Chinese immigrants came to America long before sub-continental Indians. They helped build the great American railroads, but white Hollywood recognised them as the ‘Chinaman’ doing white men’s laundry. Following the days of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads, many Asians of various ethnic origins from the vast continent of Asia flocked into the USA, chasing their American dreams. Modern-day Asian immigrants make up the complex racial demography in America. While Black Americans have been renamed ‘African Americans’, Chinese, - once conveniently called ‘Orientals’ - are , by the Act of Congress, to be called Asian Americans. Other immigrants, from India, the rest of Asia, and the Middle East, are also called Asian Americans. Japanese immigrants who, like the Chinese, had come to America early, suffered more humiliation than any others during the Second World War. Modern-day racism in America is more complex than any period of history. It’s not only out on the surface. It’s hidden deep in subconsciousness. It is systemic.
Life is hard and the living is unfulfilling for non-whites in America.
For a foreign non-white Asian visitors to the US, it’s like living a life of an Asian American, at least for a brief period of stay.
I ought to know. I am a Thai, an Asian who have visited the United States many times, and will continue to do so. It is a great country with great natural beauties.
“O Beautiful For Spacious Skies … ”,
I always hum along during my 15 visits to the US national parks, “America’s best idea”, according to Ken Burns.
In the United States I would automatically be branded 'a yellow-skin Oriental'. This is all wrong. Scientifically and culturally, that is. No human being has yellow skin. No-one has real white skin either. And I am not an Oriental. I am just a Thai, a citizen of a country called Thailand. As for 'Oriental', in my own context, it is just the name of a Japanese watch, a Thai airline, a first-class hotel in Bangkok frequented by Joseph Conrad during his Lord Jim's colonial days sojourn in 'the Orient'. In fact, by classic literary tradition, the term 'Orient' or 'Oriental' is beautifully romantic. 'Orient' is a French derivative from Latin, meaning "That region of the heavens in which the sun and other heavenly bodies rise, or the corresponding region of the world' (The Oxford English Dictionary). For white Europeans and Americans who live far away to the west of heaven where the sun goes down, they are 'Occidental'.
I have been observing racism in America since I was 18, attending a senior year at Park Hill High School, Kansas City, (Missouri, of course). I never sensed any kind of racial prejudice at Park Hill High, or anywhere else in Missouri. Life of an Oriental student in an American high school, in a former slave state, was all fun — just plain fun! I was inducted into the school’s National Honor Society, given a role in the school play, invited to give talks in broken English to local social clubs. My water color won a Gold Key Award from the Kansas City’s own Hallmarks card company, and went on to receive a merit award form the National Scholastic Arts Awards. My American host family looked after me and loved me like their own child. They are my second Mom and Dad, brother and sister, forever. There was no racism around me in Kansas City of 1967-67.
I spent another five years in Philadelphia in the 1970s attending the same Ivy League university as the man in the present White House. Frank Rizzo was then the Mayor of the 'City of Brotherly Love'. The Hmong refugees were a new addition to the already under-privileged class of blacks in West Philly. Clint Eastwood's Grand Torino was not stolen then. And "Doctor J - Julius Erving" who was not a real doctor, but somehow managed to heal all wounds in the Spectrum.
The Amish immigrants still said, ‘throw the cows over the fence some hays”.
After my years at the University of Pennsylvania I visited the United States many times, as a tourist, academic, journalist, and a parent visiting his son in a Boston music school.
What I had seen in Kansas City and Philadelphia then gradually transgressed into what I see today. My Park Hill High added new buildings, and students more racially mixed. I had a brief talk with them in class the last time I stopped by in 2004, during my on-the-road presidential election news report for Thai television. In Philadelphia, the Spectrum was demolished, Doctor J and the 76ers moved on after their 1983 NBA championship.
Recent police brutalities against African Americans started nation-wide fires of protests against systemic racism. Adding fuel to the fires is Donald Trump himself. Ignoring the plight of people in the mid of COVID-19 pandemic, Trump ran a campaign against the protesters and openly gave amoral support to the police and white conservatives through frequent interviews and campaign speeches. Mocking the new corona virus ‘Kung Flu’, an expression offensive to Asian Americans, Donald Trump keeps the fire blazing. His anti-minorities speeches and actions are nothing new. Only he kept doing it without shame, as if never wanted his supporters to forget the supremacy of white caucasian Americans.
It’s tough to be ethnic minorities in America. African Americans are the main target of systemic racism. Asian Americans - white, dark, brown and yellow - and Latinos, are next in line. And the line is long and winding. Asian Americans usually keep a low profile and mind their own business. It’s eastern Asian culture to keep the pressure to themselves. ‘Just keep calm and carry on’ as some people on the other side of the Atlantic would say. They had followed their elders’ traditional advise to just work hard, get good education, and success will come. But this advice is beginning to wear down on the new generation. Young Asian Americans now start to question their parents’ social and work ethics. Hard work is not a problem. But Asian Americans would have to work many times harder than white kids to get to an almost equal economic status. As for social equality, there is no hope as long as the ‘Kung Flu’ pandemic keeps spreading from that egoistic white man in the White House. Work harder, much, much harder, many times harder, and you will still be unlikely to achieve your dream. That is life of minorities in ”White America” today.
The skies are still spacious, though not so beautiful.
What I see today is a different America, a country under the not-so-good a governance by an uncultured, poorly educated, and a truly bad man in the White House. (And I am under constraint with my language.)
It's amazing how the world's greatest democracy can produce such disappointing result.
I am the product of a culture where skin colour is not noticed and races play no part in social discrimination. I do not pretend to understand racism in America, at least not enough to help solve the two-centuries-old social conflicts, but I take comfort in reading more, trying to understand, and sharing the pain with Americans I love. I'm certain a long-term and sustainable solution will be found.
The Greatest country on earth and leader of the free world will not fail humanity.
For the immediate future, the man responsible for the current crisis must be rid off and driven far away from the 'swamp' he has never attempted to clean up as promised. Instead, he made it more polluted. It is increasingly looking more like the kind of 'hole' he, not long ago, attributed to countries in Africa and the Caribbean.
As embarrassing as it is now to the world, America can still be rescued.
It doesn't need a second revolution, or another civil war.
It just needs a new election,
and that is coming this November to the polling stations near you,
MAKE THE UNITED STATES GREAT AGAIN.
SO THE WORLD CAN BREATH!
7 July 2020