Happy Lunar New Year

Happy Lunar New Year. Today is a day to honor ancestors and celebrate with family. I’ll be making dumplings with my brother and other friends. I’m thankful that though our immediate family is geographically dispersed, we’ve all grown spiritually and emotionally closer over the last few years. As I receive messages from my relatives thousands of miles away, I can’t help but feel that today is a joyous day.

At the same time, I can’t help but feel that today is a bitterly ironic day.


I hate being preachy. And I hate being preached to. I feel bad for mixing what follows with what came before, but the contrast between *my* life as a child of immigrants and what is happening to others’ is too stark. If sharing this convinces even one single person that a) there is a problem and/or b) they should do something about it, then I’ll be truly glad. But if not, I consider writing this to be well worth my while, if only to clarify my own thoughts.

Some preaching

I grew up in a suburb of Chicago where I was one of a handful of Asians at school (juuust outside of Naperville, where there were actually a ton). I’ve been called a “chink”, a “chinaman”, and asked “why don’t you go back where you came from?” For a long time, I was embarrassed of my skin color and my ethnicity. But today, in this new year, I’ve never felt more comfortable in my own skin. Most strikingly, I’ve recently seen so many images of Lunar New Year appear in the mainstream — giant roosters at the shopping mall, stickers in Facebook Messenger. I could not have imagined this type of cultural acceptance even a few years ago.

Meanwhile, the President of the United States has just taken broad actions to bar refugees, immigrants, and visitors from a number of predominantly Muslim countries, with potentially more to come. If you read the full text of his executive order[0], it doesn’t sound *that* extreme. Who doesn’t want to prevent terrorism? But this is a President that called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” less than two months ago[1]. Even on its own merits, the order is wrong both rationally — it’s not logically consistent[2][3], it’s based on the flawed premise that jihadists are the biggest threat to our safety[4] — and morally — it’s part of a broader movement of hate crimes against Muslims[5], it’s only the beginning of further bans[6]. Some Muslims are jihadists. Others are fleeing such jihadists, and the destruction they are causing. There should be proper vetting, but this is not that, certainly not when considered in the context of the President’s other actions, and the views expressed by his dominant constituency.

One hundred years ago the Chinese Exclusion Act, which contains eerily similar language[7][8] to the executive order, would have barred my parents and people like them from this country. Ironically, just as Asians are starting to gain acceptance, Muslims (or rather, anyone that looks like they are from the Middle East) are becoming alien threats.

The predominant sentiment amongst the liberal circles I run in is that broad-based discrimination against Muslims does not represent who we are as a country. I disagree. History has shown us time and again that there is a darkly xenophobic side to the national psyche. Ask Native-Americans[9], Irish-Americans[10], Chinese-Americans[11], Japanese-Americans[12], African-Americans[13], among others. I’ve felt this pain personally, despite growing up in prosperity. There are people out there (tens of millions, maybe more) who believe that adding Muslim-Americans to the list is worth the cost, in order to gain some ethereal notion of safety. That’s wrong. From a purely self-interested perspective, what happens if a Chinese trade war suddenly makes my (or more likely my parents’) presence “detrimental to the interests of the United States.” Today, I have to stand up for what I believe in, that we’re a nation of immigrants, that there is liberty and justice for *all*, and that we can’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

What I’ve done so far

The last two days, I called my California representatives (Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and Representative Nancy Pelosi) to express my support for immigrants and public education (a separate issue I feel strongly about). Yes, they have already made their own public statements. Yes, California is already a liberal bastion. I recognize these calls are not the most marginally useful things I could do. But I’m going to continue to make them, because I will speak for myself.

I also called Representative Bill Foster of the 11th District of Illinois (whom I voted for when I lived there), asking him to take a public stand in support of immigrants and refugees. I unsuccessfully tried to get in touch with Senator Dick Durbin (to be honest, though, I only tried once). I tried, thus far unsuccessfully, to convince my parents to call their Illinois representatives. No, I won’t give up on this front.

I’ve donated $50 to the American Civil Liberties Union. Yes, this feels small. No, it won’t be my only donation. I attended a volunteer orientation for Mission Bit, an organization that teaches computer science to local public school students. No, I don’t think my volunteering will make a difference anytime soon. But I do believe education is the great equalizer.

What else I’ll be doing

I’m going to continue making calls to my representatives, current and past. I’m going to continue trying to convince my parents that immigration and education are issues that they should concern themselves with. I’m going to try and convince my friends to do the same. As an aside, during the election, I was shocked to learn that a nonzero percentage of first-generation Chinese supported Donald Trump (I believe I convinced my parents to vote for Hillary). This further reinforces my belief that there are lots of reasonable people that we can get through to, that there are conversations with friends and relatives that need to be had.

I’m a software engineer by profession. Just the other day, I used a website that makes it easier to make phone calls to elected officials: https://5calls.org/. The site itself is open-source. I’m sure there are others like it that can help people to organize, and I’m going to do some research on how I can utilize my professional skills in a more broadly beneficial way. Get in touch with me if you have other ideas.

[0] As of 1/28/17 10:34 PST, it’s not up on whitehouse.gov. Instead see: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/27/donald-trump-executive-order-immigration-full-text

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUK2aMYGMCg

[2] “In addition, the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation.”

[3] “And while the visa-issuance process was reviewed and amended after the September 11 attacks to better detect would-be terrorists from receiving visas, these measures did not stop attacks by foreign nationals who were admitted to the United States.”


[5] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38767871

[6] “…the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, shall submit to the President a list of countries recommended for inclusion on a Presidential proclamation that would prohibit the entry of foreign nationals… from countries that do not provide the information requested pursuant to subsection (d) of this section until compliance occurs.”

[7] “That from and after the expiration of ninety days next after the passage of this act, and until the expiration of ten years next after the passage of this act, the coming of Chinese laborers to the United States be, and the same is hereby, suspended.”

[8] “I hereby proclaim that the immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of aliens from countries referred to in section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12), would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and I hereby suspend entry into the United States, as immigrants and nonimmigrants, of such persons for 90 days from the date of this order”

[9] https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/Indian.html

[10] https://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/immigration/irish5.html

[11] https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=47

[12] https://www.archives.gov/research/alic/reference/military/japanese-internment.html

[13] https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/13thamendment.html