Funny how immigration has become the issue gripping all of us “professional ethnicists” during this Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
How’s this for a replication of the Nueva Arizona experience? When someone asks me for my papers I’m all ready with a standard reply:
“Papers? I don’t have any — not since AsianWeek folded.”
(By the way, since its passing, I have gone all digital with the 21st Century Amok column that you can follow it as it develops 24-7 by going to www.twitter.com/emilamok. You can also check out my blog at www.amok.com. )
While May is normally our time on the ethnic calendar, the subject of immigration has turned this into the season to join other people of color and stand united against Arizona’s xenophobic law. The law’s fair only if everyone can equally be suspected of being here illegally. Perhaps that’s the case in theory, but it doesn’t happen that way. If Arizona wants such a law then ask everyone their status, especially those whites on tourist and student visas who are overstays from Russia, Canada, England, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden. You know, the countries where people can pass for “American,” just by shutting up and smiling. That’s the problem in a police state that insists on a de facto definition of “American” as white.
If Arizona only picks on Mexicans, then the law is clearly racist. If that’s Arizona’s prerogative then call it a states’ rights issue, just as we did slavery. And then join the protest to condemn it.
Responsible folks can call for a boycott of Arizona, but I’m considering going there myself. Besides, I have a brother-in-law and a little niece Olivia to visit. I need to see if the indigenous white people are safe.
And I’d like to see if I get asked “the question.”
I got the treatment years ago in Boston. I was on a Greyhound headed West at a bus depot in Philadelphia . Some guy in a suit and a badge in his wallet asked me for my papers.
My papers? All I had was a rolled up New York Times.
So while people are talking boycott of Arizona, I’m actually encouraging all of you to visit. Really. There’s a nice little Asian strip mall in Phoenix partially owned by the Chinese government and filled with Asian restaurants that will make you feel like you’re on Grant Avenue. Only you’re in the desert. While you’re at it, wish them all a happy Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. And extend to them your sympathies.
I was in Arizona two years ago and found only the 114 degree heat oppressive.
This time, I look forward — as an American of Filipino descent, who in sweltering heat is dark enough to be suspected of being Mexican — to arrive in Arizona and have someone ask me for my AsianWeek.
No one is saying the recent rash of incidents on Muni are hate crimes yet, but they do come close enough for concern, especially if you are an Asian American living in the Bay View and Visitation Valley.
But take the race out of some of these cases and what do you get? A woman in her 50s, a man in his 80s.
That doesn’t sound like race is as big a factor to me. I don’t think the perps would pick a fight with Bruce Lee III. Jet Li Jr. or the second coming of Michelle Yeoh.
The Muni perps are young cowards who prey on the weak. We’re not talking race war. We’re talking about the need for security on the streets and public transportation. And we’re talking about the need for parenting, and lessons of mutual respect. I know, how old fashioned.
KEEPING THE MONTH
The Muni incident is the real reason we need AAPI Month. Most of the time, I’m ready to give up on the month.
For example, before today, did any one greet you with a happy AAPI Month hug? Karate chop? Any Hallmark cards? If you follow me at www.twitter.com/emilamok, I did tweet you an AAPI Month greeting.
Still, if it weren’t for this street fair, AAPI celebrations would be lame, boring, governmental affairs at the Federal building or City Hall. AAPI Month is the law, after all. Government bodies have to celebrate it, or else. It’s a little like a shotgun wedding celebration.
But because it’s the law, it literally would take an act of Congress to rid ourselves of it.
So when I think we no longer need an AAPI Month, I think of Huan Chen, the 83 year old Muni rider beaten and killed in the Bay View in January. It makes me think of Vincent Chin, the Chinese American mistaken for Japanese and beaten to death in Detroit in 1982.
And then I’m reminded how AAPI Month isn’t just for us. It’s for all of us, especially the non-Asians who have no clue of the past.
See how many non-Asians are here at the Street Fair. That’s a measure of success. AAPI Month is not a separatist movement. It’s a real opportunity for everyone to get to know what it means to be Asian American in this country.
Updates at www.amok.com
Emil Guillermo, an award-winning TV, radio and print journalist, was a former host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and a columnist for AsianWeek. His new business helps raise consumers’ financial IQ.