I have long feared that the Coronavirus pandemic will create some anti-Asian sentiments when President Trump began calling it the “Chinese virus”, and unfortunately it materialized. Various news media have reported random assaults on Asian Americans across the country, which also sparked responses from within this community either as individuals or as collaborative voices. What stands out in the cacophony is the diversity of perspectives. As one from within the Asian American Christians, I am not at all surprise. After all, our culture is never monolithic. To begin with, some are more Asian while others are more American. Some think more as first-generation immigrants when others reflect as second generation or beyond. Still, some would approach from a historic-political perspective while others may seek a Christian-spiritual vantage point. We may disagree with each other.
Andrew Yang, the former Presidential candidate, writes in the op-ed for Washington Post: “We Asian Americans need to embrace and show our American-ness in ways we never have before. We need to step up, help our neighbors, donate gear, vote, wear red white and blue, volunteer, fund aid organizations, and do everything in our power to accelerate the end of this crisis. We should show without a shadow of a doubt that we are Americans who will do our part for our country in this time of need.” In so doing, he figures that Asian Americans can show that we are not the virus but part of the cure. As a result, he faces pushback from within the community. That doesn’t work, they say. Japanese Americans tried that in WWII and it didn’t get them to be treated like equals to white Americans. Racism should be called out. Asian Americans should get together and defend ourselves as a group. This is the time to call for social justice and not to prove our “American-ness” to anybody. I think they are right. But I think Yang is also right.
A second-generation young man from the Asian American Christian Collaborative recently posts a conversation between him and his mother on Facebook. What his mother says resonates with me deeply as a first-gen immigrant. Here’s the direct quotation:
She said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that this is a time for Chinese people who live in the US— Mainlanders, Taiwanese, Hong Kongers included — to think long and hard about what “their country” is. She noted that Chinese immigrants of a certain generation (that is, hers) have a long-held tendency of not seeing the US as their true home, as a community that they are accountable to — even if they have lived here for decades and hold permanent residency, or even citizenship. She explained that Chinese immigrants tend to look at the resources and benefits that come with living in the US rather opportunistically — work a high-paying job, have American kids who enter good American universities on federal financial aid, make sure those kids also work high-paying jobs, and so on — but not ever feeling any sense of responsibility or loyalty towards the US, instead directing that same sense of responsibility and loyalty towards China or the countries from which they emigrated. when Chinese folks in the US use the term woa guo (our country), they are almost unequivocally referring to China, or Taiwan, or Hong Kong. She then continued saying that if Chinese people living in the US had that sense of social responsibility, you would be seeing far more Chinese faces running for public office, teaching in public schools, and so on. She ended off by saying the thing that prompted me to post about this in the first place: that because the Chinese immigrants of her generation have this tendency to care about nothing concerning the US unless it concerns Chinese folks directly, an undue burden is now placed on 2nd+ generation Chinese Americans to “prove our loyalty” — to fight for the right to exist peacefully in the only home we’ve ever known. She made the argument that, as newcomers to the US, Chinese immigrants do bear that burden of proving loyalty; however, in their flagrant refusal to acknowledge that burden, it has now been passed onto people like many of us in this group.
This young man goes on to say that he does not agree with his mother and Yang that his generation need to prove their loyalty to the US but he completely agrees with everything else his mother says. “The 442nd infantry regiment should not be the standard to which Asian Americans must always measure their right to exist in their own country.” I tend to think that his mother did not read Yang’s op-ed, so her comments are not directing to his view. At the same time, I suspect that Yang is very much aware of this first-generational mindset that he feels some form of ‘compensation’ might be needed.
To be honest, I don’t know what is the correct political or theological position on this thing. I think the call for social justice is needed but it only works to a certain point. I like the idea of Asian American coming together but I also fear that it might nurture a certain battle mindset. As a Christian, I don’t think simply calling out bigotry out of someone else’s fear or anxiety is enough or redemptive. Where is my cross? What is my cross? Long before the pandemic, I was inspired by the news story that a black blues musician Darryl Davis befriended a member of the KKK, who eventually left the Klan. It was also reported that Davis later convinced 200 white racists to leave the Klan simply by befriending them. I believe strongly that it is easy to hate a faceless people but not so with ‘John’ who plays baseball in the same league or ‘Jane’ who drops off her kids in the same school. In the face of anti-Asian sentiment across the nation, I find myself intentionally building more relationships with my local neighbors. I befriended Jordan in the grocery store, telling him that I will remember the wellness of him and his family when I say a prayer that evening. I learned that Destini is a new hire when she was making my sandwich behind the Deli counter, and I welcomed her to the neighborhood and encouraged her to continue to perform well. I intruded their six-feet space of social distancing emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. There is possibly a part of me that is doing this because I want to show my “American-ness” and that I am loyal to the US. But I think there is an even larger part of me that believes that the love of neighbor is the best offense to racial prejudice. When I ask “How’re you holding up?” or “Family doing well?” I am reminding them and myself that we are neighbors. When I say “Good to see you well” or “Hey, stay healthy”, I am reinforcing that relationship. I find myself praying and loving more these days. If I ever have to encounter an assault on me because I am Asian, I will count on the ‘Jordan’ and ‘Destini’ to come to my defense. I realize that when I lay down my civil rights and depends on basic human interdependency to function in its best of light will put me in a very vulnerable position. But I suppose that would be my cross to bear in this context.