corporate media had the country swayed to believe that the rebels are perilous gun-holders impeding country’s development and killers of innocent state personnel. Through her writings, she complicates the soothing narratives of much-prided popular Indian morality: non-violence, under the mask of Gandhism. She notes in the beginning, “It’s easier on the liberal conscience to believe that the war in the forests is a war between the Government of India and the Maoists… It’s convenient to forget that tribal people in Central India have a history of resistance that predates Mao by centuries”. For Roy, the Maoist insurgencies and Adhivasi uprisings are inter-exchangeable apparatus that aims at overthrowing of the state to reclaim their lost livelihoods and their right to live with dignity. She does that cautiously, however, as she asks some pressing questions, “Are ‘Maoists’ and ‘Tribals’ two entirely discrete categories as is being made out? Do their interests converge?”
How could their interests not converge? The Adhivasis have been historically displaced multiple times at the interests of the ruling capitalist class. While every national and state policy favored the corporations, the state government also organized illegal militia Salwa Judum, who would rape women, kill men and burn entire villages. This wouldn’t stop there. The central government orchestrated Operation Green Hunt to kill every rebel to render the Maoists headless, which has backfired and resulted into palpable yet dismal violence. The crime of the Chhattisgarh Adhivasis: living above some of the country’s richest minerals, which was and is their home. Their resistance, in such, has been key to radical Maoist organizing, which is impossible to find in the cosmopolitan urban centers of India. At the same time, most of the Adhivasi rebels may not have read Mao’s ‘little red book’ or discussed Marx’s Manifesto, they are attracted to the possibilities of what a just and egalitarian society could bring- comfort, harmony, life of dignity- ones they have never experienced in their lifetime.
“Walking with the Comrades” is not the first time Arundhati Roy has delivered to the public the vicarious plight of the most oppressed peoples of India. As an anti-imperialist and anti-globalization activist, she has spoken out and written against the US invasion of Afghanistan, India’s nuclear policies, the Israeli state, the genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka, amongst others. On a home scale, she has actively participated in Narmada Bachao Andolan, a movement resisting a dam project that would displace countless people. She has openly stated her support for the people of Kashmir demanding separation from India for which, she was also charged with sedition. But it was her more recent remarks about the Mumbai bombings and unequivocal criticisms of Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement, which has led to the squealing of the liberals and death threats from the right wing.
Much of Roy’s readers from her first international bestseller “The God of Small Things” (1997) disjoint the work from her more current political writings and ceaselessly question her about her next work of fiction. However, the work, although fictional is also a literary intervention to post-colonial India still tainted with internalized caste system, class hierarchies, and hollow political forces. If her enthusiasts had caught those social and political underpinnings in her writing then, her writings that followed after this seminal work come as no surprise.
Saturday, October 22, 2011 – Asian youth of different nationalities, who are associated with the Fuckin’ Loudest Asians! blog, joined the demonstration in New York City against police brutality, repression, and the criminalization of a generation. We marched from Manhattan’s Union Square to the Jacob Riis Houses in the Lower East Side. The protest was the 16th annual action against police brutality and organized by the New York local coordinating committee of the October 22nd Coalition. Several families of individuals murdered by the NYPD endorsed the action, as well as many community organizations.
More than 800 people joined the march as a whole. FLA! youth participated in a Youth & Student Contingent Against Police Brutality composed of more than 30 people, mostly oppressed nationality students in CUNY, the largest working-class and oppressed-nationality institution of higher education in the US. The contingent repeatedly raised militant chants against the pigs, based on our own experiences and those of our communities of being brutalized by law enforcement. The main chants that reverberated throughout the crowd were:
“No justice, no peace! Fuck the police!”
“NYPD, KKK! How many kids did you kill today?”
“NYPD! Not your police department!”
“NYPD, go to hell! We are all Sean Bell!”
“Cops are not the ninety-nine percent!”
A substantial number of people traveled uptown from Occupy Wall Street (OWS) to join the beginning of the march from Union Square. The pig violence against the mostly white activists at OWS has created new opportunities to expose the daily conditions of pig violence in oppressed nationality communities. The extraordinary mass arrests, macing, and beatings of OWS activists are taking place in the context of a system that carries out regular stop-and-frisks (more than any time in NYC history), ICE raids, racial profiling, and murders of oppressed nationality people. As the people of the world are increasingly turning their attention to OWS, we have to bring the problems faced everyday by oppressed nationalities to the forefront.
Only a month before the October 22nd action this year, a young Black man, Makever “Keba” Brown, was killed on FDR Drive by incoming traffic after being chased by the cops in the Riis Houses. As the march moved through the predominantly Black, Latino, and Asian working-class neighborhood of the Lower East Side, people in the community looked out their windows, watched from the sidewalk, cheered on the crowd, and joined the chants against the blue-shirted beasts. People need to realize that the role of the pigs is to protect the rule of the 1%, the bloodsuckers who own the banks and the corporations, the lazy motherfuckers who live off the wealth created by others and produce nothing themselves.
There need to be more Asian youth who join actions like these. There need to be more Asian youth who want to throw a middle-finger at the cops who brutalize our people and other oppressed people, at the teachers who tell us to be obedient, and at the parents who shove their feudal cultural shit down our throats.
participants: MAMAGUNZ, Sid Brown, round-round, and r.r.
MAMAGUNZ: i wanted to talk about how parents treat sons and daughters differently mainly because my parents have been pressuring me to do all kinds of domestic chores and telling me things like, you have to know how to cook because you’ll need to feed your husband in the future. my brother, who is about 8 years younger, doesnt get that kind of treatment. he just sits in front of his computer after coming home from school. does nothing at all and expects my mother to do everything for him. it seems like parents train women to become housewives generation after generation, whereas boys are trained to become some sort of lump on a log. what’s up with that?
Sid Brown: its true, but boys feel a different kind of pressure too. they have to fulfill the duty of “providing for the family” (considering hetero-normative gender roles). for them, they are burdened with getting a good job and to most asian parents that means lawyer, doctor, engineer, etc.
MAMAGUNZ: yeah, my parents are very happy that my brother goes to stuyvesant hs. so it seems like he has the brains and stuff. but he doesnt have any practical skills. neither one of my parents teach him how to do anything, so im wondering how hes even gonna try to get a job later lol. i try to teach him. like, my mother blow-dries his hair for him. i tell her that he should do it himself. when he tried to dry his hair, he held it too close to his scalp and ended up burning it. then he just stopped trying. even after i explain to him how to blow-dry his hair properly…
MAMAGUNZ: yeah, its THAT bad
r.r.: i will have to agree with both of you to certain extent. girls= future housewife; boys= future breadwinner, sort of expectations. however, that’s definitely not as simple as we would speak for our mothers and their mothers. we are all college graduates here so i guess we all can agree that our parents do want us to have a public role besides the one of a housewife.
Sid Brown: that is pretty lame. :( my dad doesn’t encourage my brother to work to obtain those practical skills too like ironing, using a washer/dryer, and washing dishes by hand. but when he comes over my mom’s house where i live, he knows he isn’t getting away with that shit.
r.r.: but again, men don’t go through the similar “trainings” of running a household as women do. women are often expected to perform both roles. so i guess we could talk about what is “it” that leads parents to have such expectations from their daughters. or maybe i’m posing this question based on my own experience of my parents’ ideal daughter: a wonderwoman! (it has to be a wonderwoman. a fictional character, no?)
Sid Brown: actually, my parents don’t. i think they only wanted me to go to school to be more competitive in the marriage market lol but i DEFINITELY agree with r.r. clearly defined gender roles are not the norm for recent asian immigrant families, asian migrant workers, or working class american families in general.
round-round: i have a friend who lives in a female headed household. she is the eldest of four daughters. she feels like, as the eldest and asian immigrant, she needs to fill the void of her father. so she ends up playing the supporting mother role and the father role to her sisters. i wonder if this is also similar to the trope of the wonderwoman daughter.
r.r.: absolutely! remain a girl, unless you have to fill in for your brother/father/husband, etc. etc.
MAMAGUNZ: my parents expect me to multitask. they laugh when i say that my partner and i will split all tasks evenly. they think that doing that it feminizes my partner.
Sid Brown: oh i see now.
MAMAGUNZ: wonder if they think that if my bro takes on cooking and cleaning that he’ll turn into a woman overnight.
r.r.: i had a similar experience when my father saw my relationship with one of my exes who cleaned the apartment, did the dishes, etc. etc. my father was completely troubled with our relationship, and told us that it wouldn’t last for very long because there was no “respect” in our relationship. the relationship didn’t last, but for different reasons.
MAMAGUNZ: when i try to criticize my brother around my mother, she feels like she’s being attacked. and this is because she raised my brother. so any criticism of my brother becomes a criticism of her. what did your mother say?
r.r.: nothing. i’m sure she smirked behind his back. haha i have a question for you, MAMAGUNZ.
r.r.: i remember growing up we were often told that if the children turns out to be right: respectful over-achieving boys and wonderwomen girls; it was always a pride for the father. but if the kids didn’t turn out to be the “ideal” children, it was always the mother’s fault. is that something that is similar in your culture?
MAMAGUNZ: yeah, my father actually blames my mother when my brother behaves badly.
round-round: same here.
MAMAGUNZ: he says something like, i work all day and i come home to this mess? how do you raise your children? as if we’re not his lol
r.r.: well, yu’re his children only if yu’re the “ideal” children.
MAMAGUNZ: how does this work in your fam, round-round?
round-round: my dad used to be like that too. if something me and my sister did was wrong, it was my mother’s fault b/c she’s supposed to be the disciplinarian. but after he retired, my mother set him straight.
MAMAGUNZ: LOL how?
round-round: in this way i think it’s really a gendered labor type of thing but after my mom took the gender out of it and made it purely about how labor is distributed between public/private, my dad became responsible for all the house stuff.
r.r.: i wonder if your mother has a similar experience and she has internalized this very patriarchal idea. so whenever you criticize her, it’s validating her own insecurities.
MAMAGUNZ: yeah, i think what you say is right, r.r. i wanna see my mother set my father straight like round-round’s mother did. your mom and my mom need to have a one-on-one.
Sid Brown: lol
r.r.: i want to hear more about your mom, round-round.
round-round: well, my mom said that he’s been pulling a double standard on her when he retired. so now my dad’s a stay home dad who’s responsible for all the private labor.
Sid Brown: how cool.
round-round: i.e. household chores, etc. and disciplining children.
MAMAGUNZ: do his friends make fun of him?
round-round: i wouldn’t know. i hardly see his friends, and all his friends live in nursing homes.
MAMAGUNZ: ah, what about family? my dad’s side of the fam criticizes my mom for childrearing stuff. does your dad’s side of the fam criticize your mom for changing the roles in the house?
round-round: well, my dad’s brothers are all kinda maternal. the ladies in my dad’s side are known for being … untraditional. they’re all loud and can get really mean.
round-round: but i feel like it’s my aunties who really get on my mom. for not performing her duties well. "duties."
MAMAGUNZ: aunties from your moms side?
round-round: no, my dad’s side
MAMAGUNZ: ah, what do they say?
Sid Brown: do your families have that in-laws problem where there is tons of pressure placed on the mother?
round-round: well, my mom comes from a lower class so there’s that dynamic too. and we’re Hakka so that’s different.
round-round: it’s a subethnic group in China.
MAMAGUNZ: ah true, hakka women have a history of being loud and vocal. they didnt bind their feet cause they had to do farm work too.
round-round: so we have a coolie history and there’s a class dynamic there
MAMAGUNZ: to answer sid's question: yeah, my fam places a lot of pressure on my mom. there was one time one of my aunts was like, wow, what did you do wrong? why does your son behave like that?
r.r.: i think i had a similar history too. my father’s side of the family were all peasants. my father was the only one who “made it” by joining the british army (well, he was literally dragged at the age of 13 by his father, but that’s a different story). but my mother’s side of the family were businessmen.
round-round: so who got the burden of blame when things went wrong?
r.r.: my father’s side of the family never said anything. even if they did, probably behind my mother’s back. so my mother didn’t necessarily have to go through the scorn of her in-laws (my paternal grandmother died long time before my parents got married). but i think she had internalized this idea herself, so she would feel the pressure even when there wasn’t any actual pressure. but my mother was/is also a housewife and my father being a breadwinner, they have a different power relationship.
MAMAGUNZ: how does that happen? people internalizing stuff?
round-round: and what exactly are our mothers internalizing?
r.r.: to state it simply: there are traditions built to hold up the patriarchal structure. our mothers internalize these structures through these traditions.
MAMAGUNZ: im thinking of an example. like, my father really wanted to have a son, cause sons are generally more cherished in chinese society. women used to be married off at a young age, so they weren’t considered to be as precious since they didn’t stay on the farm until they got old. i think that is still carried over when people migrate to the US.
r.r.: well, to go back to what you started off with: your parents are “training” you to become a good housewife because that’s the tradition. what they don’t understand is that they’re just pawns of the patriarchal structures.
MAMAGUNZ: true that.
Sid Brown: yeah, social pressures were huge when it came to my mom finally moving out and getting a divorce. me and my sisters actually wanted my parents to divorce but my mother feared the scorn associated with being a divorced mother. it is usually the woman blamed for the failure of the marriage, and it is more difficult for the woman to remarry.
Sid Brown: yup, women were considered a burden on the family. that is why they were married off at such a young age.
r.r.: i think that every culture is built up on patriarchy. it just gets carried out differently. child marriage, bride price are all cultural. patriarchy is universal.
MAMAGUNZ: can anyone say more about how every culture is built on patriarchy? like why there is a necessity for each culture to be carried out this way? or, an assumed “necessity.”
round-round: i agree that almost every culture has patriarchy built upon it, but at the same time i want to acknowledge that culture is not static. back to what MAMAGUNZ was saying about how patriarchy seemed to have migrated over with our parents. i agree to a certain extent that there are some values that have a historical legacy, but want to believe that our mothers are more than passive recipients of culture, especially when women’s bodies are supposed to be conduits of culture through childbirth and keeping up traditions. that seems especially true when we feel like we’re inheriting their unfair labors as wonderwomen.
Sid Brown: i just think religion has a big role in what is expected of either gender in my family. its the answer to nearly all questions as on gender roles. and then on top of that its justified by biology.
Sid Brown: i have had countless conversations with my aunts, who are all very strong women but encourage me to learn the things i need in order to be a good wife…. cook clean, make (good) chai.
MAMAGUNZ: yeah, how does biology enforce patriarchy?
Sid Brown: that a woman is weak and is the child bearer, so she needs to be protected. bla bla bla really, it has to do with honor—control the women in your family so your daughter does not have a child out of wedlock and you know your wife’s kids are your own.
r.r.: i know it’s definitely not science point of view, but to me, to be able to carry a life in a womb for an average of 9 months and to be able to bring another life to the earth by laboring through your vagina is a pretty powerful concept to me.
MAMAGUNZ: yeah, and women are not appreciated enough for that.
r.r.: i agree with Sid. i feel like women’s bodies are more subjected to family’s honor than men’s.
r.r.: i want to go back to what round-round was talking about when she mentioned how our mothers are more than just the passive recipients of culture. can we take a moment and think about what our own mothers have done? i think it’s important to recognize that.
Sid Brown: like round-round said… culture isn’t static. we know from our own mothers and I surely know from my own that as much as she resisted and wanted to stay with my father, she has sacrificed so much and continues to do so despite her “traditional” upbringing is all.
As Kenneth Kimerling, legal director of the Asian American Legal and Defense Fund, notes in the article, workers face such mistreatment partly because “the employer thinks that they won’t fight back because of language and maybe even [immigration] status issues.”
The Bigger Picture (Articulating Fucked-up-ness in a Global Context)
Cases like this one, and the well-publicized wage violations at two Manhattan-based Saigon Grill restaurants in 2008, highlight the issues that immigrant workers face as a result of language barriers and immigration status. The justice system offers little recourse: extant labor laws have proven ineffective in defending workers’ rights in court, as has the current state of the crippled National Labor Relations Board.
In fact, immigrant workers are refugees seeking asylum from corporate-driven global capitalist policies that displace workers and farmers from around the world. Neoliberal economic reforms and policies (e.g., one-sided “free” trade agreements) exacerbate the economic oppression that workers abroad face, forcing them to migrate to the United States in search of the “American Dream.”
The Philippines offers a great look at how one-sided neoliberal globalization operates: the tariff-reducing economic liberalization policies that the WTO implemented in the Philippines with the prospects of “free trade” and a “free market” have led to flooding imports that in turn have drowned industries and livelihoods that are already struggling to breathe in an underdeveloped Philippine economy.
People in the Philippines have been forced to emigrate and seek employment abroad in order to support their families back home. In the process, though, they face increasing exploitation and abuses from employers who take advantage of the fact that Pilipino migrants compose a cheap, flexible, and commodified source of labor. Free trade? No. Skyrocketing poverty and unemployment trends that are being neglected in favor of the economic (re)colonization of Philippines lie far from freedom.
Unfortunately, people trying to escape from poverty migrate to the belly of the beast to find themselves overworked and underpaid in hazardous working conditions. Those who speak out against this exploitation face further intimidation and retaliation from their employers.
Immigrant workers without a clear path to citizenship are relegated to shit jobs that pay next to nothing in unregulated industries that are well-known for labor violations. The fight for immigrant rights goes hand in hand with the fight for worker rights. As the history of Asian peoples in the United States illustrates, exclusionary immigration laws have attempted to manipulate sources of cheap labor in favor of corporate interests. The legacy of exclusion manifests in the deportations and de-humanization of migrants as “illegals” that plague a broken immigration system.
Next Steps (Unfucking Workers’ Rights…and Ourselves)
Progressive recommendations that include passing the Employee Free Choice Act (which would grant workers more freedom to organize and bargain collectively), passing a federal DREAM Act (increasing access to higher education for undocumented youth), and stepping up Occupational Safety and Health Act standards would (ideally) go a long way to protect workers. However, the legal system has never failed to disappoint. Cases dealing with workplace abuses and gross violations of labor law tend to be drawn out over long periods of time—time that workers don’t have while they labor to sustain themselves and their families).
Furthermore, raf raises some good points about the de-radicalization that accompanies campaign drain:
Cases like the DREAM Act also become de-radicalized as the fight prolongs. The leftist critique of the DREAM Act gets sharper and stronger as politicians hack away at the educational piece of the legislation and leave the military piece alone (or perhaps they even strengthened the military section? I haven’t followed the legal fight to a T.) In other words, forget education for the brown people (aka “criminals” since they’re “illegal”) but let them fight our wars against other brown people we’re trying to conquer.
While legislation that looks to improve workplace conditions and reform immigration law is significant, the day-to-day organizing and education of workers should never be forgotten.
With the shortcomings of the legal system in mind, we must keep in mind that the key is building workers’ strength and unity. Raising awareness of labor laws and workers’ rights provides a foundation for workers to make sure they are being treated properly in the workplace. Incorporating political education and outreach with English language training as well as workshops on wage and workplace issues can lead to worker-led grassroots organizations that provide a strong voice for immigrant workers. Politicization and organization of workers through legal reactions to workplace abuses may provide the very necessary first steps toward worker empowerment and a sustainable class consciousness.
THE FUCKIN’ LOUDEST ASIANS is republishing this article from elsewhere (here and here) discussing the upcoming UN review meeting in NYC on September 22, ten years after the World Conference Against Racism in Durban. Adopted in 2001, the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (PDF) recognizes that “Asians and people of Asian descent” have been among the victims of slavery and colonialism. It also urges UN member states - including presumably the US - to end “racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance” against Asians.
The Durban process, similar UN conferences, and other bodies for generating international law and moral standards can become important arenas for Asians in the US to press for our rights to self-determination. But, only if our organizations break away from their colonial mindsets, reflected in their singular reliance on US law (see, for example, any of the well-known Asian civil rights groups, none of which are participating in the Durban + 10 Coalition). -HTT
TENTH ANNIVERSARY REFLECTIONS ON THE WCAR
The United Nations General Assembly, made up of 193 member states, will meet on September 22, 2011 at the UN headquarters in New York City to mark the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA). Containing a series of principles and proposals for fighting racism, the 62-page DDPA [PDF] was passed at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa/Azania.
Despite opposition from the imperialist countries led by the US, the 2001 WCAR became a flashpoint for focusing international attention on two issues: reparations for slavery and the liberation of Palestine. It involved a convergence of several events: the official meeting of member states that adopted the DDPA; the NGO Forum that approved a substantially stronger document (the WCAR NGO Forum Declaration); a two-day general strike led by COSATU against the privatization of social services in South Africa/Azania; and daily protest marches outside the conference venue regarding land reform, Palestine, and reparations. The government meeting was marked by a walkout of the US, Canadian, and Israeli delegations.
A 2009 review conference took place in Geneva, Switzerland following the 2001 WCAR and reaffirmed the DDPA. The US, Canada, Israel, and seven other rich countries boycotted this meeting as well.
Now, ten years after the Durban conference, delegates representing the member states of the UN will discuss the DDPA again – this time in Midtown Manhattan. The Obama administration, along with the governments of Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Israel, Italy, and the Netherlands, have already announced plans to boycott the gathering. Combined with this boycott, the lackeys and mouthpieces of the US ruling class are already working to derail the conference with false charges of anti-Semitism and jingoistic references to the 9/11 attacks (see for example the 6/3 New York Daily News editorial “President Obama must organize an international boycott of obscene, anti-Semitic Durban III confab” which contains blatant falsehoods about the content of the DDPA).
WHY IS THE US EMPIRE SO AFRAID?
The Obama administration’s decision to boycott the September 2011 conference in NYC was announced in a June letter from Joseph E. Macmanus, acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, addressed to some members of Congress. The letter claimed that the US was boycotting, because the Durban and follow-up conferences have “included ugly displays of intolerance and anti-Semitism.”
Two years ago, the Obama administration released a more detailed press statement regarding its decision to boycott the 2009 review conference in Geneva. Titled “U.S. Posture Toward the Durban Review Conference and Participation in the UN Human Rights Council,” the statement opposed the reaffirmation of the DDPA and outlined the conditions for a document that would be tolerable to the US:
It must not single out any one country or conflict, nor embrace the troubling concept of “defamation of religion.” The U.S. also believes an acceptable document should not go further than the DDPA on the issue of reparations for slavery.
The Obama administration’s reasons for boycotting the September 2011 conference in NYC and the 2009 review conference in Geneva are pretenses for shutting down criticism of Israel. Out of 341 paragraphs, the DDPA contains four paragraphs on Palestine, hardly any “singling out” of the Zionist entity. To protect its attack dog in the Middle East, the US is once again resorting to the usual tactic of equating criticisms of Israeli settler-colonialism with anti-Semitism.
The Obama administration’s non-participation is not surprising or exceptional. It exposes the fact that this administration continues to carry out the strategic interests of the US ruling class in maintaining white supremacist national oppression inside the Empire and in dominating the people of the world.
The Bush administration deliberately sent a low-level delegation to the 2001 WCAR, which did not include secretary of state Colin Powell, and then recalled it in the middle of the conference. During the Carter and Reagan administrations respectively, the US boycotted the 1978 and 1983 World Conferences to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination in Geneva, where UN member states condemned apartheid in South Africa/Azania as a crime against humanity and denounced Israel’s collaborative relationship with the apartheid regime.
Why is the US Empire so afraid of participating in UN-sponsored conferences on racism and racial discrimination? While the one-country-one-vote forum of the UN General Assembly is certainly more difficult to control than the UN Security Council or an exclusive gathering of the imperialist countries, most of the countries in the General Assembly are neocolonial states, run by local elites that play varying roles in administering imperialist relations. Thus, why does the US have such a record of non-participation?
First, there exist real contradictions in foreign policy between the US ruling class and certain dependent countries, even while the latter do not break fundamentally with the imperialist system and are not reliable allies of the peoples’ movements. Second, each of these UN-sponsored gatherings is a forum for shaping the views of people around the world, where peoples’ movements have the opportunity to influence international public opinion through militant street mobilizations outside conference venues.
Both of these factors contribute to the possibility of embarrassment and isolation at any UN function for the US ruling class, which sits at the head of a country with racism in its DNA. To paraphrase Mao, here is one arena where it is not the people who fear US imperialism, but it is US imperialism that fears the people of the world.
A HARD LOOK AT THE TEXT OF THE DDPA
The DDPA is not legally binding or enforceable under international law. It derives its authority from moral recognition and the commitment of UN member states to implement its provisions. As such, the struggle over the DDPA’s language is primarily an ideological struggle over how to understand history and our present conditions. Viewed in this way, it is a compromised text. The DDPA contains a few provisions that could be advances in the fight against racism if seized by the peoples’ movements, but embodies a capitulation to the imperialist countries in some other important ways.
The most important advance made in the text is the acknowledgement in Paragraph 13 that “slavery and the slave trade are a crime against humanity and should always have been so, especially the transatlantic slave trade.” The term “crime against humanity” carries weight under international law and the recognition of slavery as such may have given a boost to reparations litigation. Yet, at the same time, the DDPA does not contain any language advocating reparations for slavery. It only expresses profound “regret” for slavery and states in Paragraph 100 that “some States have taken the initiative to apologize and have paid reparation, where appropriate, for grave and massive violations committed.” Beyond that, there are only general provisions discussing the right of all victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance to seek “just and adequate reparation.” Furthermore, the DDPA fails to similarly characterize colonialism as a “crime against humanity.” There is much further to push.
The four paragraphs discussing Palestine in the DDPA are even more timid. Paragraph 65 discussing the right of refugees to return voluntarily to their homes and properties provides no indication that it is addressing Palestinian refugees in particular. This should be contrasted with the declaration and programme of action adopted at the 1978 World Conference to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination which referred explicitly to the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe” – the name given to the 1948 mass expulsion): “the cruel tragedy which befell the Palestinian people 30 years ago and which the[y] continue to endure today – manifested in their being prevented from exercising their right to self-determination on the soil of their homeland, in the dispersal of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, the prevention of their return to their homes, and the establishment therein of settlers from abroad.”
The leading provision Paragraph 63 simultaneously recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent state alongside “the right to security for all States in the region, including Israel.” The previous declarations and programmes of action adopted at the 1978 and 1983 World Conferences to Combat Racism did not condition the Palestinian right to self-determination on Israel’s security. In that respect, the DDPA is a step backward. Further, note that the text discusses the right of States to “security,” not people or populations, in effect codifying the existing states in the region. This is a predictable gesture in a document adopted by the UN member states, yet ironic in light of the North African and Arab democratic revolts. Finally, of course, UN General Assembly Resolution 3379, which correctly identified Zionism as a form of racism and remained in place from 1975 to 1991, continues to set the bar in the struggle within the UN over the proper characterization of Israeli settler-colonialism and its ideology.
BUILD THE PEOPLES’ MOVEMENTS, ISOLATE THE US IMPERIALISTS
As September 22 approaches, working and oppressed people in the US Empire can draw lessons from past historic campaigns to bring the crimes of the US ruling classes before the UN. In 1951, Paul Robeson and William L. Patterson presented a petition to UN officials titled “We Charge Genocide” condemning the oppression of Black people in the US, reflected in the widespread practice of lynching. Malcolm X would again raise the call during the 1960s for Black people to use the UN as a forum to expose their oppression in the US. In 1970, the Young Lords and the Puerto Rican Student Union organized a march of 10,000 people to the UN demanding independence for Puerto Rico, the release of political prisoners, and an end to police violence. In 1979, the National Black Human Rights Coalition organized a 5,000-strong march to the UN, with the slogans “Black People Charge Genocide” and “Human Rights is the Right to Self-Determination.” There should be a renewed focus today on the UN as an important site of struggle for working and oppressed people in the US.
COSATU’s two-day general strike against neoliberal policies on the eve of the 2001 WCAR in Durban provides a powerful example of how peoples’ movements can utilize such international gatherings to their advantage. The September 22 meeting is taking place not only in the country that is the home base of the Empire, but in the city that is the heart of US finance capital. It is crucial for all working and oppressed people to mobilize for the Durban + 10 Coalition activities from September 18 through 22, especially any protest marches that are planned.
The movement for reparations in the US can broaden and deepen its forces by highlighting the survivals of slavery in the foundations of US society today and the failure of Reconstruction to fully uproot them. Mass incarceration. Racist policing. Schools that operate like jails. Disproportionate unemployment. Enduring Black poverty throughout the country and in the Black Belt south.
In the weeks leading up to the conference and during the days of scheduled activity, we must make clear that reparations for slavery, as well as one hundred years of semi-slave sharecropping and national oppression that continues to this day, is a just demand that exposes the true character of the US Empire. It is a demand that is central to the liberation of the Black nation and the right of Black people to self-determination everywhere. It is a demand for the global redistribution of wealth stolen by the Empire. Without it, socialism is impossible.
Jehan Abad is a member of the Oppressed Nationalities Commission of Freedom Road Socialist Organization / Organización Socialista del Camino para la Libertad.
Film Review of “The Beginning of the Great Revival”
Synopsis: The Beginning of the Great Revival portrays the period in China’s history starting with the Revolution of 1911 that overthrew the Qing Dynasty and ending with the founding congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921, attended by Mao Zedong and 11 other delegates. In contrast with The Founding of a Republic, which chronicled the years leading up to the 1949 declaration of the People’s Republic of China, this movie depicts a time when monarchists and warlords hold sway over the country and revolutionaries are only beginning to contend for power. The movie outlines Mao’s youth as a soldier, student, and burgeoning political leader. It shows the intellectual debates in the universities between contending schools of thought: Confucianism, philosophical pragmatism, and Marxism (the latter represented by Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao). The movie climaxes with the May 4th Movement, when patriotic Chinese students, women, and workers mobilize in mass demonstrations in Beijing against imperialism and feudalism.
“The Founding of the Party”, otherwise known as “The Beginning of the Great Revival” internationally, was produced to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. However, the international name glorifies pre-Maoist China and its present-day status as a supposed nation of wealth and power – not its socialist era. The $12 million film includes celebrities from mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, which symbolically shows that the historical relationship between China, Taiwan, and the US is changing. It is not surprising that the US has its fat, grubby fingers involved. The US bailed out Shanghai GM in its 2009 financial crisis and now Cadillac, a General Motors subsidiary, is one of the main sponsors of the film. You would think that this pricey joint venture could do better than tack on an ending that a parrot could repeat and a senselessly long scene of a woman sitting on a boat as the founding CCP members are having their meeting.
Students in the May 4th Movement
Despite the tasteless ending and title, the scenes from May 4th Movement are worthwhile to look at, especially for Asians in the US. Here’s a description of the May 4th Movement from a book entitled The Morning Deluge by Han Suyin (pages 66 and 72):
“The first cultural revolution of China’s twentieth century began with the May 4, 1919 movement…. This first cultural revolution was a precursor of the Communist Revolution, in which Mao Tsetung was to play such a leading role, and his political radicalization was hastened by it… Attacks on all superstition, all tradition went on throughout 1919. Intellectuals launched campaigns for social service; girls cut their hair short; free marriage was advocated; opium smoking and foot binding were denounced even in remote provinces… New books and translations, of Marxist and socialist content, were published in far larger quantities than ever before…”
In the film, students rose up like a mighty storm. They were bold and courageous enough to confront the so-called “leaders” that sold the people out by signing the Treaty of Versailles. The confrontation was not a simple thing: a student was climbing over the estate of a representative of the government while tens of thousands of his peers were cheering him on. Just as he was about to climb down to the other side, he looked below and saw the army with their guns pointed at him. That didn’t discourage the students though. They spoke to the army through the chain doors, persuading them to unite with the students against the traitors and imperialists. Yeah, rub your eyes again! Those were a bunch of angry but organized, door-busting Chinese people that made their point loud and clear: the compradors will be thrown into a sea of flames.
It was refreshing to see militant Chinese people because they are rare in the US. There are three major underlying forces that contribute to the lack of all-up-in-your-faceness: (1) feudal values that are enforced by the family; (2) the Asian American model minority myth that US society uses to divide Asians from other oppressed nationalities (and Asians buy into it, believing that they are better off than Black and Latino peoples), and (3), at the international level more recently, with China as the seemingly rising power, Chinese people may point to China as an example of rugged individualism.
Students and youth, especially those who are female, are hit the hardest by feudal values. They are not supposed to talk about politics (I’m not even going to mention getting involved with politics). They are not supposed to speak up. They are not supposed to be argumentative or confrontational. All these things are not “womanly” – whatever that’s supposed to mean. The three major forces add up during student and youth organizing in the US.
By the time students get to college, they feel that they’ve achieved some sort of success. All they want to do is celebrate their “culture”, so they create Asian student unions to put on cultural and social events. The few progressive students might get involved in NGOs and continue to do the same thing after they graduate. But it is unusual for them to ever go beyond NGO organizing, because it would mean that they would have to challenge how they have been socialized to think and act. It would also mean that they would have to change how they relate to others: family, apolitical friends, other oppressed nationalities, and white people. With NGO organizing they are banking on the Ford Foundation to fund their work. Would revolutionaries ask JP Morgan to fund the revolution? Did the students in the film march to the imperialists and demand that they support the May 4th Movement? These are the lessons people can take away from the film.
Mao in the Revolutionary Army
The film depicts Mao as a goofy young man and touches on his early political life. However, it is clear by the end of the film that the filmmakers were selling an image of Mao, not the politics of Mao. It was convenient for the filmmakers to focus on Mao’s youth, because the line struggles between Mao and the revisionists were not developed or apparent at that time.
This Saturday, 7/30, the Fuckin’ Loudest Asians! Film Club continues!
The FLA! Film Club will meet three more times this summer in NYC over fuckin’ delicious lunches to learn about key figures and organizations in revolutionary Asian and Asian American history, focusing mainly on women. We will discuss films, music, and readings with the goal of gradually involving ourselves in some badass collective struggle.
The next few sessions will take place on these weekends at 1pm: July 30th, August 6th and 21st. Mark your calendars!
Saturday, July 30th, 1-4PM
We will message you the new location in Astoria if you email back that you’re interested in attending.
We will be watching “A Woman Among Warlords”, a documentary on an Afghani female activist and member of the Parliament, Malalai Joya, and her bold and defiant journey in condemning homegrown “warlords” while criticizing foreign interventions/occupations.
People often cite the Communists as the ones inciting violence during the Chinese Revolution. Those same people also say that things were good back then before the Communists were in power. However, if you reflect on how things were in feudal China, what was so good about it?
In Fanshen, William Hinton documents life in a Chinese village called Long Bow. Before the Revolution, instances such as these were common:
I and the children worked for others thinning millet. We got only half a quart of grain. For each meal we cooked only a fistful with some weeds in it. The children’s stomachs were swollen and every bone in their bodies stuck through their skin. After a while the little boy couldn’t get up. He just lay on the k’ang sick with dysentery and many, many worms, a whole basin full of worms crawled out from his behind. Even after he was dead the worms kept coming out. The little girl had no milk from me, for I had nothing to eat myself, so, of course, she died (43).
One Taihang peasant struck back at a landlord who raped his wife. He was hung by the hair of his head and beaten until his scalp separated from his skull. He fell to the ground and bled to death (52).
Peasants confronted oppressive forces on a daily basis. Landlords would make them work until they couldn’t anymore — or worse, until they died. Rich relatives (even brothers) would use and abuse them as they wished. To make things worse, the French sent over Catholic bishops. People were forced to join because this was the only way that they would get money and grain during a bad harvesting period.
Chinese girls were often given up to the Catholic church’s orphanage. These girls would become the orphange’s property. When the girls were old enough, they were tasked by the orphanage to clean, cook, sew, and various other forms of labor; they worked between 12 to 14 hours a day. The orphanage would sometimes lease these girls to other people so that both the orphanage and church would get a steady income. When the girls were old enough, they were sold off to men to become their “wives”.
A woman settling the score with a landlord.
If people had to live under those circumstances from the day that they were born, it is no wonder then that peasants reacted so violently towards their oppressors during the Chinese Revolution. As Hinton has similarly expressed:
When agrarian revolt flared in isolated parts of China after the suppression of the Great Revolution in 1927, neither the legitimate gangs of the village politicians nor the illegitimate gangs of the local despots were enough to suppress them (53).
No one, including the Communists, could hold the peasants back from their revolts. The peasants were unleashing years and years of anger that they were forced to keep suppressed.
Peasants only had bitter stories to tell when they reflected on the past. If things were good “back in the day”, it was only good for those who were the exploiters: the Catholic institution and the gentry. (According to Hinton, the word gentry describes: landlords, rich peasants, and person who made a career of serving them and their interests (such as bailiffs, public officials, village scholars) whose standard of living was comparable to that of the wealthy and came from the same source — the exploitation of the peasants.) The poor peasants had nothing to lose and everything to gain when feudal China was smashed.
“My parents speak with two tongues
My mother’s tongue is Toisan
My father’s tongue is Cantonese
The colonial language is English”—Marilyn Chin, “The Colonial Language Is English” (via antimodelminority)
"When I grow up, I wanna be just like Yuri Kochiyama."
We must all break down barriers and phobias; build working relationships; but also understanding, recognizing that each ethnic group has its own primary issues, and need ethnic privacy and leadership. However, as a united force, together, we can challenge the system where those with wealth and political power live high off the toil and desperation of the marginalized. We must see one another as friends and neighbors and sincerely be concerned of one another’s plights and problems. — Yuri Kochiyama.
Yuri speaks about how there is a lot of overlap in African/Asian and Black Amerikan/Asian Amerikan history, while mentioning Ho Chi Minh and Malcolm X. Unfortunately, however, the historical interactions between oppressed peoples are often downplayed or not even taught at all.
For example, gentrification is happening across different communities today — Chinatown/Lower East Side, South Bronx (Mott Haven and Port Morris, in particular), and Harlem, Williamsburg, Fort Greene, just to name a few. Real estate capital is making moves and invading our communities, raising real estate values. When landlords realize that their property can be worth more, they hike up rent to kick tenants out of their homes so that the gentrifying middle/upper classes can move in. Oppressed peoples are gradually being pushed out to the suburbs as more and more white middle/upper class people move into cities. This phenomenon is similar to how Paris, France is structured: the middle/upper class live in the city while the so-called “others” (immigrants from neo- and colonial countries) live on the outskirts — in les banlieues (Paris suburbs). Out of sight, out of mind.
Police brutality is still a problem in our communities: Yong Xin Huang, a 16-year old honors student from Brooklyn, was shot in the head by a pig in Sheepshead Bay in 1995; Fong Lee, a 19-year old Hmong youth who was shot to death by the Minneapolis police in 2006; Wu Yi-Zhou, a 64-year old Chinese man who was nailed to the ground by several New York Pig Department officers about a week ago.
The economic crisis adds to this pile of problems. Many people are unemployed. Unemployment rates are disproportionately high in Latino and Black communities. Asian Amerikans who have bachelor degrees have a hard time finding jobs. But imagine how bad the situation is for Asians who don’t even have BA degrees.
Teachers are getting laid off as schools are closing and more prisons are opening. NYC is trying to shut down 22 public schools. CUNY is hiking up tuition, making higher education unaffordable for Blacks and Latinos. Students and teachers are rising up and protesting against school closures, budget cuts, and tuition hikes. However, those who are rising up tend to be Black and Latino students. Asian students, who attend CUNY schools, are missing in action.
As we celebrate the birthdays of Yuri Kochiyama, Malcolm X, and Ho Chi Minh, we must remember the commonalities we share as oppressed peoples. When we fight these common problems together, we fight for not just our own liberation, as Asians, but all other oppressed peoples’s liberation. As Malcolm X once said, “Study history. Learn about yourselves and others. There’s more commonality in all our lives than we think. It will help us understand one another.”
A kinder, gentler kind of student activism. It’s great to see students protesting the fee hikes, but I can’t believe this is the first time in 125 years of Ewha Women’s University that the students refused, in…
They stripping ethnic studies We gotta fight for it We had to do it in the 60s And even strike for it We aim to change the education Aim to change the culture Fuck the white-centric education that they sold ya
A report from Gabriela Rising on sexism at the recent MAASU conference in Minneapolis and some male chauvinist rapper (Traphik) who should be permanently barred from the asian amerikan circuit. The old Chairman said, “In the world today all culture, all literature and art belong to definite classes and are geared to definite political lines.” Here’s more art serving the dumbass class, geared to copious amounts of stupidity. -HTT
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Midwest Asian American Student Union Conference in Minneapolis. It was, overall, a wonderful conference where I met some very progressive people of color and activists. I was also able to help conduct a successful workshop on the…
One of the things that seems to be odd is that, here I am. I’m a Japanese American. This is an African American based organization. So meeting there the first night of the founding, Huey asked me to join the Party. I looked at him and I looked at Bobby and I said, “I know you two guys are crazy, ‘cuz we drafted the program together. Are you blind as well? I’m not Black.” Then Huey responded by saying, “That’s not the issue, Richard. The struggle for Freedom, Justice, and Equality transcends racial and ethnic barriers. As far as I’m concerned, you Black.”
In fact at one point I had the title of being the “toughest Oriental to come out of West Oakland.”
At first I looked over the other majors: rejected psychology for their subjective approach to the problems of the world, and philosophy as nothing but thought, mental masturbation. Political science, I couldn’t deal with that at Berkeley, because at the time the Poly-Sci department at Berkeley was politically conservative. In fact some of the professors worked for the CIA and that was public knowledge.
Richard Aoki’s the definition of putting your brain juices to good use!