Past the midway point of May, one must ask: Is our Heritage Month half-full or half empty? It all depends. We’ve done our part if most of us have started calling it by its new official name: Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Read my last column on how Native Hawaiians are just the latest examples of how mistreatment and broken promises remain our group’s inheritance from the past that continues unbroken to this day. Native Hawaiians, who’ve seen their reparations ignored, deserve to be remembered in our heritage acronym. It reminds us we’re not the “model minority.”
We don’t even show up on people’s radar.
Last week, 2,766 adult Americans were asked in an online poll to name a well-known Asian American.
Kamala Harris, the vice president of the United States, should have been obvious. But the number one answer was………“Don’t know.”
That’s not Dr. No. It’s just plain old “Don’t Know.”
Forty-two percent couldn’t name even one Asian American–out of the 23 million of us in America. Not even Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who’s been a pandemic TV star on CNN?
So at No. 2 in the “Name a well-known Asian American” conundrum? Aging Asian martial arts star Jackie Chan at 11 percent. He’s not even an Asian American.
One made it to No.3. Bruce Lee, who, like me, was born in San Francisco. But he’s been dead since 1973 and got 9 percent.
The survey was conducted by Leading Asian Americans to Unite for Change (LAAUNCH), a group with a penchant for acronyms, as well as provocative findings:
1. Nearly 80 percent of Asian Americans say they don’t feel respected and are discriminated against in the U.S.
2. 37 percent of white Americans aren’t even aware of the increase in Asian American hate crimes and racism in the last year.
3. 24 percent of whites say anti-Asian American racism isn’t a problem that should be addressed.
4. Stereotypes like “the model minority,” the “perpetual foreigner,” and “yellow peril” continue to persist.
5. Nearly 50 percent of non-Asian Americans believe Asian Americans are “ fairly or over-represented” in senior positions in companies, politics and media, even though the truth is “Asian Americans are significantly under-represented.”
In other words, Asian Americans feel the discrimination and pain, but the non-Asian Americans think nothing of it and see us thriving, if they see us at all. We’re doing OK. We’re the model minority, right?
No wonder that the Trump scapegoating of Asian Americans with terms like “China Virus” racked up close to 4,000 reported transgressions, from minute to major, a year after the pandemic officially started, according to the #StopAAPIHate website.
GOODBYE SAT/ACT—DEATH TO THE STANDARDIZED ASIAN AMERICAN
This week we got some good news for AANHPI diversity.
Last Friday, May 14, the University of California regents agreed to settle a lawsuit by students asking to make the elimination of the SAT/ACT permanent through 2025. UC had found standardized testing discriminatory, but allowed for testing to be optional. The settlement now simply puts the test on indefinite hold for another four years.
It also means the opportunity for greater diversity for a broader number of students, even Asian Americans.
While some Asian Americans who pride themselves in test-taking will see elimination of the SAT as the end of an AANHPI advantage, there are some groups—like Filipinos, No.3 among all AAPI groups—that are cheering loudly.
Rain Romeo, a junior in Stockton, Calif. is a high school activist with Little Manila Rising, a nonprofit agency advocating for the Filipino American community.
Romeo, who immigrated to the U.S. with her family from the Philippines as a child in 2004, was one of the handful of students who were represented in the suit against UC.
She was ready to testify against the SAT/ACT.
“There’s more to me than what is seen on that piece of paper, and the number that score represents,” Romeo told me by phone. “I don’t want [admissions officers] to make an assumption or observation of me that they think is true based on a number.”
Romeo said she wanted them to see her for who she is and what her true potential represents. In Stockton, Romeo has overcome a lot. She’s a star student in a neglected, low-income neighborhood, and would be the first in her family to go to college. In school, she studies debate, Honors English, Honors Physics, and is in student government, as well as a community volunteer with Little Manila Rising. She wants to go to UC Berkeley, UCLA, or UC Davis and is looking forward to the application time.
She won’t need a standardized test to define her. She’ll get into UC because of who she is—an Asian American Filipino student who’s more than just a number. It’s the holistic approach to admissions, where all things from grades, race, community involvement, and more are part of an admissions formula that even the Supreme Court has upheld.
If you’re saddened by the SAT being eliminated for now at the University of California, don’t be. There are better, more reliable ways to show worthiness for entry.
Rain Romeo wants to prove that one’s uniqueness is better than the standardized Asian American.
By now surely you’ve heard the one about the other night in Austin, TX, when Asian American comedian Peng Dang, a Chinese immigrant, introduced a white comedian Tony Hinchcliffe, who then went on to slur Dang with the word that rhymes with “blink.”
Hinchcliffe then went after the audience for having laughed at Dang’s opening set, calling them “race traitors.”
Comedy! Or not?
In the comedy world, you should be allowed to say anything you want. In a live setting. In a club. Not for public consumption. So many caveats. But once a performance is set and out in the world, you have to live with the consequences–like really finding out whether what you said was funny. Or racist.
That’s the free market of ideas.
In an internet world where every one has a camera and videos go viral, nothing is said in secret.
Unless comedians want to open up private clubs with guests signing non-disclosure statements, they’ll need to have a sharper sense of funny rather than saying the first thing out of their mouth, then waiting to see if someone calls them a racist.
The First Amendment doesn’t technically apply here. But I don’t want to give the impression anyone is shutting down or cancelling anyone. So let’s say Hinchcliffe has a First Amendment right. But so do we, to debate him. Why isn’t he funny to go after the Chinese comic? In a time when thousands of Asian Americans have been targets of racist hate, including six women in Atlanta who were murdered, now is not the time to make Asian Americans the punchlines.
All comedians want to take it right up to the boundaries of taste. That’s the edge of the death-defying laugh. But when you bomb, you have to acknowledge that, and if offensive to the point of harm, apologize.
Or you debate and defend what he said. Only, Hinchcliffe can’t, because slurs aren’t defensible. They aren’t even comedic truth. Slurs are just plain hate.
This approach, however, did work for the previous president, who used his pulpit cavalierly in a way that normalized hate and made it acceptable. It gave us Jan. 6. It gave us Marjorie Taylor Green. It gave us a GOP built on lies.
Most of all, it has left many Asian Americans either hurt, killed, or living in fear. That’s no comedy. And that’s why it doesn’t work for any white comedian, especially now during AANHPIHM.
Hear me talk about these stories on my podcasts on www.amok.com and on FBLive, emilguillermo.media, M-F, 2 pm PT.