The 80s are Coming Back, How About the 1800s?

Kayla Lien, Opinion Editor and Student Life Editor

*Trigger Warning: There is anti-Asian, definitively racist language further on. There will be a warning before that paragraph as well.*

When I tell people I’m Asian-American, I feel that I’m claiming something that isn’t really mine. I don’t speak my family’s language. My relationship with my Chinese father is full of chaos and warring. I don’t know my paternal grandmother, can’t speak to my Tài Pó in her native tongue, nor do I know my family heritage. I am clinging on to an identity I don’t have a right to.

Early in this country’s childhood, development was booming. Buildings rose and changed the cityscape, and the East started moving into the West, citing Manifest Destiny. With the rapidly changing technological advancements and urbanization came immigration, which scared “native” white Americans. So began the 1875 Page Act, banning Chinese women from immigrating to the U.S., and the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred all Chinese from the country. Racist cartoons portrayed the Chinamen with pinched faces and fanged grins, with beady black eyes. This was the result of xenophobia, something that has persisted for centuries. Traces of anti-Asian discrimination is evident even now.

We’re either seen as a “model minority” or as the dirtiest race. Educators overlook us, employers never let us advance, and our peers stereotype us. We’re an infestation and we take over and invade. Yet somehow, we’re considered passive enough to push over. Demure, yet promiscuous. Wealthy and penny-pinching.

(Trigger Warning: Be aware, I am using this word simply to identify what word is used. It is explicitly racist, and not an okay word to use.)

My younger brother gets called “chink” by kids older than him. I’ve been called chink before, too, but don’t you think they’re just joking when they say that? Anti-Asian racism has always been there. It’s always been “on the down-low,” where it’s hard to tell if someone really understands their words. Are they joking, or do they mean what they’re saying? Do they even know what they’re saying?  

People like to say that I get too heated about this, that I care too much. They like reminding me that I’m only mixed-race, I’m still white, I’m not fully Chinese. Yes, but it’s still half of who I am. When you’re mixed-race with one of your races being white, society brands you as white. When you’re mixed-race with one race being black, you’re black. As a nation, we are so set on putting people into clean-cut boxes of black and white. It’s a lack of any other cultures, and dismisses you if you don’t fit into them. Not only that, it also treats you worse depending on which box people put you in.

The whiteness theory explains this best. Our society approaches being white as both the normal and the preferred condition. It sounds counter-intuitive. But think of it this way, a white male is the accepted candidate for Presidency. When a woman or person of color runs, the preference leans towards the previous.

Whiteness theory also helps to describe why material possessions are more easily accessible due to one’s race. It’s revealed more in patterns and systems than in outright motives. Discursive theories explain how media tends to use those of other races within advertising, and reducing them to “the others,” or as “exotic,” often showing women of color as being sexually active, while white women as marketed as “pure” or “without desires.” Asian women, for example, tend to be fetishized and dressed in leopard print in ads – meant to be seen as simply “not American.” Yet, even their inclusion is rare. When they are on screen, they’re made to look and act how Americans believe Asians look and act like. For example, having long, straight hair, fair skin, and more Caucasian features.

There’s enough Caucasian representation in the media. When “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” came out, I was so extremely excited. That’s me, there’s someone on TV who looks like me. What’s even better, they’re the leads. Not the racist caricatures of side characters that are used as comic relief, like Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles.

Now, I’m a native Utahn, raised in Clearfield and Bountiful. When I was younger, I used to look in the mirror and expect to see someone with a thin face, blue eyes, and light skin. I expected to see someone like the people around me. Instead, I stared back into dark eyes, tan skin, and unfamiliar features that I didn’t recognize. My nose was too wide, my bridge too flat and my eyes were too small. I didn’t connect that the person in the mirror was me until I was 10. That’s a long time to live, not understanding why you look like you do. When the glass broke, I learned a few things: I wasn’t considered white, not everyone celebrated two New Years’ (one in January and one in February), and that I was always going to be referred to by the elderly as “Oriental.”

People, often mis-profiling me, tend to make little side comments on the basis of race, thinking that I’ll agree and join in their snideness. It’s a sick kind of pack-bonding: let’s make fun of an oppressed race together. They’ll try imitating an “Asian accent,” trading their “L’s” for “R’s” and making fun of immigrant parents. People will pull back their eyelids so that their eyes become small and squinty, but the same sort of thing happens on the other side of the spectrum. I get questions like, “Do you eat dogs?” or “Is that why you take your shoes off in the house? Because you’re Asian?” and predominantly, “Do you know taekwondo/karate/judo/etc.?” Yet these are just little things, and not bad enough to complain about, right? This country is much harder on those who are black or brown, not yellow. There isn’t enough racism coming our way, we should be grateful. But that sort of rhetoric is damaging, and doesn’t help anyone.

We cannot measure the worthiness of our war by the amount of violence we endure. It’s not them against them against them, or at least it shouldn’t be. Our fight is the same, and if we value one aspect of it over another, there will always be problems. By tearing each other down over and over, no one builds any higher.

Everyone faces discrimination at some point in their life. It can come at any time and wears many different faces. Maybe it wears the face of your best friend, or a classmate, or a stranger. It’s the profile picture glaring back at you from a hate post.

Anti-Asian racism is subdued, but it’s still racism. Social media is so easily accessible and everyone’s opinions are at your fingertips. Some of these opinions, though, are pretty terrible. For example, a California lawyer named Christina Ignatius, annoyed with the movie “Crazy Rich Asians,” posted the Facebook rant titled, “THE ASIANS THAT TOOK OVER ORANGE COUNTY.” Within, she related with great detail her aggressions towards Asians, calling them “rice rockets,” saying that they’re “snoshy” (posh and snobby), and saying their “Tiger Moms” made them “become docta” or “marry docta,” and noting that her “Caucasian male lawyer friends who married Asian women were completely poached for dollars and earning potential.”

See? Another stereotype: Asians care only about money. Tell that to the whole country of North Korea who is literally starving to death on the streets. Tell that to everyone here who can’t achieve the American Dream due to the long-held institution of racism.

People, generally ethnically white people, like to say that they’re “colorblind,” or that they “just don’t see colors.” One can understand why that might sound like it’s helpful, but it’s just counter-productive. See color! See race! Understand our differences in appearance and experience, it’s important. Not everyone is lucky enough to be blind to other cultures. When people are socially-colorblind, they are effectively blocking out others’ struggles. All it does is ignore the fact that others face difficulties due to the color of their skin.

And difficulties they are, indeed. A band named “The Slants,” comprised of Asian Americans, fought for six years to trademark their name, after being told that it was “disparaging to people of Asian descent,” even though the term “slant” has been registered many times, mainly by white people. Their use of the name was to reclaim an identity and provide solidarity of a community, the opposite of what the Trademark Office claimed. From 2010 to 2016, frontman Simon Tam took odd jobs in order to pay for the court fees, racking up tens of thousands of dollars. In his own words, Tam felt that, “It was as if because we were Asian, because we were celebrating Asian-American culture, we could not trademark the name the Slants.”

Actresses like Chloe Bennet are forced to change their last name in order to be casted. She was originally known as Chloe Wang, but realized that she couldn’t get any roles because of her last name. It seems that every industry, whether it be science or art, is against Asian advancement.

Asian-Americans are a vital minority, one often overlooked when talking about civil rights. Another seat must be pulled to the table, and room needs to be made. We’re here, we’ve been here, and it’s time to acknowledge the trials we face. East High has the most diverse student body in the state, and it’s important to talk about how others’ race plays a part in their lives. But, shouldn’t I be getting back to the sweatshop?