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QUESTION: I work with a lot of Southeast Asian youth in my community. The experience of a lot of these kids is closer to Blacks and Latinos in terms of what they have to deal with and what opportunities they can tap in to. How do they fit into the so-called model minority?
MONAMI: The young folks this person is talking about don’Äôt really fit into the model minority myth. I would argue this is true for working-class Asians in general. I think we really need to know the history of Asian immigration to understand the class differences that exist among Asians today in the U.S. It’Äôs important to note that immigration doesn’Äôt just happen on its own - U.S. policy determines who can come into the country and for what economic reasons.
Within the Asian American community, there have been two major waves of migration. About 30 years ago it was primarily professional middle-class Asians who were asked to come to the U.S. So those folks were needed at that time to do skilled professional work at relatively lower wages than white Americans, particularly in the science sector during the Cold War. Now, in the last ten years or so, with the impact of globalization in Third World countries all over Asia, what we’Äôre seeing is more working class people coming to the U.S., being brought here to fill a very low-wage service sector economy. Programs like the Visa Lottery have brought thousands of Bangladeshis to the U.S. in the last 15 years who work in low and no wage jobs.
Real class differences exist due to a particular economic and immigration history in the U.S. It’Äôs important to understand that. For young Asian people who grow up in working-class communities of color, the shared understanding of class experience - not being able to get a decent job, not having health care, being on welfare - is often more powerful than an identity based on race alone.
When we talk about our identity as Asians, we’Äôre really considering class as well - people’Äôs class experiences, people’Äôs access to power, resources, education, housing and health care. We’Äôre creating identities not just based on race, but based on who has power and who doesn’Äôt. In this vein we should connect racial justice with economic justice struggles..
FRANKLIN: A cynical way of looking at it, from the point of view of people looking at affirmative action or set-asides, is that if you lump all Asian Americans into this model-minority category, then the groups Monami is talking about don’Äôt get the kind of help they need. It makes them invisible, which is a really bad situation.
RINKU: There is a youth culture around the world. One of the benefits of young people sharing a culture that cuts across race and often doesn’Äôt cut so much across class in the ways that Monami has already mentioned, is that you can advocate for policies that benefit all of those youth. I’Äôm thinking about things like public education reform, juvenile justice reform, fighting for summer employment programs and funding for those, and reforming different kinds of corporate behavior to protect young people from ongoing and excessive advertising, for example. Those are all important things that people will fight for in multi-racial alliances and communities. Young people are very open to those kinds of alliances. It’Äôs an opportunity that we need to take advantage of.
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