After finishing our readings on Asian Americans, another student and I had a conversation on how little we had been taught about Asian American history.  We tried to reason why this important history is grossly ignored in American History classes and had trouble determining an easy answer.  Upon further consideration it seems that a number of factors have worked to curb our educations on Asian Americans’ struggles for citizenship and other historical contributions.

First, I realized that neither my classmate nor I grew up in areas of the country with significant Asian American populations.  The people of areas of the country without a significant Asian American population seem to have the least amount of insight on the roles Asian American had in shaping our country and their struggles with discrimination.  Before coming to law school, I had no idea that the western states and the federal government had issued such strong laws barring Asian immigration and citizenship.  The political and legal history is appalling, yet in communities without significant Asian American populations, it goes untaught.

This lack of knowledge and education across large areas of this nation perpetuates the myths of the Asian “Model Minority” and Asian “foreignness.” I have often heard the myths that Asians are a “smart race” and that “Asians get all of the high skill jobs.” Growing up in Detroit, I often heard these remarks coming from auto industry workers.  From these common statements I was taught the stereotypical sentiment that Asians were “foreigners stealing our jobs.” I now know that these are some of the most persistent discriminatory sentiments in the United States. If the job is on US soil, it is obviously foolish to see any American as stealing a job from another American.  The only explanation for such statements is found in deep rooted discriminatory views of Asian Americans.  Unfortunately, many Americans still don’t view Asian Americans as American at all.

One of the main reasons that Asian Americans are still considered “foreign” is historical.  In the past, the United States has made it exceedingly difficult for Asians to immigrate and obtain citizenship.  Looking to the breadth of the anti-Asian laws passed in the late 19th century, it is amazing that Asian Americans have been able to thrive in any areas of this country.  Based on the misconceptions that all Asians are “outsiders” yet “model minorities,” other American racial groups have historically feared loss of jobs, as well as economic and political power, to Asian Americans and Asian immigrants.  These unfounded fears led to the discriminatory anti-Asian laws of the late 19th Century.

The fears that led to the anti-Asian laws of the past persist today.  Since that time there has been little success in curbing the public’s misconceived stereotypes about Asians.  The sentiment that Asians are “stealing our jobs” continues to be made publicly and privately.  However, while the stereotypes are similar to those of the 19th Century, the global economy has changed.  With the passing of free trade agreements, American jobs are being lost overseas.  In this economic climate it is true that many American jobs are being lost to Asian workers.  While there is certainly reason for unemployed workers to be upset, the persistent stereotypes of Asians are confusing the true reasons for the job transfers and creating unfounded animosity towards Asian Americans.  This is shown most tragically in story of Vincent Chin.  Chin was a Chinese American living in Detroit. He was beaten to death, at the hands of two unemployed autoworkers wielding baseball bats.  Although Chin was an American who didn’t even work in the auto industry, his killers saw him as a “foreigner” and the reason for their recent job losses.  How can two Americans blame a third uninvolved American for the loss of their jobs to oversea competition? (1)Ignorance of the political and economic reasons for the loss of their jobs, (2) the persistent Asian stereotype of the “model minority”, and (3) the persistent discriminatory misconception of Asian Americans as “foreigners.” The only answer to curbing such violence, ignorance, and discrimination is through education on Asian and Asian American issues.  Unfortunately, as was the case for me in Detroit, that education is not taking place across large portions of this country.