By David Monakawa, Special to AsAmNews
How could the Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay shootings be racially impacted when the shooters were Asian? Because the “devaluation” of Asians in society impacts everyone consciously or not, even Asians. Anti-Asian hate is a variant of white supremacy.
Similarly, the 5 Black cops who killed Tyre Nichols were also impacted by the anti-Black variant of White supremacy, conscious or not. Throughout history, some of the most vicious enforcers of White slaveowners who adopted their ideas were Black. The worst informants who turned in their own friends or family for infractions in WWII US concentration camps for Japanese Americans were Japanese. We must not allow right-wing pundits to spin these crimes as Asian-on-Asian or Black-on-Black crime that reveal shortcomings in people-of-color families.
I lived a few blocks from the Star Dance Studio in Monterey Park for many years. After the tragic shootings there and at Half Moon Bay, I was invited by friends to meet with leaders from the African American community such as Minister Abdul Malik from the Nation of Islam and Muslim clerics from the Southeast Asian community, who brought members from their mosques to pay respects to the Chinese community and to the families of the 11 victims; Mei Mei Nhan-dance teacher, Valentino Alvero, Ming Wai Ma, the owner of the club, Xiu Juan Yu, Diana Tom, Yu Kao, Li Lan Li, Muoi Ung, Hong Ying, Chia Yu and Wen Yu. All were between 57 and 72.
The crowd of about 80 mostly Chinese were awestruck by a sizable Black delegation coming to Monterey Park to pay their respects to Asian folks. Gestures like these during difficult times leave lasting impressions.
A response was timely from Rep. Judy Chu, Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific Islander Caucus, former Mayor of Monterey Park and neighbor, residing a half mile from the crime scene. “We must take guns out of dangerous people’s hands with universal background checks,” she urged with passion.
Hu Can Tran, aged 72, the Monterey Park shooter, had a history of being paranoid of others at the dance ballroom and had been arrested for illegal possession of a firearm some years ago. One of the weapons found was equipped with an illegal high-capacity magazine. Chun Li Zhao, the suspected Half Moon Bay shooter, 67, once had a restraining order placed against him banning any access to guns for trying to strangle his co-worker. The ban only lasted 4 months. Both were elderly Asian males. They face cultural and institutional barriers to bilingual bicultural healthcare, especially mental health. A background check system and overall stricter regulation could have lessened the chances of the two shooters getting a gun in their hands.
However, Rep. Chu, Governor Newsom, and other democrats and the public must not omit the need to combat racism as an environmental and social ill in these mass murders. Why?
The gun control movement originated in California, 34 years ago almost to the day of the Monterey Park shootings. On January 17, 1989, at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, five Asian children, 1 girl and 4 boys were shot dead along with 32 others injured. Most were children of Cambodian and Vietnamese immigrants. Sok-him Ang, 6; Ram Chun, 8; Oeun Lim, 8; and Thuy Tran, 6; and one boy, and Rathanar Or. 9, died.
71% of the children at school were Southeast Asian whose parents spoke little English. The school had few translators so communications about the shooting with parents was described as non-existent “pandemonium”. The Southeast Asian community called for a day of mourning but the school district refused to close the school as if nothing happened. Asian students along with Latinx and Black students and their parents boycotted attending school one day to pay their respects to the victims.
The intent of the shooter for a hate crime charge was questioned due to a lack of conclusive evidence. No one heard him yelling out racial slurs during the commission of the crime while dressed in army camos and firing his AK-47.
Patrick Edward Purdy, 24-year-old White male was a disturbed drifter and drug addict who possessed White supremacist literature of the Aryan Nation at one point and told people that Asians, “take away US jobs and own everything.” He shot himself with the 103rd bullet he fired that day rendering the hate crime enhancement issue mute.
After several months, people forgot the victims were children and after a year, few recalled they were even Asian. The assault rifle ban and gun control issue grew larger into a national debate. The issue of racism and the faces of the children faded away but good laws have been passed saving many lives but still sorely inadequate.
The Atlanta shooter Robert Aaron Long, 22, gunned down 8 massage parlor workers of whom 6 were Asian women. He claimed that his “sex addiction” led him to kill them so he can “eliminate the temptation”, and plead guilty to 4 counts of murder. In exchange, the hate crime enhancement was dropped and he got life avoiding the death penalty. “Sex addiction” is not recognized officially as a clinical diagnosis and it was the first time hate crime enhancement was sought in Georgia.
Racial hatred or in the case of Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, self-hatred, is enhanced by the constant demeaning and devaluation of China and other Asian peoples. This goes for all other people of color especially African Americans.
“Chinese created the Wuhan virus. Chinese spies are stealing US secrets. China owns everything and is ”taking over”. China commits genocide against it’s minorities. China is going to invade Taiwan. Madmen rule North Korea with nukes.” On TV, the same 30-year-old footage of goosestepping North Koreans or a lone protestor standing up to a Chinese tank is constantly recycled. Lost and drifting Chinese weather balloons become “spy balloons surveilling military secrets”.
Regardless of your personal opinion about these current international issues, they can be discussed without being racist. Rep. Judy Chu, has produced a “toolkit” that was distributed to all of congress where they can learn to talk about China without being racist. But I remain unsure if the toolkit lessons is being absorbed.
All of the current Asian scapegoating is piled on top of the 150 years of racist imagery.
Crazy rich Asians, subservient hostesses, gambling den opium peddlers, calculus nerds are all stereotypes that burden all Asian Americans
The historical legacy of being the “enemies” of the American people for about 80 years straight hurt Asian Americans as well. Remember 1898-Phillipines and Hawai’i, 1940s -Japan in WW2, 1950s, the “Red China” menace, and Korean War, 1960s- 1975 Vietnam. 2020s- Fear of becoming #2 to China.
Throughout US history racial violence spiked during periods of economic and political crisis where non-white and poor people are “scapegoated” for problems such as unemployment, inflation or a threat to national security.
During the 1870s and 80s, during the “Long Depression” many Chinatown burnings and massacres occurred. During the Great Depression and WWII, the Japanese were race-baited into camps and Chinese were red-baited after the war. Both crimes had to do more with money, land and politics than “national security”.
The US-Japan “trade wars” of the 1980s and 90s resulted in the murder of Vincent Chin by two White unemployed auto workers who thought Chin was Japanese and “taking away our jobs.” And now the anti-China- Asia racism is fueled by paranoia of the US rulers being knocked off the worlds highest pedestal by rival capitalists, China. Especially in areas such as semiconductors, 5G, bio-tech and green energy.
A destructive idea and “tool” which constrains Asians and divides us from one another is the “model minority myth”. It takes the “least troublesome” minority group, Asians, and pits them against the “most troublesome” minority, African Americans.
The MMM is a variant of a White supremacist ideology. It erases or marginalizes Asian people’s histories of resistance in the US. Labor struggles, armed rebellions on Hawaiian plantations and concentration camps, legal battles for civil rights and replaces them with images of Asians as affluent, good at math and science, successful tech geeks or compliant, submissive women who do not raise waves. It becomes part of the “personality traits” of Asians.
The MMM has its origins in the “Americanization” program in the US Concentration Camps for Japanese Americans during WWII. Those inmates who were monitored and assessed by camp authorities as most loyal were treated better, released earlier and anointed leaders, and appointed or elected to political office in the post war era. Those who protested for their civil rights or rebelled for better conditions were segregated, placed in solitary, imprisoned, shot or killed and their histories made to disappear. Young men who stood for their principles like the Heart Mountain draft resisters and “No No Boys” who refused to pledge loyalty to their jailers were made into non-people, ghosts.
The segregated all-Japanese American army unit, the100th Infantry Battallion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team was worshipped in the media and community as the most decorated unit in US history. Even though they were stripped of all civil rights and liberties, lost their property and their families held behind barbed wire for 4 years, they gave their lives to America. They were courageous and honorable men doing the “right thing”. But the US Army and WRA used them as the greatest “model minority” ever to beat all other minorities over the head. This is a devastating social message for people especially the youth to prove yourself loyal.
The War Relocation Authority targeted major Midwest cities, away from Japanese concentrations in the west coast to settle the first returnees. WRA staff traveled to local governments and businesses to persuade them to accept Japanese in their areas. They created a program which included making PR photos and stories of Japanese who could contribute as good citizens. A few examples show a well-dressed smiling Japanese family huddled around a radio with dad in a rocking chair with a pipe and cardigan. Or 3 Japanese gathered in lab coats with clipboards admiring an experiment. These images and the stories that went with them, of compliant, hard-working Japanese were pitched to local Whites and impressed upon the early inmates to be released as “role models”. One such woman was Esther Takei, a teen who returned to Pasadena as one of the first resettlement experiments.
After the war hundreds of returnees were living in massive trailer parks with poor conditions such as in Burbank, CA. Jobs were scarcely offered to JAs, and card sized “Jap Hunting licenses”, printed by the millions by institutions from restaurants to 4H Clubs from 1941 to ’45 were still a prevalent example of the racist hostility of the time. At the time of release, adult inmates were issued instructions to “not congregate with other JAs, do not speak Japanese and to keep your head low.”
In 1966, at the height of the Black Power and the Civil Rights movement, 5 months after the largest urban uprising in US history in Watts, LA, an influential article was released in major publications called, “Success Story Japanese American Style” by William Peterson.
He claimed that, “Japanese Americans suffered horrible injustices but in just 20 years after being thrown into concentration camps they are “becoming successful, unlike the ‘problem minorities’ the Negroes.” Over half of all Japanese American households were headed by gardeners at the time so the majority began thinking they were the minority who “did not make it” into white collar-dom.
Many other articles about Chinese and other Asians ensued in this framework and it wasn’t long before the MMM spread into the minds of all Asians and into American culture especially after the Immigration Act of 1965 when Asian immigration soared.
As a Japanese American kid I felt its impact. My white teacher Ms. Thomas, a kind and nice lady, at Virginia Road Elementary School in the West Adams-Crenshaw district once complimented the Asians who did well on tests. She sternly glared at the Black students. She unknowingly fomented tensions between the Asian and Black kids. There were many teens who succumbed to the pressure to “succeed and stay in line” which clashed with the inequalities and hypocrisy they saw in society.
The MMM is absorbed by the vulnerable. They can be black homeless folks attacking elderly Asians, or elderly Asians shooting other elderly Asians. In addition to the US, anti-Asian violence has increased in the EU, Austrailia and New Zealand, all countries that support the US in their anti-China rhetoric.
These tragic events reveal the needs in the Asian community, in particular elderly Asians. In the case of Half Moon Bay, the horrible conditions that immigrant farmworkers, mostly Latinx must endure came to light.
Asians have the highest percentage of elderly over 65+ in the nation. Two-thirds are immigrants who do not have access to bilingual bicultural services, nursing homes nor mental health while Asian youth between 18 and 24 have some of the highest rates of suicide. College-level Asian mental healthcare courses do not exist. There are very few exceptional individual Asian MDs and counselors who have their own experience and treatment methods.
Don’t let racial oppression in all its forms fade away from conversations about mass shootings and police shootings. The need to have courses about sickle cell anemia in medical schools or a school of Asian American psychiatry is just as needed as stricter gun laws in the long run.
We all faced each other in front of the 11 large wreaths and photos of the victims in front of the Star Ballroom and pledged. “We got to fight for justice together because the hand that killed these 11 Asian souls also took the life of Tyre Nichols.”
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