In this Episode:
The recent rise in documented anti-Asian violence—which saw grandmothers being punched on the streets, and a major shooting in Atlanta—has raised questions about the current status of Asian American identity and safety in the U.S.
How does “Asian” fit into the American racial taxonomy, which has for so long relied on a dichotomy of Black and white?
Have a topic you’d like us to delve into, a guest recommendation, or just want to say hi? Drop us a line at email@example.com.
- “U.S. Acts Decisively to Protect Asian Americans—But Drags Its Feet on Protecting Black Americans,” Dr. Claire Kim, Ms. magazine, Jul. 20, 2021.
- “Afro-Asian Solidarities and Reclaiming the Erasure of Women,” Anna Romina Guevarra and Natalie D.A. Bennett, Ms. magazine, Aug. 13, 2021.
- “AAPI Hatred Has Been Invisible for Too Long,” Anna Chu, Ms. magazine, March 23, 2021.
00:00:05.0 Michele Goodwin:
Welcome to “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” at Ms. magazine, a show where we report, rebel and you know we tell it like it is. On this show, we center your concerns about rebuilding our nation and advancing the promise of equality. So, join me as we tackle the most compelling issues of our times. On our show, history matters. We examine the past as we think about the future. On today’s show, we’re discussing what it means to be Asian in America.
The recent rise in documented anti-Asian violence, which saw grandmothers being punched in the streets, acid being tossed on people, bullying at school, and a major shooting in Atlanta has raised questions about the current status of Asian-American identity in this country. Are Asians a model minority, and what does that mean to even refer to a group of people who have such wide and deep roots in the United States and around the world and who are not a monolith at all, as being model minorities?
What does it mean to be a member of an Asian-American community, especially given the difference in histories and legacies of migration and colonization, tied to the United States and really, around the world? So, how does Asian fit into the American racial taxonomy, which has, for so long, relied on simplistic dichotomies, such as Black and white? And so, helping me to sort out these issues, our very special guests.
I’m joined by Nobuko Miyamoto. She’s an actress, activist, singer and third-generation Japanese-American whose work has blended art and activism since the 1960s, and she’s recently published Not Yo’ Butterfly: My Long Song of Relocation, Race, Love, and Revolution.
Dr. Claire Kim is a professor of political science and Asian-American studies at the University of California Irvine and has written award-winning books, Bitter Fruit: The Politics of Black-Korean Conflict and Dangerous Crossings: Race, Species, and Nature in a Multicultural Age. Now, she has a new book forthcoming, Asian Americans in an Anti-Black World, which I can’t wait to get my hands on.
I’m also joined by Yang Huang. She is an award-winning novelist and short story writer. She grew up in China’s Jiangsu Province and participated in the 1989 student uprisings before coming to the United States, and her recent novel, My Good Son and another, Living Treasures, and a collection of short stories, My Old Faithful, are keeping us up at night with some very good reading. I’m so thrilled to have these guests on my show.
Thank you for joining us to discuss these very sensitive and timely issues, and I want to start with, you, Dr. Kim, and you’ve informed me to call you Claire, so I will do so. We’ve seen a recent spike in anti-Asian violence, some truly awful incidents with grandmothers being attacked on the streets of San Francisco, shootings in Atlanta, and issues that we’ve seen that relate to xenophobia and anti-Asian sentiment, especially in the wake of COVID-19, even expressed through the former president Donald Trump.
So, I’d like to start off with you. How do you process and think about this current violence that we’re seeing directed at Asian Americans? Is it connected to these historical legacies?
00:03:31.6 Dr. Claire Kim:
It is, absolutely, and thank you for having me, Michele. Anyone who studies Asian-American history is unsurprised by the recent events, because we know that anti-Asian animus is sort of a steady undercurrent in US culture, and has been since the first Chinese laborers arrived in the late 1840s.
So, it’s there as an undercurrent, and then there are certain triggers that bring it out, right, and Donald Trump’s response to the COVID pandemic, calling it a Chinese Flu or Kung-Flu sort of authorized Americans, who were disposed that way to begin with, to vent some of their frustrations and their anger upon Asian Americans, and so, what we’re seeing is historic in the sense it doesn’t happen often.
Like, World War II is a good precedent for this, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but it does…we know that it’s drawing upon a steady undercurrent of anti-Asian hate in the US. I hope, you know, that we can also talk about how to think about anti-Asian hate in relation to racial violence against Black people and also relate how Asian Americans have mobilized around this moment in relation to Black Lives Matter. I think that’s a really important avenue for exploration.
00:04:46.2 Michele Goodwin:
And we definitely will, and the guests that we have on today, you all are very well suited to discuss those intersectional issues, and in fact, that brings me to you, Nobuko. It’s such a pleasure to have you on with us today. You’ve recently published a powerful memoir Not Yo’ Butterfly: My Long Song of Relocation, Race, Love, and Revolution, which chronicles your life in activism as a third-generation Japanese American. So, how have things changed, and how have they stayed the same?
00:05:21.5 Nobuko Miyamoto:
Well, as a person who is an artist, who trained as an artist, who worked in American show business, I think I was a tool and also witness of how Asian bodies have been used in culture and how that has added to the stereotype of and limited vision of what Asian Americans and who Asian Americans are.
00:05:52.1 Michele Goodwin:
Yes, talk about that. I mean, that is so important, what you mentioned there. The kind of stereotyping that we’ve seen in media, the limitation of roles in the arts and so much more. Unpack a little bit of that for our listeners, who may not see that in the wake of some advancements, which are not enough.
00:06:12.2 Nobuko Miyamoto:
Well, for instance, let’s go back to Madama Butterfly. Let’s go back to that opera 100 years ago that featured this geisha girl who was this sweet, longing, you know, woman that fell in love with a European American and who had a child and who was faithful, et cetera. Well, this image of the geisha, this image, these are the kinds of images that I played, and also prostitutes, you know, because of the war, of three wars that we’ve fought against Asian countries.
The persistence of the Asian prostitute has been part of our cultural memory, and I relate that very strongly to what happened in Atlanta to these women, the fact that it took 4 or 5 days for us to know who these women were. It was sort of an assumption, you know, of who they were and what they did. You know, they weren’t full human beings, and so, this one movie, Crazy Rich Asians, does not change American culture and consciousness.
00:07:43.1 Michele Goodwin:
I’m so glad that you mentioned that because so many people might lean into that as somehow meaning a meteoric type of shift, and it actually doesn’t do that, and in fact, even in the wake of that, let’s think through some of what we’ve seen in terms of the hate incidents. So, we have one report that shows that there have been over 9,000 incidents of anti-Asian attacks over the past year.
The gender dimensions of that, we can’t ignore, which 63% of those complaints were submitted by women. Some submitted on behalf of others. Grave rises in physical assaults, and troublingly, there’s even been some data that there have been Asian-American households that were twice as likely as white households to admit that they didn’t have enough food throughout the pandemic, but were afraid to go out.
I mean, that’s absolutely chilling, and it makes me think, Nobuko, about your history of activism, as well, because there are also the sort of myths of the model minority that Asians in America…that Americans who happen to have Asian ancestry are all just fine. In fact, that they’re all doing better than white people are. So, how do you break that down for listeners who might be thinking that?
00:09:13.6 Nobuko Miyamoto:
Well, just because we haven’t been as vocal or as physically demonstrating our resistance, doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened to us, and it hasn’t happened…in fact, my grandparents, because there were laws in this country against Asians marrying…white people marrying people of color and also against Asian men bringing women, their own women, to this country unless they were married. So, for my grandfather, he found an American woman, Lucy Harrison, who he fell in love with.
They fell in love, and they got together, and they were driving along with their children in Parker, Idaho, and this is probably around 1919, the year of the Red Summer, where Black people were being lynched in unprecedented numbers. They were pushed off the road, and their child, one of their twins, was killed. So, there was no recourse for them. What were they going to do as one couple who was Japanese and white? What were they going to do to fight back in this atmosphere?
00:10:40.2 Michele Goodwin:
How old was the child?
00:10:41.4 Nobuko Miyamoto:
He was a baby. They were twins. Yes, and they went to the hospital to try to save the child. He couldn’t be saved. They came back to get the car, and the car was torched. So, this kind of turbulence, you know, has happened to my own family, and I’m sure what…where did this statement, “you don’t have a Chinaman’s chance,” come from?
Well, Chinese were lynched, as well. Chinese were persecuted, as well, as well as Black people, but we don’t know that. We don’t read about that. We don’t hear those stories. You know, do we have movies about this? I don’t think so.
00:11:24.0 Michele Goodwin:
No, not at all, and that period known…you know, air quote as “Yellow Peril” in the United States.
00:11:30.4 Nobuko Miyamoto:
00:11:32.4 Michele Goodwin:
What a horrific type of period, and the targeting of people of Asian descent. Yang Huang, I am so happy that you are with us. You are an award-winning novelist and short story writer, and you grew up in China’s Jiangsu Province and participated in the 1989 student uprisings before coming to the US to study computer science, and when you hear about the history that Nobuko has talked about, that Claire has introduced us to, how do you reconcile that, given where you came from into this space?
00:12:08.8 Yang Huang:
First of all, it’s an honor to be here, and Nobuko, that story is heartbreaking. The model minority myth is just assumption that Asian Americans are over-achievers who have made it to highest level of success without any help, despite racism or other hardship. It’s just a way to pit Asian communities against each other by discrediting the claims of African Americans seeking racial and economic justice. To this day, many people, including Asian Americans, subscribe to the model minority myth.
This myth is emotional damaging to some Asian Americans who don’t fit the stereotype. The former presidential candidate, Andrew Yang, offered this solution to the anti-Asian crisis, saying, well, Asian Americans need to embrace and show American-ness in ways we never had before. We should show without a shadow of a doubt that we’re Americans who will do our part for our country in this time of need. But this seems to apologize for our Asian-American existence.
As a matter of fact, Asian Americans have stepped up and donated to our fellow citizens, in emergencies, and died for this country, fighting these wars, but none of these efforts have prevented anti-Asian racism. Calling for more sacrifice suggests that Asian Americans are not American and must constantly prove American-ness that should not need to be proven. We should just really stand against this myth within the community and help American society understand that we are Americans, as everyone else.
00:14:01.9 Michele Goodwin:
You know, and it seems to me that that is also really hard to do. So, if we think about Nobuko and what your grandparents went through, and you know, what a bind and situation to be caught in, and then, in fact, there’ve even been cases that’ve gone up to the Supreme Court where there have been Asian Americans who have fought against systemic racism, hoping that there could be a special category carved out or that they could be literally treated as whites are. I mean, it’s fascinating. The Ozawa Case, the Thind Case, these cases of the 1920s in the United States.
And what’s also very interesting about those cases, is the Supreme Court response. Like, no, whiteness is reserved for white people. Whiteness is not reserved for anybody else, except if you are white, and you can imagine the pressure when you know that your, individuals in your family can be lynched, too. I mean, you know the target may be Black people, but you don’t want to be linked into something that has had a legacy wherein individuals have just been treated as the dregs of the Earth.
Claire, I want to come back to you, because you’ve recently written a piece for Ms. Magazine that engaged these issues, both this traumatic and troubling history that we, frankly, don’t hear enough about. The hate crimes and hate against people of Asian descent, Americans who are of Asian descent, and at the same time, this intersection of racism and anti-blackness. Can you tell us a bit more about that article and how this COVID Hate Crimes Act is implicated in that?
00:15:45.8 Dr. Claire Kim:
Of course. So, the book that I’m finishing up is called Asian Americans in an Anti-Black World, and it’s really an attempt to say, when we look at Asian-American history, it’s not enough to say how were Asians treated as though they were not white? We also have to look at how they have been treated as not Black, because that has been an angle of advantage and privilege throughout US Asian-American history that has not been acknowledged.
So, the article I wrote for Ms. Magazine is about the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which was released by Congress in May of 2021, signed by President Biden, and what interested me about this act was it was the federal government doing something about anti-Asian hate that has happened especially during COVID during the last year or so, and at the same time, the federal government was stalling on two other important issues.
One was the release, just a few months before that, of an international report, a report by an international body of human rights experts, calling systemic police violence against Black Americans a crime against humanity. So, using the language of human rights law to denounce systemic police violence against Black Americans.
That report was issued. The US government and the media were effectively silent. Another important item I wanted to mention is the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which was introduced into Congress after the murder of George Floyd by the four Minneapolis police officers.
The point of this act is to try to make the police more accountable in order to reduce police violence, particularly against Black communities. That bill is stalled in the Senate. It probably will not make it out of the Senate, but the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act was passed in the Senate 94 to 1, and we all know how polarized we are right now. 94 to 1 is a pretty striking number.
00:17:46.2 Michele Goodwin:
That’s pretty stunning coming from this Congress where you can barely get anything through, and so, what do those numbers tell you, 94 to 1? What does that signal?
00:17:57.0 Dr. Claire Kim:
So, what those numbers signal to me is there’s something going on here that we need to look at more closely. Why is the federal government appearing to help Asian Americans? What is gotten out of this? What’s the gain out of it? So, in my view, this is a way of doing something for Asian Americans instead of doing something for Black people. Remember that Black Lives Matter has resurged after the murder of George Floyd.
We had the largest protest movement during the pandemic, because of the murder of George Floyd, that we see in the country’s entire history. Sixteen to 26 million Americans have been in the streets talking about racial justice, demanding racial justice. In that context, what does the US Congress do? It stalls on the Justice in Policing Act, Justice for George Floyd Act, and it, instead, offers the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which is explicitly intended to address anti-Asian violence.
So, what is going on there is the federal government is doing something for Asian Americans instead of doing something for Black Americans, and it’s showing at that moment that it values Asian American lives more than it values Black lives. Now, to go back to what Nobuko and Yang were saying, it values Asian-American lives less than white lives. That is historically very obvious, but it also values Asian-American lives more than Black lives.
In other words, Black lives matter the least, right, and I think that the act also doubles down on carceral solutions for hate crimes, another way of sort of pushing back against the Black Lives Matter and the movement for Black lives, their demands for abolition and defunding the police. So, I think we have to see this act, which looks like it’s something nice for Asian Americans, in the context of structural anti-blackness.
00:19:45.4 Michele Goodwin:
Claire, that’s a hard conversation for many people to have, exactly what you’ve raised. The anti-blackness issues, how that relates to being Asian in America, what that means in terms of the myth of the model minority. What does it mean to work in solidarity together? And so, Nobuko, I’d like to bring you back into this conversation about that, because the history of your work in activism has engaged exactly that with Black Panthers, with Native Americans, and so much more. So, tell us about that. How do we connect the past to the present?
00:20:21.3 Nobuko Miyamoto:
The truth is there would be no Asian-American movement if there wasn’t a Black movement.
00:20:26.9 Michele Goodwin:
Why do you say that?
00:20:28.3 Nobuko Miyamoto:
We witnessed Black people standing up. We didn’t know whether we were Black, and we didn’t fit into being white, but we knew that we were discriminated against. So, it started being a choice. Who do we identify with? And most people who are Asian Americans did not want to identify with Black people because they didn’t want to be treated as Black people, but younger people understood…we understood our history. We started looking back.
And we started understanding, wait a minute. We’ve been relocated just like Native Americans. We’ve been discriminated, just like Black people. We’ve been hung. We’ve been terrorized. Maybe we have something in common here, and also, I found, with Black Panthers, that they looked at us, and they understood our story. They understood that Black people who were activists could also be put in these relocation camps. They weren’t closed up. They weren’t disappeared.
And then there were people, like Yuri Kochiyama, who lived in Harlem with her husband and raised six children there. Was friends with Malcolm X, who really became a legendary figure for the Asian-American movement, and who showed us, we need to stand together, and how…of course, it changed my life totally because she introduced me to the father of my son, who is a member of Republic of New Africa, a follower of Malcolm X, as well, and so that changed my personal trajectory as well as my political trajectory.
00:22:25.9 Michele Goodwin:
And in fact, if you don’t mind, just an excerpt from your book. You wrote, “The Panthers knew our story. They knew about camp and accepted us as part of the oppressed third-world people within the United States. But being herded to camps seemed to me a smaller injury compared to their struggles. We behaved, kept silent, and some young men made the ultimate sacrifice to prove that we were good Americas, and in 3 or 4 years, we were released to face the hardship of loss and rebuilding our lives. Japanese endured through, but could we have endured and behaved through 400 years of slavery, economic hardship, lack of educational opportunities, containment, and more?”
It’s a very powerful excerpt from your book.
00:23:17.3 Nobuko Miyamoto:
Thank you. Yes. I mean, these are things that we have to realize. There are different levels of oppression, and as we build solidarity, as we move forward and understand how similar we are, we also have to understand our different histories and find places of commonality. I mean, remember that, in Los Angeles, Little Tokyo, when we were relocated, became Bronxville.
Black people moved into Little Tokyo, and it had jazz clubs and soul food, you know, and that whole area of Central Avenue, which connected, you know, the Black community and the Asian community and then across the bridge to the Latino community, these are communities that Japanese-Americans lived in. We lived with Black people. We lived with Latinos because housing covenants, which were race driven, kept us from moving into white neighborhoods. So, we share a lot with people of color, but we need to be also particular about…you know, and know our histories in particular.
00:24:33.8 Michele Goodwin:
So, Yang, you brought up the model minority myth, and so, I’d like to come back to that and invite everybody to respond to this, but I want to start with you, Yang. I want to know exactly how you see that myth, and of course, it’s been used to refer to a minority group perceived as particularly successful, especially in a manner that contrasts with other minority groups, and some critics have said that it’s a myth that’s been used as a tool of white supremacy to drive a wedge, quite specifically, between African-Americans and Asian-American communities. How do you see the model minority myth, and how do we get beyond that in the United States when it just seems so deeply embedded in this culture?
00:25:26.6 Yang Huang:
The model minority myth pretends that the Asian-American community is a monolithic group, while it is very far from the truth. Some 23 million Asian Americans can trace their roots to more than 20 countries and 50 ethnic groups in Asia. Each group with different religion, face, culture or language, its own socio-economical, political, and cultural identity.
So, to this day, Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group with the nation’s largest wealth gap. For example, immigrants from India, China, Japan, and Korea, in recent decades, had good education and came to work with the H-1B visa. They’d become professionals with high household income. On the other end of the spectrum, some groups with low education attainment and high rates of poverty are Cambodian, Burmese, Hmong, and Laotian Americans.
Cambodian Americans, some of whom immigrated as refugees, are subject to deportation, crime, and gang violence, common social issues among Southeast Asian Americans of refugee background, such as Cambodia, Laotian, Hmong, and Vietnamese Americans. By ignoring this diversity in Asian America, the model minority myth is simply not true.
00:26:55.1 Michele Goodwin:
I remember, during my time in college, having friends that were deeply concerned about this because they had to fight for their parents, right? I mean, as children, had to be the ones that, you know, fought with the landlords on behalf of their parents when the landlord would try to evict. Calling up the utilities companies to speak on behalf of their parents and whatnot.
And it’s a part of a history that is ignored, and you know, Claire, you’ve written about this. You know, you’ve said that during World War II, the media created the idea that the Japanese were rising up out of the ashes after, ironically and horrifically, being held in incarceration camps, and proving that they had the right cultural stuff. What’s interesting is that, in a time in which people talk about fake news media, that’s one version of it, wasn’t it?
00:27:52.1 Dr. Claire Kim:
Yes, and I have a slightly different take on the model minority myth in my book, and that is, you know, the book is really dedicated, again, to saying, we know, from Asian-American studies and all of the excellent work that’s been done in the field, that Asian Americans have been systematically discriminated against relative to whites from the beginning, but we haven’t paid enough attention to how Asian Americans are positioned in the US racial order in relation to Black people.
And that is as above them and as more fully human than as Black people, and so, when I’m talking about the model minority myth in the book, I have two points about it. The first is that it understates the problem when we talk about there being a model minority myth, because what we really have is structural favoritism toward Asian Americans relative to Black people, that we can see in my reading from the first Chinese laborers until the present.
So, that’s a very important fact. It’s not just that white people talk about Asian Americans in a more flattering way. It’s not just that…this isn’t just a discursive issue. This is a structural issue, an issue of structural favoritism and advantage. So, that’s one thing, and then the second point I have is the critique of the model minority myth, which has been a staple of Asian-American studies for the last half century. I believe is misguided because the critique is, we are minorities, too.
We have a lot of poor people who are Asian Americans, too. And you know, Yang’s absolutely right. We have great economic diversity, diversity of all kinds within Asian America, but if you start saying we are minorities, too, you’re sort of eliding that difference that Nobuko was talking about between Asian Americans and Black people. Those discrepant histories and positions that we need to start paying attention to, and we’re leaving the elephant in the room unaddressed.
And that elephant in the room is…and we see this in affirmative action debates, the elephant in the room is, it’s true Asian Americans are not all doing well, and some are doing quite poorly, most because of refugee status, but why are many Asian Americans doing much better than Black people? We know it’s not cultural explanations, like the model minority myth tries to say. So, what are the reasons for that? And in my reading, it is about structural advantage that goes back a century and a half.
00:30:06.5 Michele Goodwin:
You know, it’s interesting that you should raise the question, so why is this, especially when some of the answers from some conservatives have been, well, it’s genetics, or if it’s not genetics, it is the nature of really hard work, right? So, how do we respond to those explanations? And I’ll, you know, open it. Claire, Nobuko, Yang, how do we respond to this sort of thought, well, it’s, you know, just Asian people are born with the greater stuff intellectually?
00:30:37.9 Nobuko Miyamoto:
Well, I just want to say that, as a scholarship student in American School of Dance when I was 12, I was told by the director, in order for you to make a living as a dancer, you have to be twice as good as everyone else. So, yes, it was strengthened in our homes that they had to push us harder, that they had to support us more.
At the same time, when we did have technical excellence, when we got into the field of work, discrimination still existed for Asian-American performers, at least, and I think in other fields, as well. I mean, we can only go so far, and I still think it’s true. So, in that way, you know, we’re caught in this bind where, yes, we may be well trained, but we still lack opportunities. We still lack the opportunity to push ahead, and also, you don’t really push ahead being a worker.
You don’t push ahead by a salary. You push ahead by ideas. You push ahead by pursuing your dreams, by being able to be a fully expressed human being, and this is where I see culture as really important. Where are we invisible? We’re still invisible. We’ve grown up hearing stories about, you know, every kind of European American, and I really am going to start calling them European Americans, because I think European Americans have to look at their roots. We’re looking at our roots.
They need to look at their roots, as well, and realize that we’re all migrants here. You know, let’s accept that. Not just in, you know, name, but in practice. We’re living on this land that is Native American land. Maybe it’s hard for people who have farmed the land, et cetera, but yes, let’s recognize that this system was set up to keep us minorities…was set up, as you say, as this systematic way of racism, you know, to divide and conquer.
00:33:02.9 Michele Goodwin:
So, speaking of divide and conquer, let’s add another layer, a notch to this conversation, and again, to circle back to some very interesting alliances that have grown in the wake of litigation that include ultra-conservative groups linking up with some, in some parts of Asian-American communities, for litigation against affirmative action. What do we make of that? Tell us about that.
00:33:26.3 Dr. Claire Kim:
Yes. So, the case Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard was filed in 2014 by a coalition of Asian Americans, primarily Chinese-American groups, and also in alliance with Ed Blum, who was the white conservative activist who was behind Fisher v. Texas and also behind Shelby County v. Holder 2013, which eviscerated the Voting Rights Act. So, Ed Blum has had this outsized influence as a white right-wing activist against affirmative action, voting rights, and related issues.
And we’re seeing, in this case, Students for Fair Admissions versus Harvard, a convergence between the conservative whites and conservative Chinese immigrant professionals mostly, from professional class, who are converging in their desire to dismantle affirmative action, which they see as state-sponsored social engineering, as the state favoring Blacks and Latinos over Asian Americans and whites. This is a case that the Supreme Court is poised to hear.
We don’t yet know whether they will grant cert, but I think it’s likely. It is possible this will be the case that ends affirmative action in US higher education. It’s extremely important that it has Asian-American plaintiffs for the first time in a case that is at this level of review, as opposed to white plaintiffs, because they can make a more compelling case, we suspect, that they were discriminated against by this policy and that it’s intolerable, because there’s already a history of anti-Asian discrimination.
00:34:59.2 Michele Goodwin:
You can’t make that up. You just simply can’t. Well, you know, this is always a challenge when we reach this part in the show where I ask about silver linings, because it’s gone by way too quickly, and there’s so much more that we could talk about. I wanted to hear more about triangulation that you talk about in your work, Claire, and Nobuko, in your just stunning memoir.
There’s just so much to unpack about the arc of your career, about arts and entertainment and exclusion there, and what it’s like being a third-generation Japanese American, what that all means, and why the fact that, you know, we have to put these kind of descriptors in front of American when we are talking about people of color, and Yang, your recent novel, too.
We will be posting all about you all and your work online at MsMagazine.com. So, for our listeners, please go there, and you will learn more about all of my guests today.
But I want to ask you what you see as a silver lining going forward in light of just the weight of what it is that we’ve discussed? We’ve had a conversation that has ranged from lynchings, exclusion, poverty, fear, and so much more. How do you see, going forward…what do we do in this country that both elevates these histories that, often, people don’t hear about and sets the record straight? So, Nobuko, I want to start off with you. What’s the silver lining going forward?
00:36:42.6 Nobuko Miyamoto:
Reality is we are becoming the majority. Reality is we are more and more mixed. Reality is we’ve been here a long time, and we’re learning to work together, to create social change, and that’s just evolution. You know, we are moving towards being a more mixed society. Culturally, we’re getting more of a voice. Younger people are pushing their voices out, and Black Lives Matter is being joined by people of all colors.
So, I have a lot of hope. I think that we are changing, even though there’s terrible resistance among European Americans who are, you know, in power and want to stay in power, but we just have to keep pushing, and you know, it’s a complex society that we live in, but it’s this experiment that makes life interesting here in America. I mean, there’s nothing like it. There’s nothing like this.
00:37:54.8 Michele Goodwin:
Yang, what do you see as a silver lining going forward, in light of all of that we see today, and what’s taking place in the United States and the challenges that we see around the world, including in China?
00:38:09.7 Yang Huang:
During the anti-Asian crisis, we began to study Asian-American history and learn that racism and xenophobia is in the fabric of American society. So, the crisis brings more awareness to the plight and hopefully inspires more Americans to participate in the wider anti-racist movement, and secondly, I am heartened that there’s more interest in the diverse Asian-American stories.
Authentic storytelling is so important, because our capacity to understand what’s going on with someone else, whether we like them or not, whether we agree with them or not, is the path to peace. It is essential quality to understand people who don’t look like you, but they’re just as human as you are. As Asian Americans, we should not be satisfied with being part of someone else’s story, some grand narrative handed down to us.
I am so excited about your book, Nobuko. Asian-American art and literature is more than…and yours, Claire. Is more the antidote to the bad art, like Madama Butterfly and Miss Saigon, written by a white man who had no conception of Asian women. Let us tell our stories with our lives, our work, our families, our values, and volunteer efforts. It’s our historical opportunity as well as a responsibility.
00:39:33.7 Michele Goodwin:
Oh my gosh, yes. I want more of all of this, and I want it over food and wine, too, and Claire, let me close off with you. What’s that silver lining going forward, especially in light of what you’re breaking down in the books that you’re writing?
00:39:51.8 Dr. Claire Kim:
Well, those are two very poetic responses, so I appreciate them. I’m more of a pessimist in terms of my cast of mind. I would like to mention the group Asians For Black Lives, which is a collective that came together in Oakland to support Black Lives Matter in 2014 after the murder of Michael Brown by the police in Ferguson, Missouri.
The, Asians For Black Lives I think is a really unique group, because what they’re saying is the liberation of Asian Americans from violence, discrimination, will depend not on organizing as Asian Americans, but will depend on creating a society in general…broadly conceived, a society that has racial justice. So, they center the Black Lives Matter movement, and they fight against structural anti-blackness in their activism.
And they say, you know, we need to follow the people who are most affected by racism and by state violence and private violence, and so it’s that centering of the Black struggle, that understanding of Asian Americans’ relationship to that struggle that I think is very exciting, and it, of course, grows out of things in the ‘60s that Nobuko was talking about, but I think, you know, takes it even a step further in terms of its relationship to anti-blackness. So, I think I would mention that as a silver lining.
00:41:18.4 Michele Goodwin:
Well, I want to thank each of you for joining us for the full story and sharing so wholly and completely. I very much appreciate it. Thank you so much. Guests and listeners, that’s it for today’s episode of “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin.”
I want to thank my guests, Nobuko Miyamoto, Yang Huang, and Dr. Claire Kim for joining us and being part of this critical and insightful conversation, and to our listeners, I thank you for tuning in for the full story. We hope you’ll join us again for our next episode where we will be reporting, rebelling, and telling it like it is with special guests, tackling issues related to the status of women in Afghanistan.
It will be a very serious and important episode that you will not want to miss. Now, for more information about what we discussed today, then head to MsMagazine.com, and be sure to subscribe to Ms.’ print magazine, where you’ll find in-depth coverage of all the timely issues we discuss on this show, along with book reviews, interviews with feminist pioneers, and much, much more. Find our latest issues right now in bookstores, or you can go online and subscribe at MsMagazine.com.
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“On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” is a Ms. Magazine joint production. Kathy Spillar and Michele Goodwin are our executive producers. Our producers for this episode are Roxy Szal and Oliver Haug. Our social media intern is Lillian LaSalle. The creative vision behind our work includes art and design by Brandy Phipps, editing by Will Alvarez and Marsh Allen, music by Chris. J. Lee, and social media assistance from Lillian LaSalle. Stephanie Wilner provides executive assistance.
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