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QUESTION: A while back, there was a Committee of 100 study that polled White Americans on their views of Asian Americans relative to other minority groups. Two things struck me in that poll: a large percentage of people said that they would have a problem with an Asian American as their superior in an office, and one out of four respondents thought that Asians were more likely to be disloyal than other groupings. Can you comment on this?
FRANKLIN: This presumption of disloyalty is actually what drives my thoughts about the quality and the character of our ability to relate to homeland things - you know, whether people even feel we have a right to do that. In my own community, this is a very, very powerful thing because of World War II and internment. I think this is a real caveat for other people ’Äì you know, who knows who the next enemy is going to be for whatever reason. There’Äôs some thinking ahead that needs to get done to prepare ourselves for whatever may come down the pike.
And on the other part, I think it’Äôs true. There are a lot of people who don’Äôt see themselves working as a subordinate to an Asian American, in spite of the fact that there are lots of Asian American CEOs and heads of departments, I mean, you’Äôve got Elaine Chao and Norm Mineta at the very highest levels of the federal government. Things will change some as we go along, but there will be pockets of resistance. So it will take some work and organizing. Rinku’Äôs statement about my position here - it didn’Äôt come about as a result of direct protest, but you better believe it was a recognition by the Smithsonian leadership that they had to deal with issues that are out and around the various Asian and Pacific Islander communities.
RINKU: I think that the disloyalty thing is very predictable. Like Franklin said, it’Äôs another reflection on our foreignness. I don’Äôt think it will matter how many generations go by, or maybe it will, but I just can’Äôt imagine living long enough to see that change.
I also think there’Äôs a more subtle element to it beyond the War on Terrorism and military disloyalty, and that has to do with economic globalization and with the fact that because of ties to homeland, even if we’Äôre several generations in the United States, a lot of Asian Americans are well aware of the ways in which economic globalization has produced benefits for U.S. residents on the backs of people in other countries, at the cost of their standard of living, their cultural integrity, and so on. For example, the fact that we have cheap food on our tables because of a whole system of agricultural subsidies that support corporate agriculture here in this country, while exploiting farm workers in other countries. To the extent that Asians have a view of globalization that includes its cultural and economic inequalities, those will also put us in the disloyal category, and I agree that we should have a strategy for dealing with the backlash on that.
I’Äôm kind of just stumped and amused by the response about having an Asian American as your superior. I’Äôd love to hear the answer to some follow-up questions on that. But what does occur to me is that Asians are often seen as lacking leadership qualities - the model minority image, because it involves not complaining and not asserting yourself, translates into weak leadership. I mean, beyond just being a phobia, ’ÄúI don’Äôt want any foreigner telling me what to do,’Äù the notion that Asians can’Äôt lead might also create that response.
MONAMI: It’Äôs a clear indication that we have a long way to go to challenge white supremacy and the pitting of communities and people of color in the U.S. against each other. I also strongly agree that it’Äôs not just about us as a minority ethnic community in the U.S., but where we come from, what’Äôs happening in those places because of globalization and U.S. roles in those countries, why we came here and how that’Äôs similar and different to other people. It seems to help Americans look the other way when this government declares preventative war on sovereign nations or profits from exploitative globalization if its citizens are convinced that ’Äúthose people’Äù are somehow less civilized than us- traitors, crafty, terrorists, lazy, etc. These perceptions are the same images fed to us everyday by media, Hollywood, and who the government decides to criminalize at what moment.
FRANKLIN: Can I just add one thing? Living within the Beltway, you know, I’Äôm a bit more susceptible to looking at conflict within the government. But one thing that’Äôs been a source of wonderment to me ’Äì I don’Äôt know how much you’Äôre aware of the conflict last year between [Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld and General Shinseke? Here’Äôs a four-star general, Chief of Staff of the United States Army - what better leadership qualities can you expect - this is an extraordinary thing for an Asian American man to accomplish. I’Äôm curious about whether the argument about how many ground troops were necessary to pacify Iraq - irrespective of all the lies that went into the whole justification for going there in the first place ’Äì whether it was easier for Rumsfeld to dismiss Shinseke’Äôs notions of troop strength because Shinseke was Japanese American, Asian American. It’Äôs sort of a funny thing that occurred to me. Some of this stuff is so deep seated that Rumsfeld may not even have been aware. Or Wolfowitz, Cheney, or Bush. Maybe it was easier for them to dismiss the viewpoint of the entire United States military because the Chief of Staff was an Asian American. The whole argument, which turns out to have been true or more realistic, was tainted by the fact that the messenger was Asian. Plus Shinseke’Äôs been pretty quiet since. He’Äôs been a pretty good soldier, after all that.
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