Asian Americans & Our Place in America

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(Photo credit: Fox News)

It is possible that Fox News and Bill O’Reilly thought a segment poking fun of Chinese-Americans was benign.

It’s possible that they thought putting Fox correspondent Jesse Watters in New York’s Chinatown under the guise of reporting on what Chinese-Americans thought of the election was a good idea to invoke not just Chinese but Korean, Japanese and other Asian stereotypes, conflating all those cultures and people.

It’s possible that it was just harmless ignorance.

However, it is more likely that they just did not care. Perhaps they thought they could get away with it, because according to Watters, “They’re just so polite.” After all, Asians are the model minority–a favorite O’Reilly talking point. After airing the segment, O’Reilly passed it off as “gentle fun” and that he expects some angry letters. “We always do,” he said. (They’ve gotten more than some angry letters.)

After reading about the reaction from Angry Asian Man to the segment, which aired on The O’Reilly Factor on October 3rd, I resisted watching it. My feelings were complicated and mixed. I didn’t think O’Reilly, Watters and Fox warranted my attention. Their thinking was antithesis to mine and they didn’t represent me. There were other things worth giving my mental space to. “When they go low, we go high” kept replaying in my head. Yet, I was affected and upset.

I don’t think I was alone in feeling like this. I eventually made myself watch the segment and refrained from reacting right away.

If I was intentionally trying to be blasé, the facade broke down when I read about what happened to New York Times deputy Metro editor Michael Luo. As Luo explained in his open letter, he was with family and friends in the Upper East Side of Manhattan when a women yelled at them to “Go back to China” and “Go back to your fucking country.”

Luo brought up something that I think most Asian-Americans would agree: That despite how well we, as a racial group, have done financially and scholastically, we still feel like outsiders socially. This is a connecting thread of the Asian-American experience.

Maybe it’s the way we look, what we eat, or how we talk that will forever mark us with a hyphen in this country. Western Europeans and even Latin Americans drop their hyphens after becoming citizens. Asians get an American subcategory checkbox.

Michael Luo’s recent experience might not be an isolated incident. The polarizing nature of this presidential election has spurred noticeable hostility. A FiveThirtyEight.com chart compiling recently released data by the National Asian American Survey, shows that registered voters rank “racism and racial discrimination” as the third most important issue behind the economy and national security.  In comparison, race as an issue was second to last in the 2012 survey.

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President Obama said, “Don’t boo. Vote.”

Asian-Americans represent only 4% of the current electorate, but we are the fastest growing demographic in the country. With Romney losing the minority vote badly in 2012, a GOP post-election autopsy report suggested that the party should seek to be more open, tolerant and inclusive. There was evidence that Republicans were serious, as they hired a national field director (Stephen Fong) and a national communications director (Jason Chung) to conduct outreach to Asian-American voters.

Whether its a shifting ideology (to a center-right position) within the GOP or a Trump/Alt-Right effect, Republican efforts in Asian-American outreach has waned. The effect is that 59% of Asian-Americans are leaning toward voting for Hillary Clinton compared to only 16% favoring Donald Trump. This shouldn’t be a surprise given Trump’s divisive and detestable rhetorics on immigrants, minorities, women and others.

As Bill O’Reilly said in the Watters segment, perhaps unintentionally, “[Asian-Americans] seem to know what’s going on.”

The O’Reilly and Luo incidents kindled something in me and I had to get some thoughts off my chest. My emotions remain complicated though. I am an American. I am also Chinese and Vietnamese. I am bicultural. But… these are labels. They don’t really define me. I am my desires, intentions, expressions, hopes and dreams. Moreover, I am my decisions.

On November 8, I know what my decision will be.