Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Reflecting: 1 Year Later.

This is from an op-ed I'd written for the Pioneer Press after the Chai Soua Vang veridct last year on October 20th, 2005. Over a year later, I find that sadly, much of it remains relevant, particularly for my brothers and sisters in Detroit who are going through a very difficult time. I'm re-posting this in solidarity, and to remind us that we still have a long road.

Asian-Americans must speak up

In the wake of the Chai Soua Vang verdict, now, more than ever, Asian-Americans need to talk candidly about race and racism, or the American dream shall never truly be ours. Throughout the trial, Asian-American leaders uttered little more than politically correct, safe pronouncements hoping for fairness and justice, but said little to help others understand: Yes, racism against Asian-Americans is serious.

The fear Asian-Americans have for their life is connected to a long history of racism we have every reason to take seriously. When Vincent Chin was murdered in 1982 in suburban Detroit, his white killers never served a day in prison. They paid only a fine of $3,000. They called him a "Jap," caving his skull in with baseball bats. The scant punishment implied a license to kill Asians.

In 1998, a 13-year-old Hmong girl, Panhia Lor, was gang-raped, beaten and murdered, her battered corpse left to rot in a Minnesota park like a pile of trash. Her killers called her "gook" and "chink" as they raped her. We were told it was not a hate crime. It was not a racist act.

In 2001, Thung Phetakoune, a 62-year-old veteran from Laos, died after Richard Labbe cracked Thung's skull open on the sidewalks of New Hampshire. Labbe told police, "What's going on is that those Asians killed Americans and you won't do anything about it, so I will. Call it payback." Phetakoune risked his life for Americans stationed in Laos. Trying to rebuild his life, this is how it ended.

In January 2005, 36-year-old Tou Yang, a father of three, was shot at home by the Milwaukee police seven times, including three times in the head because the police could not find a nonviolent resolution, like tear gas or a stun gun. Tou Yang's case was eerily similar to that of Tong Kue, another 36-year-old Hmong man was shot at home in Detroit in June 1998 by police.

We're told: "There isn't a pattern. It's just a fluke." We're told to turn a blind eye to a culture that consistently depicts us as aliens, foreigners and the enemy. Every time someone calls us a "gook," "chink" or "Chinaman," ignore it like good Uncle Toms.

Why can't we laugh it off? Because words that demean us pave the way for greater violence. Filmmaker Gode Davis, researching "American Lynching: Strange and Bitter Fruit," estimates as many as 200 Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos died from American lynchings, yet we never confront this.

It's time we call things as we see them, because things only get worse, not better, from our silence. Whether it's politically correct can no longer matter. We must hold America accountable for how it treats Asians, or else the dream will fail us just as it failed the Chinese laborers who died ignominiously constructing the American railroad, or the Japanese unjustly forced into internment camps during World War II while German- and Italian-Americans were not.

After 30 years, most of the U.S. remains unaware of the Southeast Asians who died to protect Americans during the Southeast Asian wars of the 20th century.

The culture we get is the culture we make. So, someone needs to say it: Asian-Americans are sick of the slurs, ignorance and stereotypes. We're fed up with injustice against our community. We want life, liberty and happiness as much as anyone else.

And if that means speaking up, so be it. Because this is our country, too.


Lee Herrick said...

This is excellent, Bryan, and you are 100% right on the money---Asian Americans need to speak up---and loudly. Others (non Asian Americans) also need to realize violence and racism against Asian Americans is prevalent and act against it, whenever and wherever it surfaces its ugly head.

Anonymous said...

I keep saying someone needs to take the plunge and write a book, or at least an article, analyzing the Chai Vang case. I respect what the Coalition on Community Relations did in observing the trial and putting together a report about their observations. However, I believe we need an in-depth analysis of the legal merits of the case and the media firestorm surrounding it.

We could benefit from such an analysis and hopefully be more prepared, as a community, to deal with any other situations like the Chai Vang case. There's been a lot said about how Chai Vang's lawyers, the legal system, and this society failed him...but the Hmong community failed him as well.

Anonymous said...

I'm not Asian by birth, I'm Asian American by Family: in my second marriage I am wife to a Honkie jok-sing (sp) Chinese Minnesotan. We fell in love because of who we are, not our races; because of our commonalities.

But in my first marriage, I was married to a German Wisconsin-Minnesotan, whose family never really accepted me (the commonalities were there but not embraced). And they are from a very small town much like one I'd lived in as a child, where family of mine lived for many, many years. Yet from my experiences with my closet-homo/biget-phobed ex and his family, added to my mostly everybody's white (unless you're Indian) time up North in Mn, I know exactly what Vang encountered in the woods.

It's not like I haven't dealt with that sort all my life, in all it's moods.

He was a victim of automatically-racist white hunters, trapping and torturing him, thinking him helpless. And then, after it all, yes, he was victim of the Hmong and other T.C. Asian communities, they who abandoned him as a scapegoat, that they themselves not be marked. . . .

Survival, via fear, is still not standing up for yourself, no matter where you are.

Anybody who's been different can tell you that.

I know I live it every day, and that I am protecting my son from being victimized for being different, for not conforming to the unremarkable, by pulling him out of his brand-new charter school.

Until and unless we think of ourselves as US, not some race-branding/classist/etc. group, nothing will change.

Sometimes, we have to stand up to ourselves to do so.

Sometimes, we simply have to stand, and be ourselves, and openly embrace ALL we are, to do so.

My family is not limited to birth, or marriage, it is expanded by birth, marriage, friendship, the Internet, and all our commonalities.

I was ashamed of my entire hometown Twin Cities community for abandoning this man a year ago. Ashamed and yet, not surprised.

I'd like to be surprised, one of these days. It would be a good thing.

**Re LH's comments - the "others" get racism against themselves, too. It goes both ways - and is still despicable.

***Re: Anonymous' comments - the entire TC community could use such a book, even a movie. I'd love to see a movie like this, with real rednecks and Hmong actors, over in a big Indie festival, even Cannes. That'd be awesome. :)


Anonymous said...

Yes..i think that the Asians are being discriminated these days from white people. from experiences i think that white people tend to be racist around asians because of their looks, way of culture. i don't undrstand why they act like's just stupid.

i also think that the Hmong people should be able to speak out about it..but when i think about it..even though that we they even care to handle the proble? my question is why??