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From Asian America, with love

We are living in a time of deep division and manifold crises – a crisis of democracy, a climate crisis, an economic crisis, a crisis of state and political violence, and a COVID crisis that has stolen over 220,000 souls in the United States and over 1 million worldwide. We are also living in a time of mass uprising to demand an end to racism and to realize America’s aspiration of inclusive, multiracial democracy. Tens of millions of people in the United States have participated in peaceful protests against the widespread abuse of power on the part of police in a historic mass movement to divest from traditional law enforcement, and to invest in a care-centered society. This is an urgent project of repair.

Most Americans oppose discrimination and the arrogance of elites who exploit racism and other bigotries to divide us. During a deadly pandemic, acting upon this is more important than ever. Caring for each other is the first step in protecting our families and communities, repairing our economy, and building an inclusive, multiracial society in which care is at the center of every government decision.

We are now entering another surge in COVID-19 cases in the United States. Throughout the COVID disaster, we have also witnessed a surge of anti-Asian violence. Responsibility for all of this rests squarely with the far right and their avatar of the moment, President Trump. He and his extremist, white nationalist, Christian nationalist, and armed militia supporters threaten our public health and economic security. They scapegoat China for the pandemic’s devastating toll in the United States, peddling racist ideas to dodge their own responsibility for the tragic COVID deaths in our country, and for the giant, growing gap between the rich and the rest of us. They try to pit Americans against each other, while cheating us out of the health and economic protections we deserve, and they are using the chaos that they’ve created to attack our democracy.

We call for an end to anti-Asian racism by ALL public officials regardless of party affiliation, and by the media.

Today the courage and compassion of workers, the massive peaceful protests against racism, and the everyday people supporting each other to get the food, care, and shelter we all need are beacons of hope as our country struggles to get back on its feet and to build a society where everyone has what they need. Asian Americans are in the thick of these efforts, but we need government to work alongside us. That is why we are linking arms with people across racial, gender, and geographic divides for the kind of political leadership we need to win the policies we deserve. We say NO to being scapegoated by a racist and dangerous administration. We call for an end to anti-Asian racism by ALL public officials regardless of party affiliation, and by the media. We stand with the majority of Americans who demand real public health and economic solutions that protect all of us.

President Trump has used racism to cover up his own failures because he thinks America will turn its back on Asian Americans. We don’t believe this. We know that most Americans find the attacks on Asian Americans disgusting. But while Trump’s racist language has fueled this current surge of attacks, he didn’t create anti-Asian racism. He just pulled it out of the recycling bin of history and repurposed it for his own agenda. As long as anti-Asian racism exists, in all its forms, corrupt politicians will use it to do harm and block real solutions that benefit us all.

This isn’t the first time Asians have been targeted by racism. For centuries, the United States excluded Asians from entering the country except as exploited workers who were barred from citizenship. The U.S. government only allowed Asians to become citizens in 1952 – just 68 years ago. Throughout most of U.S. history, immigration and economic policies have treated Asians as disease-ridden, criminal, subhuman or superhuman, uncivilized, and as threats to white American workers. That history just started turning toward greater inclusion and equality in the last century, because of hard-fought, Black-led civil rights struggles.

Most Asian Americans today arrived in the United States after 1965. Changes to the global economy and to labor demands during the Cold War changed the population once considered “Oriental” from primarily poor and working-class Japanese, Filipino, and Chinese laborers to include a mix of professional, highly skilled workers from India, Korea, Taiwan, and other places on the fictitiously constructed continent of Asia, so named and defined by western Europeans who plundered Europe’s Others for land, labor, and power. At the same time, refugees of U.S. wars in Southeast Asia entered the United States and were settled into long-abandoned, primarily Black neighborhoods, where they strived against a system of political and economic neglect that had structured Black people out of the formal economy, into neighborhoods with inadequate housing and infrastructure, yet with an overabundance of policing and state violence.

Being Americans of Asian descent is not in and of itself an arrival.

ARRIVAL: [ar·​riv·​al | ə-ˈrī-vəl]

  1. The act of arriving at a certain place, entry
  2. Someone who arrives, arriver, comer, traveler
  3. Accomplishment of an objective, achievement, attainment

A RIVAL: [ri·​val |ˈrī-vəl]

  1. A person or thing competing with another for the same objective or for superiority in the same field of activity
  2. The contestant you hope to defeat

Being Americans of Asian descent is not in and of itself an arrival. It is not a destination. Today, the Chinese immigrant community, for example, is deeply divided by class as a result of global economic changes and immigration policies favoring those with advanced degrees and capital. Where we come from, ethnic and national boundaries, define us less than the logics of capitalism do. Those logics, originating from a feudal Europe fraught by war, colonization, dispossession, and exploitation among Europeans, led to a system of capitalism that is both gendered and racialized. It is a system of power over, rather than power with, that has cause immeasurable suffering among peoples who have been trained to see one another as rivals rather than as kin. We are all kin.

The boldest vision of Asian American politics is that our true arrival, our accomplishment, is defined not by rivalry in a stratified labor market, not by a contest over racial supremacy, but by our ability to build collective power – power with, not power over.

The boldest vision of Asian American politics is that our true arrival, our accomplishment, is defined not by rivalry in a stratified labor market, not by a contest over racial supremacy, but by our ability to build collective power – power with, not power over. This is the core teaching of Black feminism, the theoretical core of Black Lives Matter. To paraphrase the legendary Barbara Smith, Black feminism is simply about creating a place on this globe that is fit for human life. We cannot do that alone. We can only do that together.

In conceptualizing and actualizing power with, one could substitute the word power with an array of elements that shape power, and thus, our lives. Resources. Agency. Identity. Dignity. Struggle. Love. We can build a society in which all of these things live in an ecosystem of deep interdependence.

We know that COVID-19 is causing deep pain in the lives of so many Americans and people around the world. Losing loved ones and not being able to touch them, to hold them, is an unfathomable pain. Because of longstanding racial inequality, that pain is not borne equally. Black Americans are dying at three times the rate of white Americans. In San Francisco, among COVID cases, Asian Americans are four times likelier to die than the overall population. Because of the brutal legacy of colonialism, COVID-19 is 3.5 times more likely to affect American Indians and Alaska Natives. In the words of Indigenous researcher Abigail Echo-Hawk, the ongoing system of Native American oppression has created “a perfect environment to kill us in a pandemic.” Native Hawai’ians and Pacific Islanders are seeing infection rates up to five times that of white people in Los Angeles County alone, and disproportionately in states such as Arkansas, Louisiana, Illinois, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, where their case and death rates are higher than any other race and ethnicity.

We all want to take care of and protect the health and wellbeing of our families and loved ones, whether we are Black or White, Asian or Latino, Indigenous or immigrant, Jewish or Christian or Muslim. We understand our health and wellbeing are tied to one another.

We should all have what we need to stay safe and healthy regardless of race, zip code, gender, income, age, and ability. The pandemic is a reminder that we’re not there yet. In a society where Black lives matter less, life itself matters less. In a society where politicians use racism to win elections, democracy remains out of reach. We all want to take care of and protect the health and wellbeing of our families and loved ones, whether we are Black or White, Asian or Latino, Indigenous or immigrant, Jewish or Christian or Muslim. We understand our health and wellbeing are tied to one another. Everyday Americans have been pulling together to pull through this crisis, and that’s what’s saving lives. But we need an accountable government to support our families and workers at scale. We need protections and hazard pay for workers, removal of the profit motive from our healthcare system, and policies and practices that replace punitive systems with ones that repair and care for all of us. That is the next “new normal” that Americans should unite to create, and that racism has prevented for far too long.  Building the care-centered society we all deserve requires us to fight racism together.

Right now, Trump and his white nationalist, Christian nationalist, armed militia, and corporate base are testing American democracy. This is the product of racism, which created an opening for an authoritarian to exploit anti-Black sentiment, fear of terrorism, and fear of immigration as a driver of rapidly changing racial demographics that many white people believe will displace them from the center of U.S. political and cultural life. Trump walked through that opening and into power, an act that drew the most extreme racist elements of American society out from underground and into the mainstream. They’ve become, once again, part of legitimate U.S. politics for the first time in over 50 years, because they feel represented by one of our two major parties. They feel legitimated by a president who has also appointed ideological white nationalists to positions of power in the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Justice, and the White House staff. Having been welcomed back into the mainstream of American political life, far right extremists and white nationalists, including armed white nationalist militias, won’t give up their newfound influence without a fight. The toothpaste, as the saying goes, is out of the tube, and the fight must continue. 

Moving public resources from punishment to prevention requires a strong and inclusive public education system that teaches tolerance as a first principle of citizenship.

Many people feel afraid right now, but strength comes from unity, not division. We need local and state government leaders to fight racism through concrete policies that prioritize compassion, wellness, and the needs of people first, before profit for the wealthiest Americans. The reality is that by the time a hate crime or state violence happens, the harm has been done. We need to get to the root cause, which is prejudice and racism, the belief that in order for some of us to prosper, others have to suffer. Power over. This is a society-wide problem that we urgently need to fix. Moving public resources from punishment to prevention requires a strong and inclusive public education system that teaches tolerance as a first principle of citizenship.

We, the majority of Americans, say, “Enough.” Black-led movements demanding change have inspired more and more Americans to demand real democracy, where every life actually matters. Because when Black lives don’t matter, we get out of control policing, cuts to the social safety net, an economy that puts profit over people – a society in which all life matters less. Indigenous movements have inspired us to demand an end to the ravaging of the earth that has caused so much harm and suffering — year after year of category 5 hurricanes, smoke-filled skies that allow no one to breathe free, sacrifice zones that leave people who, because of corporate greed have no healthcare or safety net, to die unjust deaths. Asian Americans, Muslims, Pacific Islanders, and immigrants have demanded an end to scapegoating and hate violence that in fact puts everyone in danger, because it solves none of our real problems. Jews who have endured centuries of persecution standing up to say “no” — not only to antisemitism, but also to the deadly white nationalism that it fuels. Displaced and abandoned rural workers and families are fed up with a system that exploits them politically, while ignoring the things that they really need — sustainable jobs, infrastructure, thriving schools and neighborhoods, a say over the decisions that govern their lives.

That’s why so many movement forces are pulling out all the stops to make sure all of us, everyday people, exercise the basic right that democracies are supposed to safeguard: the right to vote on who gets to govern. We do this with deep love for our families, for our children and grandparents, for our neighbors, and for our future. We don’t all have to agree. But we — the vast majority of American people who believe deeply in democracy — must act to defend and expand it by casting our ballots, defending the results, and claiming our agency.

Our Voices Count
Soya Jung

By Soya Jung

Soya has been active in the progressive movement for over 30 years. During the 1990s she worked as a reporter at the International Examiner, communications and policy staff for the WA State House Democratic Caucus, and executive director of the Washington Alliance for Immigrant and Refugee Justice. She was the founding chair of the Asian and Pacific Islander Coalition, which formed in 1996 to restore food and cash assistance for low-income immigrants and refugees in Washington State. During the 2000s she worked at the Social Justice Fund, a public foundation supporting progressive organizations in the Northwest, and consulted for various institutions like the Western States Center, the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity, the Nonprofit Assistance Center, the City of Seattle, and the Washington State Budget & Policy Center.

At ChangeLab Soya has authored two research reports: "Left or Right of the Color Line: Asian Americans and the Racial Justice Movement" and "The Importance of Asian Americans? It’s Not What You Think", and co-authored the Asian American Racial Justice Toolkit. She has convened numerous public events uniting scholars with social movement activists to explore race, gender, war/empire, and Asian American identity. Her writing has been published in Othering & Belonging: Expanding the Circle of Human Concern, and cited in places like the Routledge Companion to Asian American Media, ColorLines, and The Guardian.