When Silicon Valley talks about diversity, about boosting underrepresented groups, they’re not talking about Asians.
The Trump administration’s decision to add a question about citizenship to the census does not bode well for Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, civil rights groups fear.
Research has already shown that the minority group is significantly undercounted in the survey, with one-fifth of Asian-Americans and one-third of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders living in hard-to-count census areas. This is partly due to the fact that some Asian-American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI, subgroups have relatively high rates of poverty, unemployment and educational attainment, among other factors.
Experts say the question about citizenship will significantly reduce participation in the census, and Asian-American civil rights organizations are worried about how the question could affect the growing minority group.
“Given the high number of Asian immigrants, any question regarding citizenship is likely to scare the Asian community. We are very concerned that the addition of citizenship question will disproportionately cause an undercount in the Asian community,” John C. Yang, president and executive director of the civil rights group Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, told HuffPost by email.
“The community already is fearful of the anti-immigrant rhetoric and immigration policies advanced by this administration,” Yang added. “At a minimum, the addition of this question will make it even more challenging to ensure that the community has sufficient trust in the census such that they will respond.”
We are very concerned that the addition of citizenship question will disproportionately cause an undercount in the Asian community.John C. Yang, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC
Treating AAPIs as a monolith ignores how poverty and other factors contribute to undercounting in particular AAPI subgroups, according to a joint fact sheet by the Leadership Conference Education Fund and Georgetown Law’s Center On Poverty and Inequality. While it’s often assumed that AAPIs are financially well-off, reports show that Cambodian-, Hmong- and Laotian-Americans, who predominantly came to the U.S. as refugees, experience higher than average rates of poverty and lower levels of income. More than one-third of Nepalese-Americans also live in poverty.
Communities with lower educational attainment are more difficult to count, too. And Southeast Asian-Americans have some of the highest dropout rates in the country, with about 34.3 percent of Laotian-American adults lacking high school diplomas, as well as 40 percent of Hmong-American and nearly the same percentage of Cambodian-American adults. Yet about 90 percent of the general U.S. adult population finishes high school or gets a GED certificate.
Lower rates of English proficiency contribute to undercounting in the census as well. More than one-third of AAPIs have limited English proficiency, defined as a limited ability to read, speak, write or understand English. And the majority of AAPIs speak a language other than English.
What’s more, much of the AAPI community in the U.S. is made up of immigrants. In fact, almost 60 percent of AAPIs were born in another country, and an estimated 1.7 million undocumented AAPI immigrants live in U.S. The concept of a census is completely foreign for many new immigrants, Yang said, which, along with the citizenship question, would further discourage many AAPIs from participating.
An undercount will mean that congressional districts will be allocated and drawn without an accurate understanding [of] the Asian American community.John. C. Yang
Increased undercounting of AAPIs could have notable repercussions, Yang noted. A report from the GW Institute of Public Policy shows that more than $800 billion of federal funding in fiscal year 2016 relied on census data. And with census data meant to determine political representation, lower participation in the survey could mean AAPI concerns go ignored while resources for hospitals, disaster relief services, health care services and more are misallocated, Yang said.
“Undercount of the Asian American Pacific Islander community will leave the community underrepresented, under-resourced, and under-protected,” he explained. “An undercount will mean that congressional districts will be allocated and drawn without an accurate understanding [of] the Asian American community.”
Already, several AAPI organizations have spoken out against the citizenship question. The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) chair, Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), issued a statement condemning the new measure and expressing her commitment to using the legislative process to stop its implementation.
“The census is essential for ensuring fair and accurate representation and distribution of government resources,” Chu wrote. “But by including a question on citizenship, which is not required by the Constitution, the Trump Administration is exploiting the fear of immigrant communities who are already reticent to divulge personal information to the federal government.”
Social services nonprofit Asian American Federation, along with 35 partners, sent letters to both the CAPAC and the New York Congressional Delegation to advocate against the question. Citing the cost of hiring additional staff for follow-up on unanswered census questions, the question’s lack of testing, and the concerns of immigrant communities, the federation’s executive director, Jo-Ann Yoo, called on legislators to speak out.
Yang is now encouraging members of the public to fight back and make their views known once the U.S. Census Bureau seeks public comment on the questions. He also urges people to call members of Congress to show them how important the issue is to them.
There is a story about race-based college admissions that holds particular sway over Asian-American students like I once was — my father wrote away for my Harvard application before I was out of diapers. It’s backed up by some cherry-picked data and a conservative activist group that wants to end all affirmative action, and it goes something like this: Because of colleges’ consideration of diversity, Asian-American students have to be even smarter than the average white student in order to qualify for admission to the most competitive American universities.
But the issue hiding in plain sight is not how the elite admissions system keeps Asians out; it is more about how it is largely rigged to keep white students — who are often staggeringly underqualified — in, by any means necessary.
There’s reason enough to be suspicious of the intentions of the people pushing our community to take on affirmative action: The man behind the pending lawsuit against Harvard University, for instance, is Edward Blum, who, as the Texas Tribune reported, is the strategist behind the Texas affirmative action case and “the man who recruited Abigail Fisher.”
There’s reason enough to be suspicious of the intentions of the people pushing our community to take on affirmative action.
Fisher, you may recall, was the complainant in the recent Supreme Court case challenging affirmative action at the University of Texas; the Supreme Court quickly came to the conclusion that Fisher’s grades and scores were simply too low for her to have qualified for admission — an unwittingly perfect illustration of how race-based admissions generate controversy, while white mediocrity goes accepted and unchallenged.
While it is right to press Harvard to end any practice of denying admission to otherwise qualified Asian students based on racial quotas — which Harvard denies exists — websites like Harvardnotfair.org feature a lone, pensive Asian person and ask, ominously, “Were You denied admission to Harvard? It may be because you’re the wrong race.”
But before aggrieved students rush to sign up, it is time to take a breath.
Though Harvardnotfair.org (or UNCnotfair.org or Uwnotfair.org) all prominently feature sad-looking Asian-Americans, these are all Blum projects in service of white supremacy and not Asian-American equality. Just click through to the fine print: “HarvardnotFair.org is an undertaking by the Project on Fair Representation (POFR). Founded in 2005, POFR is a program of Project Liberty, Inc., a 501 (c) (3) public charity. Our mission is to support litigation that challenges racial and ethnic classifications and preferences in state and federal courts.”
Think about that. He seems to be willing to use anything — including Asians — to dismantle affirmative action.
There’s one study most commonly cited in service of the idea of “the Asian penalty” in admissions. Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade ran a demographic study using applicant data from the 1980s to the 1990s and found that Asians needed on average 140 SAT points higher than whites to arrive at the same probabilities of acceptance to highly competitive private colleges.
There are plenty of commonly cited critiques of his study, which even Espenshade admits didn’t take into account many of the non-numerical factors considered in admissions. And a 2015 Justice Department investigation into Princeton’s admissions practices, for instance, found that many students with stellar and even flawless academic records were denied admission because the competitiveness of the applicant pool precluded the admission of every student who qualified on the numbers alone.
But even if admissions processes took numbers more strongly into account, reparative increases of Asian-American admissions would need to come from subtracting the spots from underqualified whites, not from supposed affirmative action candidates — and that is clearly not the purpose of Blum’s suits.
Even if admissions processes took numbers more strongly into account, reparative increases of Asian American admissions would need to come from subtracting the spots from underqualified whites, not from supposed affirmative action candidates.
And even were they the purpose of Blum’s suits, Espenshade’s studies suggests that, at the most competitive colleges, underqualified white candidates can still rely on a host of longstanding admissions processes that favor them (and not any students of color) regardless of SAT scores.
Espenshade, for instance, also found that recruited athletes had a fourfold advantage in admissions with lower mean test scores. To be sure, athletes in the broadest sense are diverse. However, Harvard, for example, actively recruits for swimming, fencing, lacrosse, soccer, squash, water polo, skiing, sailing and crew — sports that highly favor the wealthy and white.
And then there is the admissions loophole that favors the children of alumni and large donors: A legacy applicant to an elite college is more than seven times more likely to gain admission than an ordinary applicant. After generations of admissions policies that favored white people or outright excluded nonwhite people, this would necessarily disproportionately benefit white applicants.
In an interview, Michael Dannenberg, director of Education Reform Now, points out that these policies “don’t reward merit. … In fact, they undermine both and are fundamentally unfair.”
When the goal of ending affirmative action is not specifically to better Asian American’s change of admission — and it never is — but to dismantle race-based protections for others in favor of white students, we don’t benefit.
And, in California, there is evidence that banning affirmative action doesn’t affect white and Asian-American students in equal measure, despite some cherry-picked statistics to the contrary: Proposition 209 banned affirmative action at the state’s schools starting in 1998. Seeming to confirm the idea of Asian-American merit, enrollment of Asians indeed increased at the most competitive California schools, like Berkeley.
However, OiYan Poon, an assistant professor of higher education at Loyola University, took a deeper dive into the data and found that the rate of increased admissions of Asian-Americans actually declined from 16 percent growth to 6 percent growth; the reported increase in overall enrollment was “likely due to significant demographic shifts in the state and a higher yield rate among admitted Asian-American applicants.”
In other words, even as the population of Asian-Americans in California exploded, the increase in the rate of admissions didn’t keep pace. This suggests that when the goal of ending affirmative action is not specifically to better Asian-Americans’ chance of admission — and it never is — but to dismantle race-based protections for others in favor of white students, we don’t benefit.
Asian Americans need to resist the fallacies being sold to us.
Asian-Americans need to resist the fallacies being sold to us; I know from personal experience how attractive they are, given that I, too, was disappointed by my rejection from Harvard despite being class valedictorian, captain of a varsity athletic team and having well-above-average SAT scores, among other accomplishments that I’d hoped would make me a shoo-in. I’d heard rumors that it was my SAT scores, compared to other Asian-American students, that kept me out — and maybe, despite Harvard’s current denials in court, it was. Harvard’s deployment of possible (illegal) quotas needs to be dealt with, but not via false allies who exploit legitimate grievances to maintain white mediocrity at the expense of qualified blacks, Latinos, Native Americans and, yes, Asian-Americans.
The people claiming they want “colorblind” admissions aren’t likely to welcome mass numbers of Asian-American classmates with open arms.
Marie Myung-Ok Lee teaches fiction at Columbia and has been published in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Nation, The Guardian and The Paris Review, among others. She was born and raised in Hibbing, Minnesota, the same as Nobel laureate Bob Dylan.
Virginia is the clearest example of a state that has moved to the left politically. After decades as a Republican stronghold, it has voted Democratic in every top-tier statewide race — president, senator, governor — since 2010.
But as well-known as Virginia’s transformation may be, one major cause of it hasn’t received much attention: Asian-American voters. Their numbers have boomed in recent years. Their voter turnout has also risen. And the radicalization of the Republican Party, especially on cultural and racial issues, has sent Asian-Americans voters fleeing to the Democrats.
In a new piece for Washington Monthly, Saahil Desai suggests that Virginia can serve as a model for Democrats nationwide. “Democrats’ failure to mobilize” Asian-Americans, Desai writes, “has been a major missed opportunity.” Outside of Virginia, many other swing states and House districts — in California, Nevada, Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and elsewhere — have meaningful Asian-American populations.
In the last midterm election, in 2014, the nationwide turnout for Asian-American citizens was dreadful — just 27 percent, according to the census. That’s far below the rates for whites and blacks and virtually identical to the Latino rate. In Virginia, however, turnout has been significantly higher — the highest Asian-American turnout in the nation, Desai writes — thanks to a deliberate strategy that has included:
· Creating Democratic Asian Americans of Virginia (or DAAV), a group dedicated to raising turnout.
· Publishing sample ballots and voting guides in other languages and distributing them before elections.
· Recruiting volunteers who speak Asian languages to make phone calls and go door to door.
· Doing some of the basic political outreach that for too long has skipped over Asian-Americans. (Last year, for example, DAAV threw a celebration of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, for now-Gov. Ralph Northam to lead.)
· Talking about the many issues — like immigration policy, education funding and social services — in which the opinions of most Asian-Americans align with Democratic positions.
For more on this topic, you can read: my recent columns on the problemof low progressive turnout; Karthick Ramakrishnan’s American Prospect piece, “How Asian Americans Became Democrats”; and Pew’s extensive 2013 report, which breaks down the attitudes of different groups of Asian-Americans.
Pew’s report helps highlight the size of the opportunity for Democrats. The six biggest Asian-American groups — which, in descending order, are Chinese-, Filipino-, Indian-, Vietnamese-, Korean- and Japanese-Americans — have varying opinions on nearly every major political issue (as these charts show). Yet not one of these subgroups leans Republican.
And remember that the Pew report was done in 2013. Since then, the Republican Party has become even more radical and racialized, and, as Desai writes, Asian-Americans have become even more Democratic. But he also warns that Democrats shouldn’t take their loyalty for granted. On some issues — like affirmative action, which is in the news again today — Republicans have an opening.
In an ice dancing routine, a pair is often separated by no more than two arms’ length for much of the routine. Luckily, Alex and Maia Shibutani get along.
The brother-and-sister Olympic pair, known as the “Shib Sibs,” talked with HuffPost Asian Voices about skating together for the past 14 years and winning two ice dancing bronze medals in Pyeongchang. In between a few conventional, good-natured sibling squabbles, 23-year-old Maia and 26-year-old Alex also talked about facing stereotypes and becoming role models.
The Shibutanis, who are Japanese-American and grew up training in Colorado and Michigan, are aware of being put into various boxes: the sibling skaters, the Asian role models. But they’re decidedly laid back about it. In fact, they embrace it.
HuffPost: You two were a lot of fun to watch at the Olympics ― for everyone but especially for Asian-Americans. Asians don’t have enough representation, so if you’re in the public eye, you kind of automatically become a role model. How do you feel about that?
Alex: What’s a role model? Just kidding ― I think I know. I think that even before we won two medals at the Olympics, though, we carried ourselves with the understanding that people were looking up to us, even though we didn’t have two Olympic medals at the time. We were still running into young skaters and young people all over the place that looked up to us.
And we are the first team of Asian descent to win a medal in our discipline of figure skating in ice dance, and we’ve never really had role models to look up to that looked like us in our sport. So we’ve realized the importance of trailblazers.
Would you rather be thought of as a team? Do you feel there is almost too much attention on the fact that you’re the brother-and-sister skaters, as opposed to the fact that you’re this medal-winning team? Do you think that’s fair?
Maia: During the Olympics, I think there was a lot of attention put on the fact that Alex and I are siblings. And since we were the only sibling team competing in ice dance or pairs, that’s just kind of inevitable. We wouldn’t have been able to get those two Olympic medals if it weren’t for the relationship that we had.
Alex: I couldn’t do it without her. You need me, too, supposedly.
Maia: Yes, yes.
Alex: We’ve got this nickname, the “Shib Sibs,” and it’s gotten a lot of attention over the past few weeks, after the Games and during the Games, just because it’s an interesting dynamic. Not everyone has the opportunity to work with family or with a sibling. I don’t feel like anyone’s disregarding our accomplishments or taking away what we’ve done as athletes. It’s just interesting.
Maia: There’s something extra that’s interesting.
Alex: Yeah, we’re extra. (laughs)
The media likes to stereotype Asian skaters as being good at the sport because of having a “Tiger mom,” because of being lightweight and other reasons. Do you think those stereotypes take away from your own hard work and achievement?
Alex: I believe that stereotypes are a load of crap. Uh, supposedly I’m supposed to be good at math and science.
Maia: We don’t really pay attention to what the media says. I mean, we’ve been working so hard, and at this Olympics, I know we did everything that we could do that was under our control.
Alex: It’s unfortunate that there are people that are ignorant out there, but we make sure to surround ourselves with people who support us and believe in our dreams. Our parents have been absolutely incredible throughout our entire career and our entire lives, and the great thing about what we do is that we’re able to support each other out on the ice and off the ice. We’re each other’s best friend, hopefully.
Alex: Right? Am I your best friend?
Maia: Yeah, yeah.
Alex: We back each other up, and that’s all that really matters to us.
Have you personally ever faced stereotypes as brother and sister ice dancing together or as Asian-Americans?
Alex: Throughout our career, I’ve never really felt blatantly stereotyped, but seeing the people that we compete against, I see that we are different. I’ve noticed that. It would be silly for me not to. But I feel like being different is a really great thing. It’s a gift. It’s an opportunity to be unique.
Maia: We’ve been different for a few different reasons, right?
Alex: Yeah, more than just being Asian-American.
Maia: We’re also siblings. There aren’t other sibling teams.
Alex: Yeah, it’s probably ― maybe it’s harder being siblings in ice dance, just because everyone has a preconceived notion, and there are stereotypes for every type of thing. And so, we’ve always had to believe in ourselves.
Maia: That’s served us really well, just trusting what we want to do.
If you remember, 20 years ago, MSNBC had a headline: “American Beats Out Kwan.” The American was Tara Lipinski, and the other skater was Michelle Kwan ― also an American. Does this point to the fact we sometimes have a problem seeing Asian-Americans as American?
Alex: Maia and I try to make sure that we are not overly sensitive to anything. Of course, there will be occasional headlines and things that can be seen as offensive. But we really stay focused. It’s always a challenge, when you see people who are judged for reasons that they can’t control, but we put ourselves out there in our sport.
Important wrap-up question: Do you two have any feelings you want to share about your love of K-pop? We wrote about your tweets about BTS, and the “BTSArmy” went pretty nuts.
Alex: BTS, the K-pop group that has been making waves all around the world, started off in Korea, obviously, but is now making waves in the U.S., too. We are very inspired by what they’ve accomplished. I think it’s a sign that talent will rise to the top.
Maia: So much respect for what they’re doing.
Alex: They are so appreciated because they demonstrate awesome choreography, they have great personalities, they stand up for what they believe in. Music is one of those things, like sports, that doesn’t have a language. And so people are really appreciating what they do with their music. And I think we connect to that, because with our skating, even though we’ve always been different, we always try to make sure that we’re as good as we possibly can be. So, yeah, lots of respect for BTS, especially growing up as an Asian-American, there aren’t a lot of people that I was able to look up to or see in movies in leading roles. And obviously BTS does music, but to see them experiencing so much success right now is inspiring for us. And we’re really proud of them.
Ron Wong turned his passion for politics — and his commitment to empowering communities of color — into a thriving business. As President and CEO of Imprenta Communications Group, a Los Angeles-based public affairs, ethnic marketing and campaign firm, Wong develops and executes campaigns for a variety of clients, including Fortune 500 companies and prominent candidates.
Wong takes a quiet, in-the-background approach as he helps communities of color, especially Asians and Latinos, with communications that show a respect for their culture, language and diversity.
It goes beyond simply translating. “You can’t deny the truth: We are becoming a country that is more and more diverse,” Wong says. “Immigration, has always been an important part of making America great. You can’t ignore the fact that America is becoming more and more diverse by the day. It can’t be denied that communities of color are growing. We’re seeing it here in California with the global economy and investment from overseas. We need to have policies that encourage that and empower people to be the best we can be. Our business comes from that. We’re marketing to communities that have been neglected, that haven’t gotten information. Information is power – it informs and ultimately empowers a community.”
Diverse communities need to be reached in languages they understand, so Wong does so by communicating in their native languages. His target audiences speak Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Hmong, Tagalog and Korean.
Example: Southern California Gas wanted to publicize its California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) program, in which low-income customers could receive a 20-percent discount. Imprenta did market research to find the target communities, then went door to door with door-hanging advertising to reach those eligible. People hung the signs, others noticed, and they took advantage, too.
“Advertising should be connected to community outreach,” Wong says. “We’ll use testimonials from members of the community, and we’ll create compelling ads. Then we’ll use the people in the ads, and generate media attention, and we get a larger audience.”
If that seems like common sense, then not everyone has Wong’s sense. To him, politics is business, and business is politics. And communications intersects both.
It goes back to his experience in politics. Working as former California Gov. Gray Davis’ chief deputy appointments secretary between 1998-2001, Wong advised Davis on filling the more than 3,000 appointments to various commissions, boards and exempt positions, which helped him focus on the big picture and be able to answer every possible question that might arise.
“The biggest threat to democracy is apathy,” he says. “What I do is try and communicate with people and compel them to take some action.”
Here’s another example, from an Inc. magazine article ranking the 500 fastest growing privately held companies (Imprenta was No. 413): A San Francisco-area political campaign wasn’t sure how the Chinese community felt about an initiative.
“Did you poll the Chinese voters in Chinese?” Wong asked.
He also served on the staffs of then-Speaker of the Legislature Willie Brown and then-State Sen. Art Torres. He served in the Clinton Administration as communications director for the U.S. Department of Justice, Community Relations Services. He also served in the Obama Administration on the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Regulatory Fairness (RegFair) Board.
He lists Pacific Gas and Electric, SoCal Gas, Health Net, NBC Universal, Comcast and The California Endowment as clients. Imprenta billed $25 million in 2016, and billed just $4 million less last year in a non-election year. He’s optimistic that the numbers will rise again in this, an election year.
He has won numerous awards, including last year’s PR Professional of the Year from the Public Relations Society of America, Los Angeles Chapter. Imprenta has also won numerous awards including Boutique Agency of the Year, and nearly 100 individual awards and recognition for creative excellence and campaign success.
Despite the divisive nature of politics, Wong remains optimistic.
“These are cycles. This presidency is a response to President Obama. Then there will be a response to President Trump,” he says. “We see people of color concerned with the direction of the country. But I’m hopeful. I’m optimistic that what our Founding Fathers created will stand the test of time.”
A group of Asian-American and Pacific Islander-serving organizations announced the creation of a mental health program for recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and their families Thursday, a month after the White House announced that it was ending the program.
Ten mental health service providers from the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council (A3PCON) — a Los Angeles-based consortium of Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) groups — said they will provide free counseling, case management, and other mental health services through the DACA Mental Health Project.
The groups said they are providing the services in 12 languages: Bangla, Cantonese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Mandarin, Tagalog, Thai, Urdu, Vietnamese, and English.
Connie Chung Joe, co-chair of A3PCON, said it was important for the groups to say they would continue to provide services during a time of uncertainty that has seen some clients shy away from seeking help.
“We wanted to make it particularly clear that we would find a way to serve DACA recipients regardless of whatever Medi-Cal qualifications or status, without having to [worry] about getting the government involved,” she said.
The scheduled termination of DACA, which shields young undocumented immigrants from deportation if they meet certain requirements, and anti-immigrant rhetoric have made much of the groups’ clientele wary of receiving services while increasing stress, Joe explained.
She added that some clients might be hesitant about enrolling in government-funded programs because of the fear attached to sharing information.
Shikha Bhatnagar — executive director of the South Asian Network, one of the collaborating organizations — has also noticed clients dropping out of services, especially when it comes to the renewal of health insurance.
“They are too afraid to come in,” Bhatnagar said. “They feel their information might be in jeopardy, and they might be deported.”
Manjusha Kulkarni, A3PCON’s executive director, said that DACA has enabled thousands of young people to “come out of the shadows” and be integrated into society since its creation in 2012, though there has been a stigma in the AAPI community regarding coming forward and applying for protections.
Asians made up 10 percent of the population potentially eligible for DACA, according to a September 2014 report from the nonprofit Migration Policy Institute. But in a 2016 analysis, the institute found that application rates for youth born in Asia were “generally very low.”
According to 2016 federal immigration statistics, four of the 24 top countries of origin for DACA recipients are in Asia — South Korea, the Philippines, India, and Pakistan.
Kulkarni attributes the low application rates in part due to the model minority myth.
“I do think that this is one other place we see the model minority myth hurting the community because a lot of people unfortunately buy into it … and it makes it harder for people who don’t have status to come out of the shadows and to say, ‘hey, you know what, I had to come here [because] there was political strife in my homeland,” she said.
The deadline to apply for a two-year renewal of DACA was Oct. 5 for those with permits set to expire before March 5, 2018.
A United States Citizenship and Immigrant Services spokesperson told NBC News that as of Oct. 6, approximately 122,000 out of 154,000 DACA recipients who were eligible for renewals had applied.
Joe said A3PCON’s DACA Mental Health Project is also designed to provide more flexible services and help those who might not have a diagnosed medical health condition but want to speak to a professional due to stress and anxiety.
Kulkarni said that families are facing a lot of fear and uncertainty, noting that they can see that the Trump administration has been “hostile to immigrants.”
That hostility can increase levels of anxiety, panic attacks, and depression, she added.
“They know they’re getting the message loud and clear that they are unwelcome here, so I think this is a very difficult time, and that’s why we launched our [mental health] project,” Kulkarni said.
When Silicon Valley talks about diversity, about boosting underrepresented groups, they’re not talking about Asians.
Although significant progress has been made in the past few years in opportunities for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on prime-time television, they remain underrepresented, marginalized and relegated to token appearances on comedies and dramas, the summation of a new study released Tuesday.
“Tokens on the Small Screen,” conducted by professors and scholars from six California universities, is a 10-year follow-up to and expansion of an earlier examination of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on prime-time series.
“With successful shows like ‘Master of None’ and “Fresh Off the Boat’ on the air, it may seem that Asian Americans are making greater strides on television,” Christina B. Chin, an assistant professor at California State University, Fullerton, and one of the authors of the study, said in a statement.
“Yet, when we take a deeper look at the larger TV landscape, we start to see that these shows are the exception rather than the rule,” Chin said. “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders actors and their stories are still tokenized or missing.”
The release of the study comes a few months after a furor was sparked when CBS declined to offer salary parity to two Asian cast members of “Hawaii Five-0,” Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, who subsequently left the show. The stars of the drama are white males – Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan.
“Tokens on the Small Screen” evaluated scripted shows on broadcast and cable television, as well as streaming services, that aired between Sept. 1, 2015, and Aug. 31, 2016.
Leaders of the study said the lack of minority inclusion on TV closely parallels the situation that ignited the #OscarsSoWhite campaign.
Among the major findings:
–White performers are dominant in the prime-time landscape, comprising nearly 70% of all TV series regulars compared to 4% of Asian Americans, according to the study. Pacific Islanders make up just 0.2% of series regulars.
–More than 64% of all series do not feature an Asian American or Pacific Islander as a series regular. In contrast, 96% of series have at least one white series regular. Also, the majority of shows set in cities heavily populated by Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders have no Asian American or Pacific Islanders regulars.
–If they are cast, Asian American and Pacific Islander regulars are mostly eclipsed by their white counterparts, who are on screen more than three times longer.
–More than two-thirds of shows with Asian American or Pacific Islander regulars have just one. The study quoted Aziz Ansari’s character, Dev Shah, in a line from his Netflix series “Master of None”: “There can be one, but there can’t be two.”
–Asian American and Pacific Islander regulars are segregated onto just a few shows. Ten percent of Asian American and Pacific Islander regulars appeared on Netflix’s “Marco Polo,” which has just been canceled. More than half of the other shows have been canceled or not renewed, slashing the representation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders by 21%
While many shows perpetuate racial stereotypes, the study praised “The Walking Dead,” “Master of None,” “Fresh Off the Boat” and HBO’s miniseries, “The Night Of” for featuring multidimensional portrayals of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
In another diversity-related study, the Ruderman Family Foundation, a Boston-based philanthropic organization advocating for more inclusion of people with disabilities in society, issued the preliminary results of its challenge to the TV industry to audition and cast more actors with disabilities.
Seven months into the initiative, representatives of the challenge said that CBS, with shows such as “NCIS: New Orleans,” is leading the effort in employing performers with disabilities, while 20th Century Fox was leading in auditioning performers with disabilities.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, respectively, were open to the ideas of a U.S. Muslim database and surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods. As President, Trump signed executive orders that effectively banned travel into the U.S. by people from a selected list of predominantly Muslim countries. Multiple Trump supporters have openly suggested the need to segregate Muslims into prison camps, pointing to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II as precedent for such actions to “protect America.”
This year also marks the 75th Anniversary of the beginning of the World War II mass incarceration of West Coast Japanese Americans. Japanese Americans, like me, who have a personal connection to the World War II incarceration experience are speaking out. By providing a “living history” of these events, we can point out the current parallels and warn others to take a stand against any similar encroachment of civil liberties.
My Family’s “All-American” Story
My family’s history in America began in 1907, when my grandfather Kunitomo Mayeda emigrated from Japan. He was only 16 years old but had aspirations to study English and become a diplomat to promote better relations between Japan and the United States. As is often the case for new immigrants, his dreams were never realized. Instead, Kunitomo worked as a houseboy and a cook before getting into farming near San Diego.
My father Ray was born in 1922. In the mid-1930s, Ray’s mother passed away. Kunitomo was unable to work and also raise five kids, so the family (except for eldest son Al) moved back to Japan. Kunitomo remarried but eventually returned to America in 1937 to work as a gardener while his second wife remained in Japan to raise the children. A few years later, Ray also re-joined his father and brother Al, and enrolled in school. At Coronado High School, there were only about 10 Japanese American students out of around 400 in the student body. But my uncle Al was a star running back on the football team and a “big man on campus.” My father Ray was student body treasurer, on the staff of the school newspaper, and ran hurdles on the track team. It was basically an “All-American” existence. But then, the Imperial Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor and everything crumbled around the Mayeda family.
About three months after the Pearl Harbor attack, my father, an American teenager, was left “home alone.” His sisters Yoko and Moriko, and a younger brother Frank, were still living with their stepmother in Japan. His older brother Al had enlisted in the U.S. Army within weeks of Pearl Harbor. So it was just my father Ray and his father Kunitomo in the uncertain days on the West Coast after the Pearl Harbor attack.
Kunitomo was a leader in the local Japanese Association, a group that tried to help newly arrived immigrants and to maintain cultural ties among the Japanese Americans in San Diego. Within a few weeks after Pearl Harbor, however, the FBI came to question Kunitomo and ransacked the house. Kunitomo was a gardener in his 50s, hardly a rabble rouser or other threat to America. But he knew he looked like the enemy and, unlike his sons, was an Issei, a Japanese immigrant who was forbidden by law from becoming a U.S. citizen. Kunitomo had the foresight to realize that he might be picked up for further questioning or held by the government, so he prepared my father. “Ray, I have money, American dollars, and I’m going to sew it inside the linings of coats that are hanging in the closet. If you come home from school and I’m not here, rip open the seams and you can live off that money until I come home or you can get a job.”
Sure enough, one day in March 1942, Ray came home from high school to find the house empty, his father Kunitomo nowhere to be found. Then, within three weeks, Ray himself was forced to leave San Diego and join 120,000 other Americans of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast, to eventually live in so-called “relocation camps” in compliance with Executive Order 9066 signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In reality, these were American-style concentration camps imprisoning both citizens (American-born “Nisei,” second generation like my father) and aliens (foreign-born, first generation “Issei” like my grandfather) without due process for nearly the duration of World War II.
A fortuitous discovery
I know my father Ray was initially taken from San Diego to a temporary facility on the grounds of the Santa Anita racehorse tracks. He told me of living in a converted horse stable that reeked of manure while the larger camps were being built inland. Eventually, Ray was shipped off to live in one of the three Poston, Arizona camps. Since he had no family with him, he had to live in a barracks with middle-aged bachelors. I never learned from my father (who passed away in 2014) where his father was taken after he was arrested in San Diego—other than that Kunitomo ultimately ended up in a Department of Justice prison camp in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I did recently learn more about Kunitomo through a series of fortuitous coincidences. In April, I saw an exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum about the Tuna Canyon Detention Station. Tuna Canyon was located in the Tujunga area of Los Angeles and was a temporary facility used in World War II to house mostly Japanese immigrants but also some Italian and German immigrants who the government believed were immediate threats to public safety. It suddenly dawned on me that perhaps my grandfather had been detained at Tuna Canyon and this was confirmed when I saw Kunitomo’s name on an “Honor Roll” listing each Tuna Canyon detainee.
My post about this discovery was seen by my Facebook friend June Aochi Berk, who then gave Kunitomo’s name to Russell Endo, a retired University of Colorado professor who was conducting research in Washington, D.C. (June and Russell are both leaders of a coalition to keep alive the history of Tuna Canyon.) A few weeks later, Professor Endo began to email me documents about my grandfather that he had found in the National Archives.
The FBI is after my grandfather
The very first document took my breath away: a memo dated February 20, 1942 recommending the issuance of a Presidential Warrant for the arrest of my grandfather, hand-signed by none other than FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Subsequent documents revealed that Kunitomo was arrested on March 19 and detained for a time at Tuna Canyon, before eventually being transferred to Santa Fe. During this process, no charges were ever filed against him. Instead, a hearing was held in Santa Fe, an apparent attempt to comply with the 1929 Geneva Convention, thereby revealing that the government viewed the arrested Japanese aliens as essentially “prisoners of war.” There was no due process and no defense counsel allowed.
The FBI Report used at the hearing detailed the “evidence” against Kunitomo. On the one side was Kunitomo’s speech urging the merger of two Japanese associations in San Diego; that a “Confidential Informant” advised the FBI that a week after Pearl Harbor, “a reliable informant” had reported to the first informant that “someone turned a powerful spotlight onto a high-water tank” during recent blackouts; and that Kunitomo had once given thirty dollars to the “long-term military relief fund” that was sent to Japanese relief ministries in Tokyo. Despite a thorough search of Kunitomo’s home, and translating letters written in Japanese, the FBI turned up nothing that could be used against him. Another section of the report indicates that the caretaker of the aforementioned water tank advised that “the light was not a powerful spotlight but was apparently from an ordinary flashlight” and that it was not on long enough to trace back to the original source, other than to note that Kunitomo’s house was a block away from the water tower.
The remainder of the FBI Report contains numerous pieces of exculpatory evidence including that a few days after Pearl Harbor, Kunitomo signed a Loyalty Pledge stating that Japanese aliens residing in Coronado “do hereby pledge our resources, our children and our lives toward a victorious conclusion of the war upon the Axis nations.”
The report also noted that Kunitomo’s oldest son, my uncle Al, had enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly after Pearl Harbor. It also contained excerpts of interviews from the gardening clients of Kunitomo, including a retired Brigadier General who stated that Kunitomo “is a much better American than most American citizens,” and the wife of a current Army commander advised that Kunitomo “has always seemed loyal to the United States.”
Because these hearings were conducted with the reversal of the usual presumption of innocence—the detained “enemy aliens” were presumed to be guilty of complicity with the Japanese enemy unless they could prove their innocence—Kunitomo was held for the duration of the war. My grandfather eventually asked to be repatriated to Japan where he could be with his wife and three of his kids. He knew that this meant separation from and possible estrangement with his two eldest sons but Kunitomo felt he had little choice since he had been imprisoned by the government for years without charges due solely to his race.
Could it happen again?
In 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, officially proclaiming the wartime confinement of Japanese Americans under Executive Order 9066 was a “grave injustice…motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” No Japanese American, citizen or alien, was ever convicted of espionage, sabotage, collaboration with the enemy, or similar charge during the war. Conversely, thousands of Japanese American Nisei (including my uncle Al Mayeda) served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th Infantry Battalion, or the Military Intelligence Service, proving their loyalty to the United States and suffering tremendous casualties, even as their parents were kept behind barbed wire on American soil.
Could it happen again? Recall that days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush cautioned against targeting American Muslims: “In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.” Can anyone have confidence that President Trump’s reaction to a major terrorist attack in the United States by Muslims would elicit a similar measured response? It seems far likelier that his response would veer closer toward World War II-era curfew and internment orders to “keep America safe” than toward restraint and adherence to the Bill of Rights. After all, President Trump recently pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt related to racially profiling Latinxs in violation of their civil rights.
If an effort were made to register, imprison and/or conduct surveillance of Muslim Americans, our WWII experience teaches that even mundane activities such as studying Arabic, exchanging letters with Middle East relatives, being a mosque leader, or maintaining cultural traditions could be deemed suspicious and trigger reporting from anonymous “informants.” In such event, our political leaders should listen to Americans of Japanese ancestry who have personal experience with the dangers of racial prejudice and wartime hysteria. Our family stories contain profound lessons that must be retold to safeguard the constitutional liberties of all Americans.
EXCLUSIVE: PBS Distribution has picked up the North American rights to Toronto film fest doc Abacus: Small Enough To Jail, from director Steve James. The company is planning a spring theatrical release, beginning May 19 at New York City’s IFC Center.
It centers on the dramatic saga of the Chinese immigrant Sung family, owners of Abacus Federal Savings of New York’s Chinatown. Accused of mortgage fraud by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., Abacus becomes the only U.S. bank to face criminal charges in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The indictment and subsequent trial forces the Sung family to defend themselves—and their bank’s legacy in the Chinatown community—over the course of a five-year legal battle.
The doc, which also screened at New York Film Festival and Chicago International Film Festival, will serve as the opening night film at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.
Mark Mitten and Julie Goldman produced the film while Gordon Quinn, Betsy Steinberg, Christopher Clements, Raney Aronson-Rath, Justine Nagan, and Sally Jo Fifer exec produced.
The deal was negotiated by Amy Letourneau and Emily Rothschild of PBS Distribution and Cinetic Media on behalf of the filmmakers.