21 October 2015

On Inter-Asian Racism

When I was in high school, I was accused of something that was taken out of context by a white teacher. Now, I'm not against employing white teachers in areas that happen to be majority Asian, but there must be some effort on part of teachers to understand their students, the dynamics, and the community wherein they live.

I grew up in Milpitas, which transformed from a majority-white town to a majority-Asian city with sizable white and Latino minorities. There a paradigm shift between old and new, and a cultural 'battle' between the descendants of Anglo-Celtic, Spanish, Mexican, Portuguese settlers and its new Asian residents. Of course, some Asian residents weren't that new, as a sizable Asian minority did live in Milpitas back then. Some white residents were blatant: "Asians are taking over" or "Go back to Asia". Whilst some were bitter and angry, I cannot forget those who did welcome Asian and Latino groups with open arms - churches and hospitals began offering more services in Vietnamese, Mandarin, Spanish, Tagalog, and Cantonese; whites began to speak Asian languages and Spanish - to cite examples.

Indeed, Asians aren't one cohesive group - we are different ethnic groups, of different religions, languages, and cultures. The 'orientalizing' factor projected by some is a product of a Western mindset that seeks to objectify the 'other' as 'foreign' and un-American. I have been a victim of this, and many of my fellow students then were - having been subjected to the assumptions of teachers who told us, mostly Asian students with American passports, "that's not how we do it in this country" or "that's not the American way".

I happened to be a student right when Asian students would be the majority in Milpitas schools. Into this pan-Asian mix were also entrenched community rivalries from the 'Old World'. It's not crude to call it racism. If Anglo-Americans could bully Irish-Americans, bringing old prejudices from Europe to the 'New World', certainly Asians can do it to Asians. It was and is racism. And it's not fair when racism is projected on another who is used as a convenient scapegoat.

Of course, once I tell you this, there will be some who won't believe me - I can't blame them. But it is a memory that haunts me to this day.

There are wonderful things about Chinese culture and there are wonderful things about Filipino culture - but as prejudice against Filipinos and other minorities in China must stop, so must prejudice against Chinese and other minorities in the Philippines cease. The same pattern can be found all over Asia - a harbored prejudice toward minorities similar to South African xenophobia. That isn't to say that some Chinese Filipinos don't have prejudices against the Philippine majority as some Filipino Chinese have their own prejudices against the Han majority in China.

But let me get to the point: I am a mixed-race Filipino. I have indigenous Malay, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, and Sephardic Jewish blood flowing in my veins. And when I told two pure-blooded Chinese students, Jason Lau and Jennie Chen, to stop bullying me, even citing a Chinese aunt, who said such racist behavior is 'disgraceful', I was assaulted and battered in an empty brass section room, punched and held to the wall by the neck. (He was tall and I was/still am short, so I was effectively being choked.) Another student, Peter Neddersen, walked in and Mr. Lau promptly stopped.

I ran to the color guard room and wept for an hour - I was excused from band class by the instructor, but only told the instructor, Chris Kaldy, that I had been battered. After class, Mr. Lau and Miss Chen, yelled at me, saying that my tears were only to make them look bad. But that wasn't the case. I was severely traumatized.

The next day, I received a referral notice - which is a disciplinary notice - for suspension. On it, Mr. Kaldy had written that I had told Mr. Lau and Miss Chen that I called them a disgrace and that it was a racist remark on my part. Mr. Lau and I were sent to the assistant principal's office where Mr. Lau made it appear as if it he were defending his girlfriend's honor. I defended myself, saying it was not my intent to be racist. Racism was then projected on me, and I couldn't defend myself sufficiently, even though I was only the mixed-race messenger for another Chinese person's admonition. I knew Mr. Kaldy and the assistant principal (whose name I do not remember) wouldn't understand the dynamics of Chinese-Filipino relations and how these were and are also played in American communities.

Obviously, in many ways, the Philippines was and is the weaker player in the Asian region; China (the PRC and Taiwan) is economically powerful. For many Californian communities, Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans are more dominant socioeconomically; this is why Filipino Americans requested a separate box on forms in California as they would be underrepresented by other Asians.

Filipinos have been discriminated by Chinese (in both China and the Philippines) as dumb, ignorant, subservient, dark-skinned 'dogs of Western masters', fit only for servile tasks. In the Philippines, Chinese have been portrayed as corrupt, immoral gangsters who only want money at the expense of conscience. Of course, these are stereotypes. However, Chinese and Whites do have privilege in the Philippines, and unsurprisingly this can sometimes play out in interracial or inter-Asian community relations in the United States.

I refused to serve the sentence of suspension and my parents approved of my action. When a parental conference was called to resolve the matter, my parents adamantly refused to attend, knowing that it would be manipulated again to place all the blame on me. I didn't serve the sentence, but I'm pretty sure the referral remained (and remains) as a blot on my school record.

After all, it was unbelievably unfair. While I was to receive punishment (which I didn't serve), Mr. Lau would escape (not to mention that he smiled at me as he walked out of the assistant principal's office) scot-free even if he assaulted and battered me. Mr. Lau knew he was in the wrong and did everything he could to make it appear that I deserved to be battered and harmed.

Did this experience embitter me against Chinese people? No, absolutely not. I think the opposite happened, as my appreciation for my partial Chinese ancestry deepened. Being multi-racial is a multi-faceted blessing - one has a variety of cultural sources to draw upon. The majority of Chinese people are good people - indeed they are part of my family. And because of my family that I can stand proud in the knowledge that I am right, even though I was falsely accused.

So does it help to have a judge who is so far removed from the context that impartiality becomes a hindrance to justice? Justice isn't that blind.