Falling Back on the Model Minority Myth Will Not End Anti-Asian Racism, Xenophobia, Violence

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LOS ANGELES — On April 6, the Manzanar Committee rejected comments made by former Presidential candidate Andrew Yang in an op-ed piece in the April 1, 2020 edition of the Washington Post. In “We Asian Americans Are Not the Virus, but We Can Be Part of the Cure,” Yang stated that, “…to keep the coronavirus from inciting hostility towards Asians in this country,” Asian Americans should, “Demonstrate that we are part of the solution. We are not the virus, but we can be part of the cure.”

“Negative responses don’t work,” Yang added. “We Asian Americans need to embrace and show our American-ness in ways we never have before…We should show without a shadow of a doubt that we are Americans who will do our part for our country in this time of need.”

Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey blasted Yang for letting racists, xenophobes, and political opportunists off the hook.

“Like everyone else, Asian Americans have the right to walk down the street, shop, and go about their business without having to prove their loyalty,” he said. “Yang believes that by being extra helpful and showing our ‘American-ness’ that we will defuse this wave of anti-Asian racism. That is patently false.”

“Instead of placing the onus on the racists and opportunistic politicians who are calling the COVID-19 virus the ‘Chinese Virus’ or the ‘Kung Flu,’ Yang has placed the burden on the victims.” he added. “This approach has never worked before and never will, as many in the Japanese American community know from the forced removal of our families during World War II, and its aftermath.”

“Many in our community, during and after World War II, argued precisely what Yang is saying. ‘Just be good Americans, don’t make waves or protest, show how patriotic we are and everything will be fine.’ My family lost their store, along with their freedom and their Constitutional rights. I don’t consider that to be, ‘just fine.’”

Yang also pointed to the heroism of the Japanese Americans who served in the United States Army’s 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most highly decorated unit in U.S. military history for its size and length of service. He noted that they served “…to demonstrate that they were Americans,” strongly implying that Asian Americans must go the extra mile to demonstrate that again today.

“Yang refers to the heroics of the all-Japanese American combat unit in World War II,” Embrey noted. “Three of my uncles served during World War II and I am very proud of their service. But that’s only half of the story. At the same time, my mother’s family had been unjustly incarcerated at Manzanar. When she arrived, living conditions were simply horrible, and after months of complaining, a protest erupted.”

“At the Santa Anita assembly center, there were protests,” Embrey added. “At the Poston camp, there was a general strike. At Heart Mountain, men resisted the draft. Japanese Americans wrote letters, demonstrated, sued their government, and demanded redress and reparations. Many in our community were not the ‘quiet Americans’ and definitely not a ‘model minority.’”

“For the camp survivors, anti-Japanese racism and violence continued long after World War II. Anti-miscegenation laws and alien land laws remained on the books until the late 1940’s or 1950’s. Restricted covenants were in effect until the late 1960’s or early 1970’s, and Anti-Japanese violence continued well after camps were closed and many returned to the West Coast.”

Embrey stressed that fighting racism and xenophobia has been a defining feature of our nation’s history. To be sure, anti-Asian racism and xenophobia is being whipped up and is escalating. But racism did not begin with the pandemic. Rather, it has long been a feature of our nation’s development.

“Yang may think the solution to racism is to be compliant, but fighting for one’s rights against inequality and racism has been an integral part of our nation’s history,” he observed. “Our democracy demands that all people are entitled basic Constitutional rights and equal justice under the law. If these basic rights are denied, then fighting back is not only justified, but it is also necessary. This has been true throughout our history. People have been fighting for their rights, whether it was freedom from slavery, from Native people’s fighting back against genocide, to more contemporary battles for civil and voting rights, to our community’s victorious campaign for redress and reparations. Fighting back is as ‘American’ as you can get.”

“Yang is right when he said that like everyone else, we should help our neighbors and work to ease the pain and suffering brought on by the inept, criminally incompetent, federal response,” he added. “Everyone should. Americans, immigrants—everyone must pull together to do what we can to overcome this pandemic.”

“The COVID-19 virus is the great equalizer. It doesn’t discriminate. No one is safe from it. We are all in this together.”

The Manzanar Committee is dedicated to educating and raising public awareness about the incarceration and violation of civil rights of persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II and to the continuing struggle of all peoples when Constitutional rights are in danger. A non-profit organization that has sponsored the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage since 1969, along with other educational programs, the Manzanar Committee has also played a key role in the establishment and continued development of the Manzanar National Historic Site. For more information, check out our web site at https://manzanarcommittee.org, call us at (323) 662-5102, and e-mail us at info@manzanarcommittee.org. You can also follow the Manzanar Committee on Facebook, on Twitter at @manzanarcomm, on Instagram at @manzanarcommittee, on Pinterest and on YouTube.


LEAD PHOTO: Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, shown here during the Democratic presidential primary debate at Loyola Marymount University on December 19, 2019, in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images via WordPress.com/Getty Images.

Creative Commons License The Manzanar Committee’s Official web site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Manzanar Committee Official web site – Licensing and Copyright Information.

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