By Benjamin “Benji” Chang 張尊理, University of North Carolina, Greensboro
The year is 2021, not 1871, 1882, or 1982.1 Yet once again, deadly racism in the US has caught the national and international spotlight. To be clear, this racism is not just the individual act of one to another, some misstep by a college fraternity, or insensitive comments by an onscreen personality or other celebrity. The racism surrounding the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other African Americans by law enforcement, as well as the anti-Asian hate and violence, have pointed to systemic issues within our structures and institutions including the police, court, school, and healthcare systems.
Some readers of Gum San Journal apply lenses and lessons learned from Asian American studies and other ethnic studies, which have now been struggled for and institutionalized for over 50 years and helped lead to community spaces and scholarship similar to this journal (Chan et al., 2009; Ling, 1989; Liu et al., 2008; Tachiki et al., 1971). Within these spaces and bodies of scholarship, it is not surprising or trending that the current issues of racism persist. Malcolm X—El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz—was one of our most heralded voices in the ethnic studies movement during the late 1960s and 1970s (Omatsu, 1989). Within the context of grassroots organizing for social justice he once stated, “Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research” (X, 1965). It is with this historical awareness and sense of community space and scholarship that we put forward this issue of GSJ.
Regular GSJ readers may notice some shifts in tone and subject of this issue. While it does feature some historical articles on specific individuals and communities in Southern California, this issue also makes it a point to address the racist violence that has appeared to surge over the past two years amidst the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as more specific engagements of inter-racial and inter-ethnic tensions, White supremacy, and subsequent forms of community organizing and advocacy.
Diversity within Chinese American Communities
In this issue, various perspectives and positionalities are shared, with different ideas about where the current problems come from and how we can best address them. Not everyone who shared their voices agrees with one another, but that is part of our intended approach. We seek to share a range of histories and experiences of Chinese Americans in Southern California, to inform and spark dialogue towards greater equity. The some 5.8 million people who are identified as Chinese Americans today come from many geographies, experiences, and views. This diversity continues to increase as Chinese Americans comprise the largest sub-group of Asian Americans nationally, and are also the largest group in the region and state with the most Asian Americans (Budiman & Ruiz, 2021). Beyond the descendants of those who mostly migrated from Sze Yup (the “4 Counties”) or Guangdong province, Chinese Americans in California include those who come from “under-documented” situations, waishengren 外省人 via Taiwan, families of former plantation laborers in Hawai’i, adoptees from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), youth of mixed ethnic and racial heritage, post-1965 university students of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), LGBTQ+ communities, ethnic Chinese refugees from former French Indochina nations, 1.5 generation transnational Chinese from other parts of Southeast Asia and the PRC, and many more (Chang,2017; Lam, 2015; Ong & Nonini, 2003; Yung, 1995).
It is challenging to try and represent the great diversity and diaspora mentioned above, but this issue on “Resisting Racism” has nevertheless sought to provide a platform for at least some of these voices and backgrounds. In this issue, you will hear from those who come from different generations, industries (e.g., academia, automotive, design, government, the arts), racialized groups, and perspectives on how to push for social change. Avenues for change that are discussed include public education, philanthropy, multiracial coalition building, policy advocacy, fraternal and civic associations, and defunding law enforcement towards other services and agencies. But regardless of the differences, the voices assembled here call for justice for not only peoples of Chinese heritage, but all peoples. While we may come from disparate backgrounds, situations, and perspectives, the authors in this year’s issue recognize the importance of challenging the mounting racism of our time. We also know from our studies of history that unfortunately, when socioeconomic times get difficult in the U.S., Chinese peoples, Asian Americans, immigrants, and other BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and other People of Color) have been typically scapegoated, demonized, and attacked (Kochiyama et al., 2009; Lowe, 1996; Lui, 2007; Okihiro, 2001; Shah, 2001).
We cannot simply despair. We have seen many of these issues before (e.g., “Yellow Peril,” Perpetual Foreigner), and one of the most vital lessons we have learned from our ancestors, our family elders, and our Movement veterans, is that we must take action if things are to change (Ho, 2000; Kochiyama et al., 2009; Lee, 2013; Scharlin & Villanueva, 2000). These changes will not likely happen if we try to bury our heads in the sand, depend solely on existing elected officials, or look down on other racialized groups. Indeed, we currently have some entities that fall under the Chinese American community category which vocalize ahistorical positions on current inequities. These woefully ahistorical positions include echoing White supremacist beliefs blaming Black and Brown peoples for the nation’s ills, framing the teaching of historical/current inequities as hate speech, and portraying “The Chinese” as the model minority that simply pulled itself up by the bootstraps and became successful in this country with no need for handouts, Civil Rights Movement, ethnic studies, the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act, affirmative action, and so on (Chang, 2020; Gogue et al., 2021; Park & Liu, 2014).
To put it simply, we know we have a lot of work to do, including in our own backyards and our own communities. We believe that this special issue entitled, “Resisting Racism: We Are in This Together,” is a step in the right direction for the current times. While the pandemic, the violence, and the divergent protest movements have been very challenging for so many of us, they have also catalyzed action, and brought a greater degree of clarity and urgency to some of the problems that we face. As we look forward to this new decade, we welcome your feedback, critiques, and dialogue in general about how we can continue to make Gum Saan Journal a generative and dynamic space to engage in history and build community.
Budiman, A., & Ruiz, N. G. (2021). Key facts about Asian Americans, A Diverse and Growing Population. P. R. Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/04/29/key-facts-about-asianamericans/
Chan, J. P., Collier, M., Dong, L., Gonzales, D. P., Hom, M. K., Jeung, R., Tintiangco-Cubales, A., & Ueunten, W. (eds.). (2009). At 40: Asian American Studies @ San Francisco State: Self-determination, Community, Student Service. San Francisco State University Asian American Studies Department.
Chang, B. (2017). “Asian Americans and Education.” In G. W. Noblit (ed.), The Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education, 1–39. Oxford University. https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190264093.013.102
Chang, B. (2020). “From ‘Illmatic’ to ‘Kung Flu’: Black and Asian Solidarity, Activism, and Pedagogies in the Covid-19 Era.” Postdigital Science and Education, 2(2), 741–756. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-020-00183-8
Gogue, D. T.-L., Poon, O. A., Maramba, D. C., & Kanagala, V. (2021). “Inclusions and Exclusions: Racial Categorizations and Panethnicities in Higher Education.” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2021.1982045
Ho, F. (ed.). (2000). Legacy to Liberation: Politics & Culture of Revolutionary Asian Pacific America. AK Press.
Kochiyama, Y., Huggins, E., & Kao, M. U. (2009). “Stirrin’ Waters” ‘n Buildin’ Bridges: A Conversation with Ericka Huggins and Yuri Kochiyama.” Amerasia Journal, 35(1), 140–167. https://doi.org/10.17953/amer.35.1.004j1162n8646161
Lam, K. D. (2015). Youth Gangs, Racism, and Schooling: Vietnamese American Youth in a Postcolonial Context. Palgrave Macmillan.
Lee, G. (2013). American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs. G. Lee; PBS.
Ling, S. (1989). “The Mountain Movers: Asian American Women’s Movement in Los Angeles.” Amerasia Journal, 15(1), 51–67.
Liu, M., Geron, K., & Lai, T. (2008). The Snake Dance of Asian American Activism. Lexington.
Lowe, L. (1996). Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Duke University.
Lui, M. T. Y. (2007). The Chinatown Trunk Mystery: Murder, Miscegenation, and Other Dangerous Encounters in Turn-of-the-century New York City. Princeton University.
Okihiro, G. Y. (2001). Common Ground: Reimagining American History. Princeton University.
Omatsu, G. (1989). “The ‘Four Prisons’ and the Movements of Liberation: Asian American Activism from the 1960s to the 1990s.” Amerasia Journal, 15(1), xv–xxx.
Ong, A., & Nonini, D. (eds.). (2003). Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism. Routledge.
Park, J. J., & Liu, A. (2014). “Interest Convergence or Divergence?: A Critical Race Analysis of Asian Americans, Meritocracy, and Critical Mass in the Affirmative Action Debate.” The Journal of Higher Education, 85(1), 36–64.
Scharlin, C., & Villanueva, L. V. (2000). Philip Vera Cruz: A Personal History of the Filipino Immigrants and the Farmworkers Movement (3rd ed.). University of Washington.
Shah, N. (2001). Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown. University of California.
Tachiki, A., Wong, E., Odo, F., & Wong, B. (eds.). (1971). Roots: An Asian American Reader. UCLA Asian American Studies Center.
X, M. (1965). “Message to the Grassroots.” In G. Breitman (ed.), Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements, 3–17. Grove Weidenfeld.
Yung, J. (1995). Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco. University of California.
1 In reference to the Chinese Massacre of 1871 in Los Angeles, the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the hate crime murder of Vincent Chin in 1982.