Dear America, Asian Immigrants Did Not Come Here for This Shit
*Inspired by Uber’s CTO Thuan Pham, a refugee.
Among the most bleak conversations I’ve had are with Asian Americans, because FUN FACT: a huge portion if not the outright majority of Asians in America of my generation are here because people directly or indirectly were fleeing authoritarian consequences, not because of some “hoo rah we’re gonna have freedom! MURICA” but no like literally not sure if they could feed their families, could get killed, or if there was a future at the end of the road in varying degrees of hopelessness and horror.
This is a story we know: Mao Zedong and his revolutions, Pol Pot the Khmer Rouge, Ferdinand Marcos and his kleptocracy, Chiang Kai-Shek and his thugs (of which I’m descended from and take open ownership of that), Le Duan after the Fall of South Vietnam, Kaysone Phomvihane and the Pathet Lao, Suharto’s Corrupt Fist in Indonesia, Park Chung-hee’s dictatorship, and I’m probably missing a whole lot more.
America had immigration policies that favored our labor. So people came as the dishwasher, the laundryman, the bodega owner, the seamstress, the cooks, the scientists, the doctors, and generally the hustlers who ventured into the great unknown with promises of security and prosperity. And some came unwilling as refugees because of the American wars in Southeast Asia.
I know we might be all seem to same to you, but someone in my age bracket who was born here or came here as a young child came from a very different Asias than the current denizens of the Asia Modern — one whose fever dreams now elude us.
We continue to inhabit very different Asian Americas in terms of ethnicities, stories, and socio-economic conditions.
Before the Syrian refugee crisis, Asians were the people on the boats people were pushing away, and a generation before, fleeing Jews were rejected from safe harbor, lest we forget.
The joke is now “whoops buyers remorse, we came here precisely not for this shit. And these spoiled ‘Americans’ (we’re spoiled Americans now too, but we remember a time we weren’t) have no idea what they’re facing. Now might we might have to try to horde gold and live like peasants, again, hahaha so funny joke’s on us!” Dude, literally here not to be about that life, but you know what, we have learned how to survive and thrive and make very little into something.
There’s a lot of talk in leftist circles in America about “the revolution,” and there’s always been this uncomfortable moment because a lot of Asians tend to be like “Nah tho, I don’t know about that tho because we almost all died before. I’ll take those sensible trade policies, thanks.”
It’s a primal thing, our collective past saw what real revolutions were like and it didn’t end up well for most regular people. Now all over the West, we’re the living undead, reanimated bits of imagined communities combined with the aspirational hopes of Barack Obama’s America, doomed to wander in distant lands we now call home speaking in strange tongues devoted to making a buck.
This is a cynicism that will probably be imprinted on us for generations to come, though I hope our grandchildren will never know our strife. This is why I think I grew up around a community focused so long on just making money, freeing our minds with education, and basking in the comforts of family, food, tradition, and safety.
People didn’t have much else till recently, which is why you see all these mass movements places like Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea now, because this new world of justice, rule of law, and universal rights, is well, is still new, still precious, and still not taken for granted with not one generation removed from darkness of poverty and autocracy. And aren’t we always only one generation from that?
It’s unpleasant for us to watch this begin to repeat itself in our new home and also know we’re probably easy scapegoats for something or another, the uncomfortable wedge group, the “model minority” despised both by Whites and other minorities. This shit could blow up in our face because it has before. Refuge fail. (I’m bullish on California tho.)
Tho gotta say for the record, we tried to warn you with the wisdom and paranoia bequeathed to us from our collective history and outsider status. And most People of Color tried to save yo trifling asses in the election. With depleted voting rights coming our way, I wouldn’t put all my hopes on another election by the way.
I don’t have an original line to close, so may the odds be ever in your favor.