I wouldn’t exist without Black activism

guest column

I wouldn’t exist without Black activism.

In 1995, a 27-year old Chinese student packed his suitcase and sealed shut a small white envelope of his life savings. He was moving to America to pursue a doctorate degree at a university in Ohio. He'd just finished his undergraduate degree in Tianjin, China.

His family was far from wealthy, but he'd worked hard for an acceptance to a graduate degree program and more career-related opportunities in America. Moving to America would allow him to immediately send stipend money back to his wife and his newborn first son. Alone, he stepped onto the plane with a student visa and his sights set on America.

It was my father's first time on a plane. 

A few months later, my mom and older brother made the same journey and joined my father in America. Eventually, both my parents received their degrees from Akron University. With all signs pointing up, they began to consider having another child. Their close friends, who had also moved to America, recently had a second son. 

In China, a patchwork of measures known as the ‘one-child’ policy limited most Chinese families to giving birth to only one child. Under these laws, my parents could not have me in China. 

Now they were in Castro Valley, California. With newfound opportunity and optimism, my mother gave birth to me in 2001.

Asian immigrant stories in America didn't always look so bright. In fact, they were explicitly prohibited under American law for close to a century. The Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 prevented Chinese laborers from immigrating to the US. The Immigration Act of 1924 continued this xenophobia by completely banning Arabs, Indians and Asians. Although the US repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943, they simply replaced it with a quota system that limited Chinese immigration to only 105 people a year (which is 0.004% of the number of Chinese people who immigrated to the US in 2018). My parents would not have been one of those few incredibly wealthy Chinese people who could’ve afforded to move to America.

These racist immigration policies were eventually reversed with the efforts of Black activists. The civil rights movement paved the way for the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which prohibited racial discrimination in immigrant visas. This law, albeit problematic in other ways (like legally establishing the Public Charge distinction), overrode previous xenophobic policies preventing certain races from immigrating to the US.

In other words, Black activism was crucial for people like my parents to immigrate to America and build their families. Black activists pushed for equal protections for people under the law; the result of their efforts gave my parents an entrance into American academia, workforce and society. 

And, in a huge whirlwind of coincidences and legislation, those laws secured my existence. As a second child of Chinese immigrants, I uniquely owe my birth to the Black efforts that pushed for non-discriminatory policies.

Dear Asian/Americans, we all have skin in the business. Right now, many Black people across the country are mourning and rightfully enraged at the structural violence imposed by the police and American institutions writ-large. We should join them in the fight to dismantle structures of racism. 

These structures still exist today. Police brutality and mass incarceration have been racialized from the start. Modern American policing tactics evolved from runaway slave patrols. Black people are incarcerated at 5.1 times the rate of White people. Nixon’s presidential campaign invented the War on Drugs in order to lock up Black people. These facts barely cover the surface of how widespread and deeply-rooted the issue is, and they don’t cover other structural problems like the increasingly-widened racial wealth gap in America.

This racism has always been endemic to America, but it is becoming more explicit again on the Presidential stage. We should be angry. The current American president represents monolithic American structures of power that disenfranchise immigrants and people of color. He fully recycles violent racist language supporting police brutality and police shootings. He wholesale-endorses the same xenophobic and Orientalist frameworks that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act with his Muslim ban and his virulent anti-Asian/American rhetoric

I’ll note that today’s issues are far more complicated than minorities vs. White supremacist structures. 

Phenomena like the myth of the model minority and racial triangulation highlight how Asian/Americans and Black people are lodged in a racist system that perpetuates violence against Black folx and minority Asian groups. In the ‘90s, violence between Black and Korean Americans caused extreme tensions between the two groups in the riots following Rodney King’s brutal attack by four LAPD officers. 

Furthermore, George Floyd's killing highlights Asian complicity to structural violence inflicted on Black people. Floyd died after a White policeman knelt on his throat, but Tou Thao, an Asian/American police officer on the scene, did nothing to stop it. Thou was silent; he was complicit.

Although there is strife, collective activism from minority groups can concretely push for and accelerate material legislative wins for all minority groups. It’s important to note that we shouldn’t view activism as transactional; we have a rich history of working together across racial groups that goes beyond civil rights movements legislation. 

For instance, the 1968 Third World Liberation Front pushed for a Third World College in UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University. This effort was led by Black, Asian, Latinx and Native American student groups; their collective endeavors led to the establishment of interdisciplinary ethnic studies departments in California and eventually nationwide. 

After the police killing of a Hmong teenager named Fong Lee in 2006, the black activist community was the first to speak out and fight with the Hmong against police brutality. Now, the Hmong, Latinx and other communities of color are volunteering and joining the fight against injustice in Minnesota following George Floyd’s memorial service.

We cannot be silent or complicit; we must fight against structural injustice in America. I (quite literally) exist because of this fight.

Even though we are in the midst of a growing movement, I’d like to acknowledge that the police have not stopped killing black folx. I extend my sincere condolences to the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and countless other Black individuals that we have lost to cruel police violence. I further extend my condolences to the Black community and everyone who is mourning in light of these appalling acts of brutality. 

Black Lives Matter.

Albert Sun is a rising Trinity sophomore.


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