Asian Americans and "Pearl Harbor"
— Malik Miah
CONSIDER THE IRONY of two events occurring a couple days apart in late May. On May 23 the first Chinese American ever to be elected to the U.S. Congress was denied entrance to the Energy Department in Washington, D.C. The member of the House of Representatives, along with his Asian American aide, was stopped by security guards for not being able to prove to their satisfaction that he is a citizen of the United States!
Two days later the giant movie conglomerate, Disney, opened its $140 million blockbuster movie “Pearl Harbor” here, in Japan (with some editing to meet local sensitivities) and other countries. Many U.S. cities with Asian communities beefed up security at theaters in fear of a possible “backlash” (by whom? -- never said) against Asian Americans.
Does race matter in the US of A? According to President Bush and the ultraconservatives who oppose affirmative action and any mention of “race” to meet centuries of discriminations based on color and ethnic background, it is only coincidence when racist incidents take place.
In reality, race does matter. It is a scientific, biological fact that there is no such thing as “race.” Genetically speaking human groupings are basically the same no matter their physical appearance. Yet there is a social reality: Race does exist in the sphere of ideology.
Racism is based on this false ideology of race, which is used by ruling elites (particularly in the United States) to rationalize discrimination and maintain the economic divisions and super-exploitation of all peoples of color.
This includes the so-called “model” minority -- Asians. Race matters because, as Congressman David Wu of Oregon learned, the security guards didn't care that he is a member of Congress. He is Chinese, period, in their eyes, and couldn't be trusted to be telling the truth. Anyone can get a fake identification.
In a letter of protest to the Department of Energy (DOE) Wu wrote, “The conduct of the DOE guards is both ironic and disturbing.” Ironic, because Wu came to the DOE to deliver a speech to Asian Americans in celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Disturbing, because the DOE spokesperson, Jeanne Lopatto, said it was a “simple mistake” and that the guards were simply doing their job.
But think if Wu weren't a member of Congress? Maybe he and his Asian American aide would be sitting in jail today as possible “terrorist” threats.
Wu spoke on the floor of the House the next day after considering it was a “simple mistake.” “However,” he told his colleagues, he changed his mind because “this is not about the treatment of any individual. I am disturbed that yesterday's incident is the tip of the iceberg, an indicator of a much larger problem at DOE which may be damaging our national security.”
The fact is Wu did show his Congressional ID twice. It didn't matter -- it took the intervention of a supervisor to get in the building and for Wu to give his speech.
The DOE incident confirms the worse fears of many Asians about what citizenship in this country is. There is one standard for “whites” and another (inferior) for people of color. No wonder fewer Asian American scholars are seeking or taking jobs in the government, as Wu told Congress after his personal insult.
Pearl Harbor Strikes Fear
The movie “Pearl Harbor” provides another example of how race matters in the United States. The media hoopla is very scary to many Asians because it glorifies the U.S. military and presents Japan and the Japanese people in a very negative, one-sided way.
Most significantly, according to reviews, the film fails to point out that more than 120,000 Japanese Americans were thrown into concentration camps during the war for simply looking Japanese. The so-called “relocation camps” denied Japanese Americans basic rights, their property and jobs. No answers are offered (or apologies) why only Americans of Japanese ancestry were thrown into camps, not Americans of German and Italian heritage.
Anti-Asian sentiments (all Asians look “different” to most Caucasians) have been on the rise since the Wen Ho Lee case last year and the spy plane incident in China. Today the Bush government sees China as the new “adversary,” seeks its “containment,” and pushes for a “missiles defense system” that for all intents and purpose is a step toward preparing a new war against the rising Asian power of China.
This occurs as American businesses expand their penetration of the Chinese economy. Paul Dibb, an Australian defense analyst, said of the Bush strategy toward China, “It's a classical power game. China is emerging as the natural regional leader, and it knows it. And only one country is capable of stopping it. That's what this is all about.” (Business Week, May 28)
(For some further insight on what “a classical power game” among colonial forces in Asia means, you can read Terry Murphy's review essay elsewhere in this issue of Against the Current -- describing a period when China was the great prize, Korea was the pawn, and a conflagration was the result.)
War, racism and ideology go hand and hand. As Washington's anti-China campaign heats up, it will have repercussions on race relations in the United States. America's working people, especially those of the Caucasian “racial group,” must choose between racism and chauvinism of the rulers or unity and solidarity with the “other Americans.”
from ATC 93 (July/August 2001)