NOTABLE ESSAYS: On Solidarity, Invisibility, and Satire

Racial and ethnic identity politics make for difficult conversations these days. Quick and sharp responses to offensive language in the media are multiplied and repeated, then  become trending topics in brief social media outbursts. These eruptions, unfortunately, offer more heat than light. Except for these three recent essays:

[Huffington Post] How Do Asian Americans Advocate for Equality Without Throwing Other People of Color Under the Bus? by Frank Wu

[Psychology Today] Why Are Filipino Americans Still Forgotten and Invisible? by E.J.R. David

[New Republic] “White Poets Want Chinese Culture Without Chinese People” by Timothy Yu

These essays respond and delve a bit more deeply into current difficult conversations. Frank Wu’s essay reflects on the tensions between Asian American and African American activism, as in the Peter Liang case and the Black Lives Matter movement. E.J.R. David reacts to an unrepresentative New York Times video of Asian American perspectives on racial issues; the voice of its second largest community – Filipino Americans — is missing.  And Timothy Yu explains why the fear-driven history of the Chinese in America resonated with writers who found Calvin Trillin’s New Yorker verse offensive.


FRANK WU: “I have been taken to task by other Asian Americans who believe I am overly sympathetic to African Americans. They are agitated, these cousins of mine literal and figurative, who feel excluded even from diversity efforts. They fault me for not attacking affirmative action in higher education, since they suppose Asian Americans are being adversely affected by the inclusion of African Americans and Hispanics (a counterfactual; maximum quotas appear more likely the result of preferential treatment of Caucasian competitors). They implore me to denounce black on Asian violent crime, which cannot be denied and ranges in motivation from outright hatred to selective targeting of easy victims.” Read more


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E.J.R. DAVID: “Filipino banishment goes back to the fact that there was a Philippine-American War that lasted for 15 years and during which thousands – some say 1.4 million – Filipinos were killed by Americans, but yet such a war seems to be unacknowledged, hidden, and forgotten. Filipino marginalization goes back to the days of the manong generation, whose struggles in the farms of Hawaii, California, and Washington – as well as in the canneries of Alaska – continue to be unknown to many. It goes back to how the hard work and leadership of Larry Itliong, Philip Vera Cruz, and other Filipino farmworkers are overshadowed by the celebrity of Cesar Chavez. It goes back to how President Franklin Roosevelt pledged that Filipinos who fight for the United States during World War II would be granted citizenship and military benefits… but shortly after the war ended that promise … with the Recission Act of 1946. It goes back to the many ways in which Filipino people have contributed to this country’s rise as a global power, but the American masses remain oblivious to such historical and contemporary reality.” Read more


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TIMOTHY WU: “So here’s why I think so many Asian Americans are troubled by Trillin’s poem: It continues an American tradition of talking about Asia as if we Asians were not in the room. It’s an in-joke among white consumers of Chinese things, but actual Chinese people are at best absent from its lines, and at worst a looming peril within them.” Read more


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Photo credit: Lowell’s View by Ador Pereda Yano

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